Blackwell-Chambers finally retained the title after swinging back and forth in the points lead - Photo: Jon Elsey

The finale of the 2018 BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship came to one of the most dramatic conclusions seen in its history, as the fate of the title was settled in a way in which neither driver in contention either expected or indeed wished to happen. Donington Park was the setting for this momentous weekend of Mazda MX-5 racing.

Will Blackwell-Chambers and Samuel Smith entered the weekend not just as teammates, but as title rivals too with just 6 points separating the pair after 21 races and with dropped scores taken into account. Both knew the task at hand and entered Saturday morning’s qualifying sessions in their respective groups totally focused.

Incredibly, neither driver set the fastest time in their group as Ben Short’s cameo appearance saw him net the fastest time in Group 1 followed by Oliver Allwood, Brian Trott and Paul Bateman, while Blackwell-Chambers had to settle with 5th fastest. Smith, meanwhile, faired a little better with 2nd fastest but did so behind times topper John Langridge who was again looking strong at the end of his second season. Jason Greatrex wound up 3rd fastest ahead of Steve Foden and the returning Michael Fisk as they completed the top 5.

With both groups combining their times, Group A’s front row would see Short on pole as a result of the faster time, alongside Langridge ahead of Allwood, Smith, Trott, Greatrex, Bateman and Foden, with Blackwell-Chambers six places behind his title rival in 9th with Michael Fisk alongside.

Short and Langridge initially swapped the lead in the early stages of Race 1A, before Short was able to settle down for a few laps and maintain 1st place. More lead swapping occurred in the second half of the race before Smith took a lap in the lead himself. Eventually, the chips would fall in favour of Jason Greatrex, who muscled his way to the front with two laps to go and was able to stay there to pick up his first Group A win of the season in fine style. Short had to settle for 2nd place despite starting on pole position, while Smith crucially took 3rd place and more points than Blackwell-Chambers. Speaking of which, WB-C had to make do with 6th place behind Allwood and Langridge, followed by Brian Trott in 7th place as the top seven cars crossed the line separated by a mere 1.2 seconds! Fisk, Bateman and Ben Hancy would complete the top 10.

Over in the first Group B race of the weekend, Christopher Stapleton started on pole alongside Bruce Robinson, and Stapleton would maintain the lead for the first half of the race, only losing it once to Oliver Graham on Lap 2. Come the Fogarty Esses at the end of Lap 8, however, everything changed. As Jack Moody went for a spin on the grass out of 3rd place exiting the chicane, up the road Stapleton found himself four abreast between Graham, Joshua Brent and Rafal Drzaszcz into Redgate corner. Stapleton led the quartet into the chicane at the end of Lap 9, but entering too hot caused him to spin and the resulting contact pushed himself and Brent down the order and out of contention. As a result, Drzaszcz and Graham would end up battling back and forth in an intense duel that went right down to the flag, with the pair also joined by Charles Mugglestone, Thomas Jenkins and Jack Moody as a result. On the run to the flag, Drzaszcz only just held off Graham to capture the win by 0.046 seconds, with Mugglestone, Jenkins and the recovering Moody completing the top 5; all of which would progress to the back of Group A for their second race.

Ben Short wasted no time in taking advantage of his front row start in Group A’s second race as he beat pole sitter Greatrex to the first corner and led the opening two laps, as once again the top 7 entered into a race of their own. Quickly exerting his authority, Samuel Smith muscled his way to the front with Short shuffled down to 5th place and battling with Blackwell-Chambers. Smith and Greatrex would briefly swap places over the next couple of laps, before shortly afterwards it was the turn of Snetterton race winner Oliver Allwood to take a turn leading the race, which he did until just two laps to go. With the top 7 constantly scrapping amongst themselves, John Langridge made a decisive move on the penultimate lap to become the race’s 5th different leader, albeit this time that’s where he would stay until the chequered flag. Langridge won from Allwood and Smith, with Short just missing out in 4th position and Trott completing the top 5. Once again, a less than satisfactory 6th place for Blackwell-Chambers left him on the back foot in the points standings with Smith just ahead as the final Group A race loomed to decide the title. Greatrex, Foden, Tolley and Hancy completed the top 10.

Oliver Robinson found rookie Christina Holley alongside him on the front row for the second Group B race, but it was in fact Mike Comber who found himself in unfamiliar territory in the group that charged up from 5th on the grid to the lead in the opening lap. Holley was able to maintain 2nd place throughout the first part of the race and even challenged and passed Comber for the lead on Lap 4 before being demoted again a lap later. Holley’s fortunes took a nosedive when a spin exiting the Old Hairpin after running wide left her in the middle of the track with cars scattering everywhere. Thankfully everyone avoided her and she ended up taking the flag in 12th place. Back at the front, Comber had worked his way back into the lead, but now was joined by Sweden’s Eric Blixt and Joshua Brent in the battle for the podium. Despite their best efforts, Comber held on to win with Blixt passing Brent for 2nd with two laps to go. Bryn Griffiths and Jake Styles completed the top 5 drivers with all of them moving to the back of Group A for the final race. Pole man Robinson was 6th from Christopher Stapleton, Russ Lindsay, Callum Greatrex and Richard Wootten.

