MINI CHALLENGE, Cooper & S, Rockingham, Rounds: 7-9
Round: 7 Laps: 13 Weather: Cloudy, dry
We’ve seen some periods of dominance within the Cooper Class order throughout the years, and Max Bladon continued his unbeaten streak to make it seven in a row at Rockingham.
But things didn’t look all that rosy for Bladon at the start of the weekend, after he was deposed from pole for the first time this year. Bladon could only go second quickest, falling less than a tenth short of racing rookie Sam Weller, who drove superbly to snatch his first ever pole position. With Weller and Bladon locking out the front row, Simon Walton returned to form after a knock sensor change to start third, with a refreshed Josh Gollin in fourth spot after engine work post-Silverstone.
Bladon had work to do to get past Weller, but he didn’t get enough revs off the line, bogged down and was immediately staring at the back of Gollin, who got a superb start to run second by the time the pack ran through Yentwood. Bladon briefly dropped to fourth, but soon managed to assert himself and kept the pressure on Gollin, and the top three – headed by Weller – ran as one with Walton close behind.
Bladon used the first few laps to bring his tyres in and then dived for second on the brakes at Deene Hairpin, successfully slipping past Gollin before closing on Weller, who was struggling with his own braking issue. “I don’t know what was happening but the brakes were fading each lap,” said Weller. “It got to the point where my foot was on the floor and I wasn’t stopping much.”
That opened the door for Bladon to pounce and he closed on Weller and repeated his late-braking move to snatch the lead on lap three. From then on Bladon never looked threatened as he made it seven out of seven.
“The start wasn’t ideal, I messed it up,” he said. “But I trusted the car and took my time, picking my moments and managed to make my way through. Seven wins in a row is beyond anything I imagined at the start of this year.”
The fight for second wasn’t settled. Weller held the place until Gollin got a strong tow and dived for second into Deene on lap six, and once he was through he was safe.
“We changed the piston rings after Silverstone and the car feels much better,” said Gollin. “But we still have to do some work to catch Max as he seems to have that bit extra that he can pull out whenever he needs it. But on the plus side it does seem like we’re over the technical problems.”
Weller’s afternoon wasn’t over either as he now had Walton climbing all over him. Walton grabbed the final podium spot on the main straight after getting a better exit from Brook Chicane and beating Weller in the resulting wheel-to-wheel battle into Deene to seal his first podium finish of the year.
“It feels good to get back on the podium,” said Walton. “At the end I got past Sam and my tyres went off straight away so I was hanging on to it from there!”
Weller took fourth and said: “The brakes only just held out, the line burst as soon as I parked it up. It’s a shame as we had the pace but there’s two more races this weekend and I’m feeling confident.”
Behind the top four, Brad Hutchison was fifth ahead of Michael Bamber, James Goodall, Owen Walton and Nathaniel Gollin. Adam Davey took 10th ahead of William Neal, Adrian Norman and newcomer Luke Chard-Maple.
It’s been a disappointing season so far for Steve Cocker. But victory in the Cooper S Class brought some sunshine to an otherwise cloudy afternoon.
Cocker struggled with balance in qualifying, but wasn’t sure why. “I just didn’t feel comfortable in the car for some reason,” he said. “We fitted new tyres and it just seemed to throw all the settings off and I didn’t have the confidence.”
Cocker started just fourth as Scot Adam grabbed pole ahead of Rob Austin and Tim Porter. Scott Jeffs started back in fifth having had to learn the track during qualifying.
Austin got the best start and did much of the early running until he went too hot into Deene and lost control, clipping the barriers and putting himself out. That left Adam in the lead, but with a resurgent Cocker behind. Cocker worked his way past on lap four, but couldn’t pull clear as a mistake at Tarzan opened the door for Adam to fight back.
Cocker eventually asserted himself to take just his third win of the year. “That race was mad,” he said. “The balance in the car still isn’t there and I was having tank-slappers everywhere. A few times it tried to spit me off at the hairpin, so that needs looking at but I was just concentrating on keeping it on the road, so to win is pretty great.”
Behind the top two, Tim Porter completed the podium ahead of Jeffs and series newcomer Carlito Miracco, who overcame a 10second time penalty for an incorrect ECU map to reel the pack in.
Round: 8 Laps: 8 Weather: Cloudy, dry
Max Bladon made it eight in a row in the Cooper Class, but it was perhaps the clearest signal yet that the pack behind won’t let him have it all his own way for too much longer.
Simon Walton took his turn as the biggest challenger to Bladon and hounded the runaway championship leader all race, until a dramatic finale brought out the red flags.
Bladon made a good start from pole to head Walton and the fast-starting Brad Hutchison into Deene. Josh Gollin got a bad getaway and dropped to fifth on the first lap behind Michael Bamber, and with Sam Weller behind.
Bladon couldn’t pull clear up front, and had Walton climbing all over his rear bumper. Walton repeatedly drew alongside the leader down School Straight, but couldn’t find a way past as Bladon repeatedly covered the inside line. Things came to a head on lap seven when Walton nosed ahead into the chicane, but Bladon had the inside. Both cars turned in and rubbed and Walton was spat onto the kerbing, breaking the sump.
