MINI CHALLENGE Cooper S, Open, Cooper Brands Hatch Indy, Rounds: 10-12
Round: 10 Laps: 22 Weather: Sunny, warm
Max Bladon came closer than ever to losing his unbeaten streak this season when he dropped as low as fifth on the first lap of the Brands Hatch MINI Festival opener. However, it would not be the day that the Excelr8 man would be denied, and a spirited fight back meant his winning streak extended to double figures for the first time.
Both Josh Gollin and Simon Walton took turns at the front in what was a thrilling battle from start to finish. Walton struck the first blow in qualifying, somehow managing to find clear air on the short Indy track amongst 31 other entries to snatch pole ahead of Bladon, with Gollin and Max Leaver occupying the second row.
When the lights went out Walton got the best start to head the pack through Paddock, but then hit problems. “I went into turn one first, but then caught the Open Class cars that started ahead of us into Druids and kind of got stuck in the middle,” said Walton, who was swamped back to fourth.
Gollin grabbed the early advantage by judging the traffic superbly to nip into the lead, as Michael Bamber proved the cork in the bottle behind him in second. Bladon made short work of Bamber to sneak through and chase the runaway leader. Traffic helped him close the gap and soon Bladon was all over Gollin’s bumper before launching a well-timed move for the lead around the outside of clearways with a few laps to run to make it 10 in a row.
“The race was such hard work and I honestly didn’t think I could win,” said Bladon. “I just kept it clean and concentrated on not making any mistakes or silly moves as there were cars everywhere you looked.”
Gollin added: “Second is good. I felt pretty ill after qualifying and again during the final stages of that race. It must be the heat but I couldn’t do anything about Max.”
The fight for third was the highlight. Bamber held the place for much of the race, but a hungry pack gradually formed behind him consisting of Walton, Ollie Walker, Leaver, Macaulay Austin and Martin Poole.
Walton managed to scrape through Bamber’s stern defence to snatch third, as things got a bit messy behind. Bamber was tipped sideways at Clearways in a shuffle that also forced Walker out wide and through the gravel. Walker fought back from the off to finish fifth behind Bamber, with Sam Weller, Darren Chatt, Adam Davey, Owen Walton and Adrian Norman completing the top 10.
Rob Austin celebrated his first outright race victory in the Cooper S Class, taking the lead after an uncharacteristic mistake by Steve Cocker.
Cocker looked comfortable for the early stages before a mistake at clearways dumped him wide and cost him ground. Austin was the grateful beneficiary and controlled the pace brilliantly to manage the traffic and come home almost three second clear of Tim Porter and Scott Adam. Carlito Miracco ran second early on before being shuffled wide out of Druids and falling back to fourth.
“To win feels great but the race was just frantic,” said Austin. “Managing the Coopers and Open cars was a nightmare mid-race as a lot of them don’t see you coming as they’re in their own fights already.”
Keith Issatt dominated the Open 180 Class to finish sixth overall ahead of Richard Mills, Stu Lane, Jonathan Davis and Simon Clarke.
Round: 11 Laps: 2 Weather: Sunny, warm
The first race on Sunday was the victim of two red flag stoppages after a series of unfortunate incidents. Cars off at McLaren and twice at Paddock Hill led the meeting organisers to halt the event, and the race was struck from the meeting due to timetable concerns.
Round: 12 Laps: 15 Weather: Sunny, warm
It may have been controversial, but Rob Austin celebrated a double victory with a win in the final outing of the weekend as Max Bladon made it an unprecedented 11 wins in a row to put himself on the brink of the title.
In what was a fragmented final race, Scot Adam claimed the win on the road ahead of race one victor Austin after a safety car interlude, before the stewards reversed the order post-race.
With the cancellation of race two, the grid formed up without the traditional reversed starters, meaning Austin started on pole ahead of Tim Porter, Adam and Carlito Miracco.
Austin got the better launch when the lights went out to lead the pack, but it was short lived when the safety car was called after one lap with two cars off a Clearways and Darren Chatt’s Cooper stopped on the entry to Paddock Hill. Austin eased off, while Adam slipped past just as the flags flew.
“I wasn’t really sure what was going on as Rob eased up very quickly so I passed him almost accidentally, I tried to wave him back through several times but he just sat behind me so I just stayed there,” said Adam.
On the restart Adam led the pack away and stayed in front to the flag with Austin as his constant shadow. But the stewards handed him a 2.5 second penalty for passing under yellows, handing Austin the win and leaving Adam second. Miracco completed the podium with Steve Cocker making some amends for his race one error to finish fourth ahead of double Open Class winner Keith Issatt.
Jonathan Davis was second in the open category, ahead of Simon Clarke and the recovered Richard Mills, whose car was patched up nicely after rolling in the race-stopping incident in race two.
Bladon continued his remarkable unbeaten streak with another Cooper Class win, and this time it was far more comfortable.
Bladon started on pole, got the best start, and rarely looked back from then on. He was helped by a tight fight behind him. Sam Weller opted to fit his fresh Dunlop tyres for the last outing, and got a great start to take advantage of the extra grip and slot into second ahead of Michael Bamber in the early laps.
Bamber then came under pressure from Josh Gollin in what proved a tense duel. Gollin threw Bamber a dummy out of Druids and then closed onto his bumper through Graham Hill. The pair ran together down the Brabham Straight before rubbing through Surtees and McLaren still side-by-side. Entering Paddock, there was contact and Bamber was elbowed wide.
Gollin took third, as Bamber did superbly to hold his slide and net fourth. But all of them were well short of Bladon.
Brad Hutchison capped his weekend with a fifth place ahead of Max Leaver, Macaulay Austin and William Neal. Simon Walton may have started his weekend onm pole, but ended it in the garage as he was prevented from taking the start of the last race after being an innocent casualty of the chaos that stopped the earlier race.