The tension was palpable as the cars lined up for the final Group A race of the season, with both Smith and Blackwell-Chambers fully aware of what was at stake. Smith ideally need to finish ahead of WB-C, while the latter had to do everything he could to reverse that, outscore Smith and simply hope for the best.

Langridge and Allwood took up the front row together in an AB Motorsport lockout, and while Langridge led from the start, both Short and Smith were quick to go with him on the opening lap. Smith took 2nd from Short while a good start by Blackwell-Chambers helped him into 4th followed by Allwood and Steve Foden. Allwood was able to find a way past WB-C for 5th, while ahead Short and Smith began swapping 2nd place behind leader Langridge, but the pair worked together to tandem draft past him and push the former Fiesta champion down to 3rd. A shake up in the order then followed as Smith lost out to Langridge, Allwood, Blackwell-Chambers and Brian Trott who had joined the lead group and brought Race 1 winner Greatrex and Tolley with him.

As Short led, the points situation at the head of the standings was on a knife edge behind him, but no-one was even remotely prepared for what was about to happen next. Back in the field, Jake Styles unfortunately suffered a cracked water pipe which in turn dumped fluid all over the circuit at Coppice corner, and more crucially all over the racing line. With his car off in the gravel, the leaders approached the scene completely unaware. As a result, despite leader Short somehow escaping any drama, second placed Langridge was the first driver to hit the fluid and skate off the road with Allwood in tow. Unbelievably, the rest of the top 10 onwards followed suit including Blackwell-Chambers and Smith as drivers piled into the gravel trap, some able to carefully track their way out. Crucially, WB-C managed to just keep the throttle on enough to free himself, but the same sadly couldn’t be said for Smith. In the most heart-breaking fashion and through no fault of his own. Smith was stuck and therefore had no choice but to retire, and his chance at the title now, admittedly now almost completed eradicated, lay in the hands of fate and the fortunes of his teammate.

Without doubt, the situation at Coppice caused an immediate red flag, forcing a race restart but minus several of the drivers unfortunate enough to be caught out. Notably along with Smith, both Allwood and Langridge had also been forced out of the race, while other casualties included Ben Hancy, Sebastian Fisher, Martin Tolley and more. All drivers and their cars were deemed OK and there was minimal to no damage to most of them.

Incredibly, nine cars would not see the restart in total, but this in turn left Short restarting from pole position with Blackwell-Chambers alongside him. Despite Greatrex being shoved onto the grass on the run to Redgate, it was a clean start by all and Short maintained the lead throughout the opening laps. However, second place was taken up by Steve Foden on the opening lap as he slotted ahead of champion-elect WB-C and would remain there for the first three laps. Both would then be overhauled by a charging Brian Trott, who stole away 2nd place and attempted set off after Short, but was quickly usurped when Foden repassed him.

Alas, come the end of the 7-lap restart, no-one could topple Short as he came through to win the final Group A race of the season. Foden indeed took a fantastic P2 to round off the year with Trott in 3rd place, but just behind the grandest prize of all was settled as 4th place coupled with Smith’s DNF was enough for Will Blackwell-Chambers to seal back-to-back BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship titles. As he later admitted himself, it wasn’t the way he’d expected to win it but he’d take it any way it came. Adam Craig also completed the season with a solid finish in 5th ahead of Comber, Pollard, Bailey, Moody and Blixt. It’s safe to say that no-one saw that climax to the championship coming!

Over in the final Group B race of 2018, Michael Fisk converted a front row start into a lead which he would not relinquish for the duration, leaving those behind him in second place downwards to fight amongst themselves. That scrap mainly contained Paul Bateman and Clive Powles, with each taking turns in P2 before it was settled in Bateman’s favour. Even so, by the time Bateman had a clear shot at chasing Fisk, the #8 car was just far enough up the road in terms of pace to remain uncatchable. As it was, Fisk completed an effective lights-to-flag win followed by Bateman, but the final podium spot was settled with a couple of laps to go William Hayden overtook Powles for 3rd, the order remaining the same until the end. Stapleton collected the final top 5 place ahead of Callum Greatrex, Richard Wootten, Oliver Jenkins, Christina Holley and Andrew MacGregor.

After a total of 48 races and almost 100 registered drivers across the year, the 2018 BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship drew to quite possibly it’s most dramatic climax in years. While Will Blackwell-Chambers now celebrates a second consecutive Mk1 title and his 3rd MX-5 crown in as many seasons in the UK, spare a thought for teammate and rival Samuel Smith. Particularly during the second half of the season, Smith drove like a champion elect and to miss out in the cruellest of circumstances through no fault of his own is beyond unfortunate. Nevertheless, Smith has vowed to come back next season to try and put it right. Meanwhile, Martin Tolley also had reason to celebrate as he too retained his champion status in the Masters standings, heading Paul Bateman and Marcus Bailey in the process.

So, that’s it – the season is over. The questions now remain: who will be the main challengers in the 2019 edition of the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship – and will you be joining them on the grid?

Scott Woodwiss


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