Walton’s car began to leak oil around the track, before depositing most of its fluid into Deene. It caused chaos, with cars scattering everywhere and brought out the red flags. That handed Bladon the win, ahead of Hutchison with Walton third on count back.
“Simon was all over me and I was struggling to hold him off as he took new tyres and mine were old,” said Bladon. “Into the chicane I had the inside but he decided to try and go around the outside, but I was already there. It was unfortunate.”
Hutchison said: “I knew something was going to happen with Simon and Max but I didn’t expect it to be that. It was so slippery at the end that cars were going everywhere. I don’t know what to do about stopping Max really, we’ve even tried ganging up on him but that doesn’t seem to keep him off the top step.”
Walton added: “I felt Max could have given me more room, but my pace in that race was great, back to how it was. I knew it was a big hit on the kerb but I kept going and had no idea I was leaking oil. I only found out about it when I was parked up with the engine conked out. Sadly it’s done for the day, so race three is beyond us.”
The fight for fourth was a classic. Bamber held the spot for most of the race with Gollin and Weller in tow. Gollin lunged for the lead at Pif-Paf and he and Bamber traded paint, allowing Weller to pull off a great move around the outside of both of them. Weller sadly ended his race in the Tarzan gravel after picking up oil on his tyres from the spill. That left Gollin in fourth, ahead of Owen Walton, Bamber and James Goodall.
It’s been a long wait, but Scott Adam finally broke his duck in the Cooper S Class, winning a tight shootout with Steve Cocker.
Cocker started on pole but got a bad launch, allowing Adam to head the pack ahead of him with the flying Rob Austin making up ground off the line to run third early on.
Cocker seized the lead back into Deene, but soon lost it when he missed a gear out of Yentwood. “I was having a nightmare with my gears,” said Cocker. “I have no idea why, perhaps I was concentrating too hard on other things and just kept missing them. It was my own fault.”
With Adam ahead he was comfortable, until the spill at Deene, which sent him skating off the track and only just wide of the tyre wall. When the red flags flew, Adam was reinstated as the winner.
“After a year and a half of racing it’s about time and I’m chuffed to bits,” said Adam. “I’ve been the bridesmaid so many times and it’s nice to be the bride once in a while. The end was crazy and there was no grip at Deene and I almost ended up in the barrier. To get the top step after that is a big relief.”
Cocker took second ahead of newcomer Carlito Miracco, who drove solidly to sit in third for much of the event. Austin’s early pace was undone when he had to pit to have his water temperature checked after his race one repair. Scott Jeffs took fourth ahead of Tim Porter.
Round: 9 Laps: 13 Weather: Cloudy, dry
Max Bladon was unbeatable at Rockingham, scoring a perfect nine in a row after a controlled fight up the order in the final outing of the weekend.
Bladon started back in fourth place on the reversed grid and initially struggled to make much headway in the early laps. Poleman Josh Gollin led away but was struggling for straight-line speed from the off and had Brad Hutchison climbing all over him. By lap two, Gollin, Hutchison and Bladon ran as one into Deene. Bladon tried round the outside of both leaders, and briefly nosed ahead of Hutchison, before he fought back into Yentwood and scraped back ahead.
But with Gollin struggling, the top three stayed together before Bladon managed to find space inside of Hutchison to sneak into second and then swiftly caught and passed Gollin to resume his usual position at the head of the pack by lap four. From then on he was untroubled.
“Nine in a row is just surreal,” he said. “I knew we had the pace in the car but that race was hard work having to work through. I think Josh missed a gear when I caught him, he’s a great driver and I don’t usually get past like that. This year has been a dream so far and now it’s on to Brands and I’d like to get one win there, let alone a hat-trick.”
Hutchison also deposed Gollin for second. He said: “It’s not been the best of seasons for me with some incidents, but it’s great to take two podiums and finish all three races over the weekend. The car felt great, but there was just no fighting Max. He found some space and once he was ahead he was gone.”
Gollin spent much of the race in third, before being passed on the penultimate lap by James Goodall out of Brook Chicane. It marked Goodall’s first podium. He said: “What a result! I’m just delighted as I have all of my family here today watching. Hopefully it’s the first of many.”
Gollin then had to contend with William Neal, who was enjoying his most competitive outing of the season so far. He reeled in Gollin and just missed taking fourth spot by 0.026s in the drag race to the line. Michael Bamber secured sixth ahead of Adrian Norman.
Tim Porter made it three winners from the three Cooper S races after taking his breakthrough victory in the final outing.
Scott Jeffs got pole in the reversed grid draw and held firm in the early laps as Steve Cocker fell back after a slow start. Cocker reeled his way back up the order in the early laps though to run second after passing Porter. Cocker then set his sights on Jeffs and the two engaged in a tight tussle, until both ran wide trying to out-brake each other into Deene, opening the door for porter to snatch the initiative up the inside and build a gap.
“I’m dead chuffed with my first win,” said Porter. “I could see the two lads fighting ahead of me and wondered if something would happen, then one went wide and the other followed him, so I figured it’d be rude not to take the place!”
Cocker emerged from the race in second, with Jeffs a happy third after his weekend of learning. Scott Adam finished fourth after a great fight with Rob Austin and Carlito Miracco. The trio repeatedly ran through Brook Chicane as one and traded places between them. Miracco eventually had to visit the pits with a puncture, leaving Adam to head Austin home.