ROCKINGHAM JCW REPORT - MINI CHALLENGE

Round: 6       Laps: 19        Weather: Sunny, warm

David Grady celebrated his maiden MINI CHALLENGE pole position, and duly turned it in to his first victory of the season in what could work out to be one of the finest races of the year.

Grady held off a charging Chris Smith to score the win, after increasingly nervy closing stages and a superb defensive display late on.

Grady is no stranger to Silverstone’s National track, with his roots lying in Formula Ford 1600 and Ford Fiestas before his MINI career. He snatched pole in an extremely tight session, in which the top 18 were split by just 1 second.

I had some testing on Friday for once, just my second test day of the year, so that’s clearly made a big difference,” said Grady. “We played about with the rear of the car too to find some more grip and settle it down a bit and that’s worked wonders.”

Grady started with Chris Smith alongside, with Nathan Harrison and Jono Brown occupying the second row. Charlie Butler-Henderson couldn’t find the extra tenth he needed and could start just ninth.

When the lights went out Grady got a flyer. “I nailed the start, no wheelspin at all,” he said. “It was probably the best launch I’ve ever had in these cars.

As a result, Grady had a clear lead heading into Becketts for the first time as Brown slid up the order to fight Chris Smith. Brown was shuffled wide as the pack his Brooklands and completed the first lap in seventh, but pulled off a stunning move around the outside of the same corner on lap two to settle back into fifth.

Grady was handed a further gap when Harrison began to trouble Smith for second, but that fight was halted by Henry Neal. After getting a great launch Neal produced a fine drive to climb into fourth place early on. He began to pressure Harrison for third, forcing him to drive in his mirrors instead of focus on catching Smith ahead. Neal’s charge was impressive, but his exit of Copse Corner caught the attention of the stewards, who slapped him with a 10 second time penalty for repeatedly straying beyond track limits.

With clean air ahead, Chris Smith began to reel in Grady, and with five laps to go the pair were inseparable down the National Straight. Smith repeatedly tried the cut-back into Brooklands, but Grady defended and used a strong drive out of Woodcote to stay ahead into Copse.

On the last lap Smith made a lunge, but Grady was equal to it and held sway to the flag. “It feels great to win and we needed that result for the championship,” said Grady. “But that was intense. All I could see in my mirrors was blue as Chris was all over me. I even thought there was one extra lap and I was praying the flag would come out as I don’t know how much longer I could hold him off. It was a great race.”

Smith added: “The car was getting stronger toward the end of the race, but fair play to David he drove brilliantly. I was trying different lines here and there, trying to force him into a mistake, but he didn’t fall for it. He never out-braked himself or made a mistake at all. Second is great for the championship, but a win is coming soon, I know it.

Harrison took third, with the penalised Neal still in-tow. “We’re having the same issue as Brands Hatch where I can’t quite get the front end to bite into the slower corners,” said Harrison. “Third is still good and keeps me on the podium, so it’s all valuable points and consistency.

Neal’s censure meant Brown picked up fourth, ahead of Butler-Henderson, who sensibly ghosted his way up the order to bank points after his difficult qualifying. “If you move forward in a race you’ve done well,” said CB-H. “I have to think about the championship so wasn’t trying anything silly. I saw Henry had his penalty so there wasn’t much point in trying to ram past him or Jono.

Lawrence Davey took sixth on the road after some fine car control into Brooklands as his tyres wilted late on. But was the penalised back to seventh after scraping past Brett Smith in the final turn. Rob Smith was a frustrated eighth after being mired in traffic, Juan Diego Hernandes was ninth, having run as high as fifth in the early laps, as James Turkington rounded out the top 10.

Round: 7       Laps: 19        Weather: Cloudy, dry

David Grady completed the double at Silverstone with a second supreme defensive display as Saturday’s fight for the lead transferred directly to Sunday.

Grady repeated his strong launch when the lights went out to edge out a gap to Chris Smith, but yet again it didn’t last all that long as Smith was soon back on his bumper and challenging.

The lead duo quickly toured clear of the pack to contest their own race, with Smith again trying every line possible to try and find a way past Grady. Smith briefly caught Grady napping on the brakes into Becketts, but overshot the turn allowing Grady to lead again on the cut-back.

Things came to a head three laps from home when Smith got a good tow on Grady into Maggots, but then locked up, slid off the track and span into the gravel. Smith dragged the car back to the circuit, but by this point was seventh and out of the fight.

I have no idea what happened, but I though David braked earlier than usual and it caught me out,” said Smith. “I locked up and had to counter-steer and just lost the car. I think we touched after I had lost it, but there wasn’t much I could do by that point.

That left Grady clear to take a second win. “I just saw Chris sideways behind me but I didn’t feel any contact and I drove the exact same way,” he said. “Regardless it was a great race and Chris pushed me all the way again. We’ve definitely found more traction with the set-up and that seems to be where I’m stronger at the moment. Two wins is a great result for me.

