The four main contenders for the MINI CHALLENGE title are predicting a tense showdown at Snetterton this weekend, with each knowing a single mistake could end their charge.
While six drivers from the premier JCW Class go into Norfolk with a shot at the championship crown, the fight will likely boil down to a straight fight between the top four, who are all blanketed by just 25 points, with 50 awarded for a race win.
David Grady leads the standings as they are ahead of the final triple-header, but on dropped scores sits third as he’s not had a single DNF so far this term. In second, but first on dropped total is reigning champion Charlie Butler-Henderson, with class newcomer and reigning Cooper Class champion Nathan Harrison just a point behind. Jono Brown is fourth, and still firmly in with a shot at taking his maiden title.
Butler-Henderson has already had to conquer the challenge of finding a replacement car for this weekend, after his old one was written off in a high-speed accident during the last round at Oulton Park.
“I’ve had a new car built up and it’s been massively hard work trying to find the budget to get it all done and sorted, but we’re there now,” Butler-Henderson says. “We had time for a half-day test recently after the car was finished and it feels perfect.
“Snetterton will be a battle, but I just have to go out there and do exactly what I did last year, which is win. With so many drivers so close in the points the pressure is on, but what happens, happens. I know the pace is there in the new car, so I’m definitely in with a shot of defending this championship.”
Harrison is aiming for a record. He would become the first driver to win the Cooper Class and the JCW Class back-to-back, and it would cement his second title in as many seasons of car racing.
“With just a point in it, it will be hugely tight,” says Harrison. “I’m looking at it that I have nothing to lose really, so I have to go out and push. Charlie is the reigning champion so a lot of the spotlight and pressure will be on him. I don’t have any pressure really.
“To win back to back titles would be something special, as nobody has done it in these classes before. There are some really top drivers in the series this year, so to be champion this year would be really special.”
Grady led the points heading into this stage last season, but saw his advantage evaporate due to a race one accident, which heavily damaged his car.
“I could be owed some luck at Snetterton this year, but I have to go out and really attack the weekend,” he says. “I know only wins will really do as Charlie, Nathan and Jono will all be quick. The difference is they’ve used up all of their dropped scores so they perhaps have to race with a bit more caution than I do.”
“We’ve found more power from the engine over the second half of the season because we were down at the start of the year with a slight fault. Snetterton is a bit of a power track with a few long straights, so that will hep my bid.”
Brown is bidding for his first CHALLENGE title, having been a race-winner before in all of the series’ current classes. With four wins this season, he is the leading race winner of the year.
“This year has been a surprise because when I saw the entry list my expectations were just to get a few top 10 finishes,” says Brown. “But when I got pole and won at Brands Hatch it shifted those expectations, and I’ve ended up with more wins than anybody and still in the fight for the championship, so I’ve really proved myself”.
“I know I’m the underdog for the championship as there’s three other drivers better placed than me in reality, but it’s not out of reach. The key for this weekend will be to treat it like any other. The car is working well so we won’t change it and just concentrate on going for those wins to keep the pressure on everybody else”.
“I like the fact that Snetterton is a longer lap, so it places more of an emphasis on driver skill than the shorter tracks as there’s more chances to make mistakes and ruin a lap. Qualifying will be key, and in the races it will be about staying out of trouble and pushing as hard as we can.”
On the undercard of the JCW fight will be the shared Cooper S and Cooper grid. The Cooper S title is still all to play for between Scott Jeffs, Scot Adam and Tim Porter.
Jeffs leads the points after a great recovery drive last time out at Cadwell Park to steal the points lead back from season-long rival Adam. Porter is the only other driver in realistic contention.
The Cooper Class battle has long since been settled in favour of Max Bladon, but the fight is on for second spot between Josh Gollin and Sam Weller.