Donington Park, Sunday, June 23
Nathan Harrison snatched the MINI CHALLENGE JCW points lead courtesy of a dominant double victory over the Donington Park weekend, completed with a thrilling drive through the pack in race two.
On a high after securing his first victory of the season in the day’s first event, Harrison started back in sixth on the reversed grid, but didn’t take long to scythe his way through the pack with some gusty passing moves.
The reversed grid draw gave Ben Palmer pole, and he duly converted that to the early lead as the pack ran into Redgate, with Harrison and Dan Zelos both making great choices to pick their way through the traffic as cars ran three-abreast down the Craner Curves.
By the end of the first lap, Harrison and Zelos were filling Palmer’s mirrors, and the leader knew he had a problem.
“I just can’t get off the corners like the others do, it seems to be a lack of traction,” said Palmer, who was swamped by both Harrison and Zelos into Goddards and the Melbourne Hairpin respectively on successive laps. “Obviously I’m running this car myself, with little data to go on, and clearly I’m missing a trick…”
Once clear, and once a brief safety car period to retrieve Richard Newman’s stranded car from the gravel had been completed, Harrison and Zelos toured away from the pack to take a formation one-two finish for the MINI UK VIP Team.
“What a weekend – I said Donington always delivers for me!” Smiled the new points leader. “From the very start of this weekend the car has been on rails, and the results have finally gone my way. I had to be pretty ballsy at the start. I got probably the best launch I’ve ever had and then when we were all running down Craners flat-out and three-abreast I just thought ‘I’m never backing out of this!’ and fortunately it all came together. It’s just been an amazing day.”
Zelos added: “That’s a brilliant result for the team and a brilliant result for me in terms of the championship, but Nathan just had that little bit extra all weekend. I’ve been chasing him and been lucky enough to see his data, but I just couldn’t quite match him this time. He’s been the benchmark, so I’ll up my game for the next round.”
Behind the top two, a thrilling battle for the final podium spot ensued. Palmer held the place as long as he could, before Lewis Brown managed to sneak past at the Melbourne Hairpin, followed by erstwhile points leader James Gornall, who found himself having to recover after being bottled up in the pack following a difficult start.
Gornall piled the pressure on Brown, and made a few lunges for the place by carrying greater momentum out of Fogarty’s chicane. But Brown stuck his car to the middle of the track and just managed to hang on to score his first JCW podium of the season and the second of his career.
“Being on that podium feels so good,” he said. “The race was so tight, Jiggy just would not go away, no matter what I did I just couldn’t shake him off. But the car felt good and I just concentrated on hitting my apexes and keeping my lines and just managed to hold on to it.”
As for Gornall, he added: “It’s been a decent weekend, but I wanted that last podium. I had a rubbish start and then had a massive tank-slapper up towards McLeans at one point. It’s a shame to lose the points lead, but there’s still a lot of the season left to go…”
Palmer wound up a fighting fifth, ahead of Jac Maybin, Tom Rawlings and Rory Cuff. Calum Newsham was ninth with Lee Pattison completing the top 10 having fought hard from the back of the pack following his race one retirement.