2019 BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship.
Round 8, Silverstone.
Silverstone International is a great circuit for Mazda racing. Its about the right length (1 minute 22 second laps), has a nice blend of fast and slower corners, and is wide enough in places to race four abreast. The racing is always close and often in packs as cars gain slipstreams from each other. In other words, the perfect venue for a championship showdown.
I thought from the start of the year the championship would be decided here and it had always been my target to be in with a chance entering the meeting. This looked like it wouldn’t happen after the disastrous first meeting at Brands Hatch, but amazingly we arrived with a small but important eight point lead. It was far from over though, as there are maximum of 102 points available for each of the three races.
The practise sessions went well and I felt good in the car. It had been five weeks since the previous round, so it was good to get back into the grove. It took a few laps to find space in qualifying, as there were 34 drivers on track in each group, 68 entered in total. Once I found space though I was able to post the fastest time of all to secure pole position. This was my sixth time being fastest in my qualifying group in 2019, and my third pole of the season too. That was all well and good but there are no points for qualifying and my title rival Will Blackwell-Chambers (WBC) would not be far away, starting fourth for race 1A.
Off the start, second place (Ali Bray, boss of my old team AB Motorsport) nipped ahead and WBC tucked in behind me. At Stowe on the first lap, WBC got just ahead but I hung on round the outside to maintain my place. And so it began… the race was full of slipstreaming moves, defence and attack. I lead for a time in the first third of the race and at one point it looked like Fraser Fenwick and I had pulled away, but it all closed up again. I then spent the middle part of the race in fourth, behind WBC, but I was able to set the fastest lap during this period and therefore gain two extra points. With five minutes left I was able to slip past into third and then had a go for second, but that didn’t work and it was a free for all once more, with cars everywhere as we went onto the final lap. It was all elbows out at this point and I was relieved to finish in fifth, one place and four points to the good over Will.
Near the end of that race, there was some contact between the two of us as Will was rejoining the circuit. The Mazda Championship uses something called Incident Report forms, where you can bring something to the attention of the clerk without the need for a full protest. I submitted one and was expecting Will would get a wrap on the knuckles and be warned about any more contact. However, it turned out he was given two points on his race licence (a similar system to road licence points), which also attracts a six championship point deduction.
With a lot of over night rain race 2A was dry surprisingly, but with some damp patches about. I got away well, but found myself losing out to a train of cars on my inside as we went round the first few corners. I took the decision to attack down the outside into the slow Village corner and managed to go past three cars, including WBC, in one hit. I then jumped into third place, but not for long as the regulation amount of Mazda racing action meant plenty of position swapping over the next few laps. When it settled, I was in fourth; two AB drivers up the road, Brian Trott in front of me and Ali Bray behind. It was never going to stay like that though and with three laps to go I went from third to seventh in one straight! I clawed my way back to fourth by the end, two places ahead of my rival.
Looking back, this was when the championship was clinched due to the penalty points Will received in race 1A, but we were not sure at the time if appeals were on going. I still wanted to do race 3A in any case; we’re here to race.
And I was very pleased I did race. For the first time in a while, it felt like freedom. By lap two I was in the front group with three other cars (all AB Motorsport) and we had a gap back to the rest of the pack. I sat in third for the most part, then into second when Fenwick missed a gear. There was plenty of shuffling though and I was in fourth place as we went under the bridge on the Hangar Straight on the final lap. I had looked after my tyres well though and was able to take a tight line through Stowe to emerge in the lead! To take the win, fastest lap, and also put a real stamp on the championship in one go has to be one of the best moments of my career.
The following hours all flew past with the podium, some interviews and plenty of hugs and congratulations all blurring into one.
It was the end of a long hard fought season and of course there are lot’s of people to thank. I put all of these together into a post on my Facebook page, which you can see here. Obviously extra thanks go to my Dad, Ian, who has supported me from the very beginning.
Plans for 2020 are underway and I hope to be able to bring news about this soon. In the meantime thank you for reading, I hope you have enjoyed the season as much as we did!
Circuit photo credit: Dave Luck.