Round: 4 Laps: 18 Weather: Sunny, warm
The old expression says that you only need two cars for a race. The R56 JCW Class may be down on numbers for this year, but they produced a stunning four-way fight for victory in race one at Silverstone.
The entry may have been just five cars, but all of them enjoyed at least one spell in the lead of a race that Scott Jeffs eventually won. Ironically the car that spent least time ahead was once again the fastest. Steve Cocker started from pole yet again only to have an electrical gremlin shut the car into limp mode a few yards off the line. He trailed home ninth behind many of the Open Class runners, but his misfortune opened the door for a thriller.
Once Cocker hit trouble, Scott Adam grabbed the lead ahead of Rob Austin, Jeffs and Tim Porter. No car could forge a definitive advantage early on and the top four ran together and shuffled the lead between them virtually every lap. Austin was ahead on lap three, before Jeffs sliced by on lap four and began to stamp his mark.
Once the leaders hit traffic Jeffs excelled and managed to forge a gap he’d never lose, as Porter, Austin and Adam all engaged in their own battle. Adam secured second with a dive into Copse on the final lap, while Austin demoted Porter further by dragging by on the tighter line exiting Woodcote for the final time.
“The race was absolutely mad, there were packs of cars everywhere,” said Jeffs. “Lapping the Coopers was tough as they carry a lot of mid-corner speed, but I was being patient and picking my moments and getting most of my passing down on the straights. It’s about trying to stay relaxed.”
Just behind the top four came the fight for the new Open 180 category, which caters for all versions of modern MINI racing car provided they fit 180bhp per ton. Challenge regular Keith Issatt was the winner after a tense battle with Richard Mills, racing novice Stuart Lane and Jonathan Davis. Issatt, who enlisted Lawrence Davey Racing to run his car, said: “I dived down the inside of Richard at Copse and ended up all over the grass and sideways thinking ‘how will I get this back?’ To win after all that is brilliant.”
Max Bladon continued his domination of the Cooper Class, winning by a comfortable margin in the opener.
After three wins at Donington Park, Bladon picked up where he left off, getting a strong tow in qualifying to snatch pole ahead of rival Josh Gollin. When the lights went out, Bladon made no mistakes, despite the circuit being incredibly busy with a total of 28 starters on the tight National Circuit.
Bladon led from start-to-finish, and was handed the gap when Gollin hit trouble. Gollin piled the pressure on in the early stages, but his car began to wilt mid-race. “I have no idea what’s going on but the car seems to be getting slower by the lap,” said Gollin. “In a straight line Max was just driving away from me, and I couldn’t keep the cars behind me either.”
That was good news for Michael Bamber and Brad Hutchison, who were already having their own great fight for third. The pair swapped the place repeatedly into Brooklands before both of them demoted Gollin down to fourth. Bamber made second his own with a well-timed lunge at Copse two laps from home.
“I’ve never even tested on this track, so I have to thank the team for giving me such a great car,” said Bamber. “The race was brilliant. Brad and I were neck-and-neck every turn, and it was tough to manage our on race with the faster cars coming past too.”
But up front Bladon was imperious. “Everything seems to be going my way at the moment and the car was just superb,” he said. “I could do almost exactly the same lap time each lap, and that consistency just helped me pull clear. Then it was about watching my mirrors for the faster cars and managing things. What a great start to the season.”
Gollin was fourth at the flag, ahead of Sam Weller, Owen Walton, Adam Davey, Marco Haig and William Neal.
Round: 5 Laps: 18 Weather: Cloudy, dry
Scott Jeffs made it two from two at Silverstone with a controlled drive to victory in a fraught race on Sunday morning.
Jeffs started from pole but didn’t get the best launch, falling behind Scott Adam by the end of the first lap. Adam was trying to push hard to forge an early gap, but it all went wrong entering Brooklands on lap three. “I went in a bit too hot and the back end just stepped out and it was one of those ‘WOOOOOW, how do I hold this?!’ moments,” said Adam after catching a monster slide at the apex. “I was off the track and had the option of coming straight back on and bashing someone or keeping wide, so I kept wide.”
That allowed Jeffs back in front, but Adam soon got the tow back and made another dive for the lead through the complex towards the end, before Jeffs used a better exit from Woodcote to re-establish himself out front by the flag.
“I’ve got that winning mentality now and seem to be able to push myself that bit harder as I’m desperate for the wins,” said Jeffs. “When Scott got past me for the last time I was so determined and managed to get a good run on him and get the lead back into Copse. It all worked out nicely from then on.”
Rob Austin was a lonely third, with a comfortable gap back to Tim Porter. Stu Lane celebrated his first open class win in only his second-ever race after he dominated much of the race after an early pass on Jonathan Davis. Both Keith Issatt and Richard Mills had tardy early laps and fell back, but Issatt managed to fight back and claim second in the Open Class, and sixth overall. “It feels mega to get the win in just my second car race, it’s been a pretty exciting weekend so far,” said Lane. “The car is feeling mega, so when I got in front it was about watching for the slower Coopers and then the faster boys at the front as we’re sort of stuck in the middle of their fights.”
