Ant Whorton-Eales secured this year’s MINI CHALLENGE JCW Championship title with another dominant drive in the first race of the weekend at Donington Park, taking his winning streak to seven.
If qualifying had an unusual look to it, the race played right into the hands of the title protagonists, with the forewarned wet weather giving way to dry, sunny conditions for the morning’s outing.
The change in conditions didn’t favour polesitter Ben Palmer, whose experience in the 265bhp JCW has been limited exclusively to wet running. Palmer didn’t get off the line well, and was soon swamped by fellow front row starter James Gornall and Whorton-Eales, who enjoyed his customary rocket start to run alongside Gornall down the Craner Curves.
That’s where things went wrong for Gornall, who got sideway at the left-hand kink and was spat off onto the grass, before skipping out of control down the hill and back across the front of the pack, only narrowly missing Jordan Collard’s front bumper.
Palmer also slid through the gravel at the Old Hairpin and lost ground, allowing both Nathan Harrison and Collard to slip up the order and chase Calum King, who was now in second.
With clean air ahead of him, Whorton-Eales pumped in a series of strong laps to pull a gap of over five seconds on the field, and from then on the hard work was done.
“I think it all came down to a really strong first lap again,” said the new champion. “People have been asking me what I do at the starts for years, I guess I just have a knack for it!
“Once I got ahead I just kept things tidy and concentrated on not making mistakes. Donington has a lot less abrasion than many tracks, so I worked really hard on the green flag lap to bring the tyres in, possibly harder than those ahead, and the early grip really helped me. But what a run we’re on. The title is great, but I’d definitely like to make it eight in a row later…”
With the title, and the race win, sewn up, the fight for second erupted. King fought hard to hold off Collard, who had slipped past Harrison on lap two, but eventually gave way when Collard got underneath him into Coppice corner and completed the move into the Fogarty Esses. Harrison followed Collard through and began to pile the pressure on, but fell just short at the flag.
“That race was really hard work,” said Collard. “The start was crazy. I saw Gornall go onto the grass and just had his car in the corner of my eye as I saw he couldn’t slow it down. If he’d caught me that would’ve been a big one, but luckily we all missed each other. I saw Nathan catching me toward the end, and I just had to hang on. Ant’s behind me for race two, and I’m determined to give him more of a race to end the year.”
Harrison added: “That was a good race, especially with Jordan, and it’s good to be on the podium again and congratulations to Ant. Jordan just had the initial bit of squirt in his car at the start and managed to get past me and pull a bit of a gap, but my car came into it later in the race so I could worry him a bit over the final laps.”
King held off a spirited fightback from Palmer to secure fourth place, with George Sutton a strong sixth on his return to the field. Lewis Brown was seventh after battling past Rory Cuff and Jack Davidson. Rob Smith completed the top 10 after recovering from a gravelly moment at Redgate on the first lap.