MINI CHALLENGE, JCW, Snetterton Rounds: 17-19

Round: 17    Laps: 10    Weather: Cloudy, dry

David Grady stole the momentum in the chase for this year’s MINI CHALLENGE Championship with race one victory at Snetterton, but his rivals are still right on his tail.

After seeing his title chances evaporate at the exact same stage last season, Grady put things right with a controlled drive to victory, in a race where a certain amount of luck was on his side.

Qualifying was extremely tight, with the 27-car entry having to cope with a fair amount of traffic on their flying laps. Grady got an early banker lap in to sit on pole for much of the session before Jeff Smith set a superb lap to steal the place away, or so he thought.

Jeff’s time was scrubbed from the record after the session when his car was judged to be running an illegal rear-view mirror, which handed top spot to Luke Caudle, who had also displaced Grady late on.

With Grady on the front row it placed extra pressure on his title rivals, as Nathan Harrison could only go fifth fastest and reigning champion Charlie Butler-Henderson was down in eighth. “We seem to have lost a little pace, and I have no idea why,” said Butler-Henderson.

With the title battle likely to be played out further down the order, Caudle was hungry for a win. He got a great start to head the pack into Riches, with Grady slotting in behind and the fast-starting Luke Reade.

The top two began to edge away, until things were turned on their head when Caudle went straight on and hit the barriers at Riches. “I’d been testing on old tyres so I’d played about with the brake bias and forgot to shift it back for the race,” he explained. “I went in too hot and it just locked up. I’m gutted because I didn’t need to be pushing that hard.

That handed Grady a comfortable lead ahead of a superb squabble for second. Reade held the spot initially, but had Brett Smith climbing all over him. Brett tried down the inside repeatedly at Riches, only for Reade to slam the door each time.

Their fight allowed the pack of Harrison, Butler-Henderson and Jono Brown to close in, and soon the five ran together. Things were shaken up when Reade was forced to defend into Agostini, which delayed Brett Smith and opened the door for the opportunistic Harrison to skip past both.

With Harrison in second, Butler-Henderson had to act. He chased down Reade and together the pair produced the moment of the race. CB-H dived outside Reade into Riches, as Reade locked up trying to brake to avoid the MINI UK car, the pair made contact, sending the title challenger into a huge slide.

I thought it was game over, but I had to make a move as Nathan was getting away,” said CB-H. “I was braced for the hit as I knew it would be marginal and when it came it was full instinct. Full opposite lock and hard on the throttle. I can’t believe I held it!

Reade held the place on the road, but picked up 10 seconds of penalties for repeatedly straying beyond track limits during his defence of the place. That dropped him to 13th in the final classification.

That handed CB-H third, behind Harrison and runaway winner Grady, who needed the win.

I’m the only driver with points to drop, so I need direct results this weekend,” he said. “I was actually quite happy to sit second to Luke as I knew he wouldn’t give a place up easily, especially when it’s for a win. I was surprised when he went off on his own, but it helped me out a load!

Harrison added: “Second is OK but I need to be ahead. Tomorrow is another day and we have two more races so settle things. It’s going to be tight for sure.

Brett Smith was fourth, ahead of Brown and Sam Osborne. James Turkington took a five seventh ahead of the battling Henry Neal, Lawrence Davey and Chris Smith.

Round: 18    Laps: 5    Weather: Heavy fog

The poor weather conditions on Sunday at Snetterton blighted what promised to be a stunning season finale, with heavy fog forcing the cancellation of one race and the reduction of the other. But one driver not to care was David Grady, who secured the 2016 MINI CHALLENGE title in the finale.

With fog forcing the cancellation of the entire morning programme on Sunday, the MINI combatants were reduced to just a single 15-minute race. The grid looked more than a little tasty, with Grady on pole, ahead of title challengers Nathan Harrison and Charlie Butler-Henderson, meaning the top three in the points began in order, and with all to play for.

Grady’s race one win gave him a six-point lead over Harrison, with Butler-Henderson just three further back. It was game on… except sadly it wasn’t.

Visibility was reduced to just a few metres at best, which severely limited MSVR’s ability to run racing. The grid started behind the safety car and toured around for two laps so the drivers could at least acclimatise to the conditions. When racing did begin, Grady got a great start to pull a few car lengths over Harrison, as CB-H held the final podium spot, but knew it wouldn’t be enough to let him defend his title.

Then, after just a single lap, the safety car reappeared when yet more fog blew in. Most knew the game was up, but there was one more lap to worry about.

I knew I’d nailed the first restart, and when I saw the safety car again I was half relieved and half disappointed,” said Grady. “The fog was so bad, but it was blowing in and out, so each corner looked different every lap. I knew we didn’t have much time left, so at least it was more laps done when I wasn’t racing, but I knew there would be that final one.

There was. The entire season boiled down to a single lap – one chance to shine, and also one chance to make what could be a season-defining error.

For Grady, there wasn’t a chance of the latter.

“I think the second restart was even better than the first,” he beamed after crossing the line 0.5s clear of the chasing Harrison. “I just can’t explain how good it feels to win this championship. It’s the biggest achievement of my career and we’re the smallest team in the paddock, and with the smallest budget. I just hope this proves to everybody that you don’t have to be the biggest and the richest to be able to win here. It’s amazing.

Harrison was second, but did get the consolation of setting the fastest lap on the final tour. “Fair play to David he deserved it,” said Harrison. “I pushed as hard as I could but there was nothing I could do in a race that was basically a single lap, and we couldn’t see much either.

Butler-Henderson’s third place mirrored his finish in the points, but the outgoing champion was gracious in defeat. “David’s done a great job all year so it’s good to see him up there,” said CB-H. “I can’t be too unhappy. I have had a great year and I have the budget in place for next season, two podiums and an empty bottle of champagne, so it’s all good.”

When I saw the second safety car I knew that was it, the game was up. There’s nothing you can do and clearly the weather was against us today. There’s other weekends and other years, so we’ll be back.

Brett Smith took fourth, just ahead of Henry Neal, who managed to sneak ahead of Jono Brown on that one racing lap.