Davis was seventh ahead of Mills, Simon Clark and the unfortunate Steve Cocker, who once again struggled with electrical sensor issues, not aided by a first lap spin and contact. Chloe Hewitt rounded out the Open runner in 11th.
Max Bladon made it five Cooper class wins in a row after a seemingly calm drive to victory. The Excelr8 man started on pole, got a decent launch and simply never looked back as he cruised to victory as others hit trouble behind him.
The chase was headed by Sam Weller, who made great use of a fresh set of Dunlops to work his way into second after a strong start. He ran ahead of Michael Bamber, and soaked up the early pressure well. Bamber looked set for another podium, until he ran wide entering Brooklands and skipped over the grass, falling to sixth.
That handed third to Brad Hutchison, but he wound up in the Becketts gravel a lap from the finish. The troubles allowed Adam Davey into third place.
“The race was pretty simple really,” said Bladon. “I knew Sam was on new tyres so I had to push like mad to get a gap as my tyres were older and I knew he’d come on strong later in the race. I guess the fighting behind him helped me.”
Weller added: “It’s been a long slog to get to the podium, but it feels great. I wasn’t even looking to catch Max – he was gone. I was more concerned about fighting off the others to hold second. I’m glad I made it happen.”
Davey added: “I kept it on the road and kept picking up places whenever anybody went off in front of me. I didn’t expect third mid-race, but things just came to me in the later stages.”
Bamber recovered to fourth ahead of James Goodall, Martin Poole and Nathaniel Gollin. It was worse for Josh Gollin, who gradually slipped down the order after yet more struggles with straight-line speed and finished down in 13th. Simon Walton took eighth ahead of Adrian Norman and William Neal.
Round: 6 Laps: 18 Weather: Cloudy, dry
After a weekend of misery so far, Steve Cocker brought a little sunshine to a dreary Silverstone by finally grabbing his second win of the season in the final outing.
After an electrical glitch that sapped his power in race one, and a wheel sensor failure that took out his braking abilities in race two, Cocker’s car held together nicely for him to battle his way to the win, but he had to work for it.
Cocker started on pole, but didn’t get the best of starts, allowing Rob Austin to assume the head of the pack for the first few turns before Cocker got back alongside into Becketts and made the place his own after the pair had run side-by-side all the way around Brooklands, Luffield and Woodcote before Cocker got the faster line around Copse.
Austin tried to attack Cocker again. But lost time and opened the door for Scott Adam to dive past for second. Austin and Adam would trade second a handful of times, all the time working together to keep within striking distance of Cocker, but neither could find a way through. The order was settled when Jeffs slipped past Austin to snatch the final podium place late on.
“It’s about time really,” said a delighted Cocker. “This weekend has been a bit of a nightmare with the failures and incidents, so I was always nervous of pushing the car too hard. But it was a great race against the other guys, they never gave me any breathing space. I’m just happy to be back on the top step.”
Jeffs added: “That was a difficult race and I just couldn’t seem to find the pace to get higher up the order. Still it’s been a great weekend with two wins and a third.”
Behind the top four Tim Porter rounded out the R56 JCW runners in fifth, just ahead of a tight race for the Open 180 Class, this time won by Richard Mills – who completed a hat trick of different winners in the CHALLENGE’s newest division. Mills fought his way to the front ahead of Keith Issatt and Simon Clark to score his first car racing victory in only his second-ever race weekend.
“I’ve only done one race in a Toyota MR2 before for experience, so this is brilliant,” said Mills. “I loved the feeling of being on the podium and the race was brilliant. There was action everywhere. Hopefully there’s more like this to come.”
Max Bladon secured a superb sixth in the Cooper Class after yet another classy performance. Despite starting back on row three, Bladon took just two-and-a-half laps to hit the front with a series of well-judged passing moves, including a gutsy moment when three cars ran together toward Copse with Bladon on the outside.
Once ahead though, Bladon couldn’t pull away and was kept honest by Sam Weller and Martin Poole. Weller, who was still on fresher tyres, stayed close, but couldn’t find a way to put a meaningful challenge together for the lead.
“This weekend has been a dream, just like Donington,” said Bladon. “To win six in a row is surreal. I was still on really old tyres and it really showed in that race as I was having to be so careful through the corners not to slide them or overload them, so Sam was always on my tail.”
Weller said: “It’s great to get another podium but it’s clear we have some work to do to catch Max. I just couldn’t get close enough to him. But it’s a long season so there’s plenty of time yet.”
Martin Poole completed the podium after a difficult weekend, during which he’d failed to finish the first race after sustaining broken steering. “To be back in the top three means a lot, and thanks to Coastal Racing for fixing the car this weekend,” he said.
Simon Walton completed the top four ahead of Rob Sims Racing team-mate James Goodall. Josh Gollin had a brighter race, taking sixth ahead of his brother Nathaniel, but still wasn’t happy with the way his car was performing.
Race two podium finishers Michael Bamber and Adam Davey both had troubled events, finishing their races in the gravel after issues.