With Chris Smith out of the way, the fight for what became second place was mesmeric. Charlie Butler-Henderson started fifth but got a slide on into Becketts and accidentally clouted Lawrence Davey, which bent his front suspension. Regardless he carried on and managed to pick his way from seventh up to fourth with well-judged moves on both Jono Brown and Brett Smith. That fourth then became third after Chris Smith’s off. Nathan Harrison now occupied second, having defended hard from Brett Smith in the early stages. Now he had to contend with Butler-Henderson.

Butler-Henderson’s car worked better in a straight line than Harrison’s, and CB-H hounded Harrison on all corners, often pushing him around Becketts and Brooklands. But Harrison clung on to secure yet another podium.

That was such hard work to keep Charlie behind me because he was so much faster,” said Harrison. “The car just isn’t good in a straight line at the moment and I still can’t get the front to bite, so it’s so hard to stay ahead. Still, I can’t complain with another podium and more solid points.

Butler-Henderson secured third and said: “I was physically pushing Nathan at points trying to get past, I have his exhaust burn marks on my front bumper! He drove really well and wasn’t giving me an inch. I couldn’t believe it when I saw Chris go off, so to get the podium is unexpected and a good boost. Perhaps I should run with dodgy suspension more often as it seemed to help!

Brown took fourth after seeing off the challenge of a determined Chris Smith, who managed to rise into fifth in the dying laps. Brett Smith took a fine sixth after a battling display and Juan Diego Hernandes impressed with a seventh place. Lawrence Davey was ninth ahead of James Turkington and Henry Neal. BTCC racer Jeff Smith took 11th after a superb charge through the field from the back after a crash in race one.

Round: 8       Laps: 19        Weather: Sunny, warm

After breaking his duck during the last round at Brands Hatch, Jono Brown doubled his tally for the season with victory in the final JCW outing at Silverstone.

Having been drawn on pole for the reversed grid race, Brown was always one of the favourites for victory, having fared strongly in both of the races already in Northamptonshire.

When he got his Excelr8-run car cleanly off the line, the writing was almost on the wall. Brown was metronomic out front, consistently lapping to within fractions of a second to edge out a small lead to Charlie Butler-Henderson, who started alongside him on the front row.

The top two soon eased clear, as Nathan Harrison again proved to be the cork in the bottle behind. His Coastal-run car was tested before the final race and found to be around 4mph down in a straight line, meaning Harrison had his work cut out to fend off those behind him.

With Harrison backing up the pack and creating a train of cars for third, Butler-Henderson was free to concentrate on reeling in Brown. He did so mid-race, but Brown always had an answer and held on to win. “I didn’t expect a win this weekend but I felt so good coming into this race,” said Brown. “There’s a temptation in these cars to feel like you’ve won already when you get pole as the tow doesn’t make much difference in them. But you have to make sure you keep pushing and stay on it and that’s exactly what I did. Charlie definitely didn’t make it easy.

Butler-Henderson added: “Two podiums isn’t to be sniffed at and it’s more points, and they make prizes in championships like this. The pace wasn’t there for a win this weekend, but we made the most of it and took what we could when we could.

With the top two settled, the fight for third was all to play for. Grady initially headed the challengers to Harrison’s third place spot, climbing all over the back of the championship challenger, but he was unable to find a way through. Soon Grady found himself with Chris Smith, Henry Neal, Lawrence Davey and Brett Smith all queuing up for a shot at the podium. Chris Smith’s charge was hindered when he ran wide at Copse and also Becketts, allowing Neal and co through.

From then Neal put on a great display of attacking driving. He homed in on Grady and dived inside him at Luffield before completing the move at Copse. With fourth in the bag Neal repeated the move on Harrison, and successfully got underneath him at the same spot before out-dragging him to turn one.

Neal looked on for a maiden podium place, and deservedly so, but then the stewards intervened. They handed him a five-second penalty for running wide at Copse, which dropped him to a disappointed ninth. “I’m gutted as I fought so hard and I hardly went off the track,” said Neal. “I saw I had a warning flag so I made sure not to go wide, but everyone else was doing the same thing in front of me, yet I get pinged. I’m really gutted.

Neal’s censure handed Harrison back the podium place, continuing his 100 per cent top three finishing record this campaign. “The car was such a handful with the lack of pace, I was having to use every karting line in the book to defend,” said Harrison. “We’ve got some work to do to sort that out before the next round.

Brett Smith secured fourth ahead of Lawrence Davey, who survived an unfortunate clash with Grady in the closing stages. Davey tried around the outside at Brooklands and ran together with Grady as the two brushed at the apex. As both drivers corrected their slides, the cars gripped and clashed together. Davey continued with a dented door, but Grady was less fortunate and had to crawl around for a lap with broken steering, picking up 19th for his troubles.

Juan Diego Hernandes completed a strong weekend with sixth, ahead of James Turkington, Rob Smith and the penalised Henry Neal.