MINI CHALLENGE JCW Brands Hatch Indy, Rounds: 12-14
Round: 12 Laps: 21 Weather: Sunny, warm
Having taken his maiden pole position last time out at Rockingham, Brett Smith carried newfound confidence and momentum into Brands Hatch, and made good use of it to convert a second pole into a maiden win in race one.
Back with his usual Eurotech Racing squad after a sabbatical to Oakfield Motorsport in Corby, Smith again was the star of qualifying, leaving it late to slam in a time good enough to top an excruciatingly tight session. David Grady went second fastest, just 0.015s off Smith’s time. Rob Smith and Chris Smith occupied the second row ahead of Charlie Butler-Henderson, with just 0.094s between the entire top five!
Things were less rosy for points leader Nathan Harrison, who could only go seventh fastest after struggling for grip on his set of Dunlop tyres.
When the lights went out Brett Smith got a great launch to lead Grady into paddock, as Rob Smith and the fast-starting Butler-Henderson both slotted in behind. Chris Smith didn’t get the best start and sat in fifth for the majority of the race, until a mistake at clearways left him skating through the gravel, which started a tumble down the order.
“It was my error, and then I kept my foot in to try and get the car out of the gravel, but when I rejoined I thought I had a puncture, and also had grass in the radiator so had no power at all,” said Smith. It turned out to be a damaged suspension damper, which limited Smith to a lowly 11th.
Up front Brett Smith was flawless, leading from lights-to-flag. “It feels great to win, I definitely feel overdue one after Rockingham where I had to settle for a podium,” said Smith. “I just kept pushing like mad, so I wouldn’t say it was as controlled as it should have been, but I’ve only won two races before this, so I’ll take a win however.”
Grady was happy with second. “The chance to pass Brett just didn’t come up, so it’s solid points at the end of the day,” he said. “I was catching him in sector one, but he always had that little bit on me at the end of the lap.”
The fight for third was thrilling as MINI UK team-mates Rob Smith and Butler-Henderson duelled all race. Butler-Henderson repeatedly towed onto the back of Smith in the Paddock Hill braking zone before making a last-lap lunge on the brakes on the last lap to secure a podium.
“That was hard work,” said Butler-Henderson, who snatched the championship lead with the result. “I knew I had to do something. I feel for Rob, and I know he’s not that happy about it, but I have to fight to defend my title.”
Rob Smith was a clear fourth ahead of Jono Brown, who fought well up the order from ninth on the grid. Luke Reade took a fine sixth ahead of Jeff Smith and Luke Caudle. Harrison fought to ninth, despite a slow start, but complained of a lack of rear grip and straight-line grunt. “I was really struggling and we’re not sure why,” he said. “This weekend could be a salvage mission after this. I need a good race two to put me at the front for the final reversed grid race.”
Round: 13 Laps: 23 Weather: Sunny, warm
David Grady secured his third victory of the year after getting the jump on pole-man Brett Smith early on in what was a tight second outing at Brands Hatch.
Grady started on the outside of the front row, often the preferred starting slot at the Kent track due to it actually being a higher position on the circuit as opposed to the ‘dipped’ pole slot.
Grady judged his revs perfectly to chase Smith into Paddock, but when Brett ran slightly wide at the apex, it left room for Grady to nose up the inside and grab the initiative into Druids.
Behind the top two, Butler-Henderson got a slow getaway from third on the grid and was swallowed up by team-mate Rob Smith, who was keen to make amends for missing the podium on Saturday. Rob Smith began to pile the pressure on Brett in second place as the top four started to run nose-to-tail.
Grady slowly began to edge away mid-race, before his power steering gave up with 10 laps to go and made his life much harder work at the front. With super-heavy steering, Grady couldn’t maintain his pace and was forced to defend hard. Brett made a last-lap lunge into Graham Hill Bend, but Grady had it covered and held on.
“It was such hard work as it was boiling in the car and the power steering going was the last thing I needed,” said Grady. “Brett wasn’t giving me any breathing space so I had to keep my head down and keep pushing. A second yesterday and a win today helps take the pressure off going into the reversed grid race.”
Brett Smith said: “The car just wasn’t there for the win in this one, and David’s move at the start was great to be fair, I couldn’t do much about it. After that I followed him and hoped for a mistake, but it just didn’t come.”
Rob Smith fought off another late challenge from Butler-Henderson to snatch his first podium of the weekend. “I wasn’t best pleased with Charlie’s move yesterday so I learned from it for today and didn’t give him an inch,” he said. “It’s good to be back on the podium but that was a tight race. You could feel that if anybody made a mistake the race would change hugely.”
Butler-Henderson netted fourth, and extended his championship lead due to trouble for his rivals. Nathan Harrison again struggled for pace and could only manage ninth, having been shoved wide at Graham Hill early on and being forced to fight back. Chris Smith was just tenth. Jono Brown was running fifth until his car began to lose power with a mystery issue with two laps to go. The engine died entirely in the last turn, meaning he rolled over the line 18th.
Luke Caudle took fifth place after sticking to the back of Butler-Henderson, while Neil Newstead secured sixth after a battle with Henry Neal and Lawrence Davey.
Round: 14 Laps: 17 Weather: Sunny, warm
It’s been a long time coming, but Luke Caudle finally rediscovered his winning form as Charlie Butler-Henderson extended his newfound points lead with a controlled drive to second.
Caudle has had a patchy season this year, struggling with his original car and only really enjoying stints at the front when a replacement could be sought. For this event, much like the earlier rounds at Brands, he borrowed the absent Juan Diego Hernandes machine and thrived.
Following his strong fifth in race one, Caudle was drawn on pole for the reversed grid and duly made the most of it, even if he had the hard work to do twice.
Caudle got away well on the first start as Rob Smith vaulted Butler-Henderson into Paddock and began to pile the pressure on. But the red flags soon flew when Steve and Calum King collided on the main straight and shed debris on the track.
The grid was reformed in original order with a shortened 15minute race planned. Caudle repeated his trick off the line to again lead the pack, but this time Butler-Henderson judged his start nicely to keep Rob Smith at bay in second.
A five-car train soon formed for the lead, with the fast-starting David Grady and Henry Neal in tow. However, nobody could find a gap to make a move stick, despite Butler-Henderson’s best efforts to try and unseat Caudle on the brakes into Paddock.
“It’s about time!” said Caudle. “I’ve waited ages for a shot at winning again so I was determined not to blow it. The problem is the more you think about not making a mistake the more likely you are to actually make one, so I was trying to keep my mind off it and relax. The red flag was torture because we were just sat in the cars in direct sun for ages and it was boiling.”
Rob Smith was happy with third, adding: “There wasn’t much more we could do. Once the temperatures get that high they cut the power to manage themselves and there’s not much you can do in the heat. Third is a decent result again.”
Butler-Henderson’s second place gave him a nice cushion in the points due to yet more struggles for his title rivals. Nathan Harrison could only come home ninth, with Chris Smith eighth and Jono Brown a fighting 13th after his issues in race two.