Season starts in style as three ultra competitive Silverstone races produce three different winners

It was business as usual for the all-action MX-5 SuperCup at Silverstone. Pic JON ELSEY

Hosting the opening weekend for the SuperCup, was Silverstone’s National Circuit - a track that most can only dream of getting the chance to race on. A torrentially wet Friday test day showed little possibility of an easy weekend for any the 37 entrants who took up the challenge, with the gallons of rain that lashed down.

This year represents a dramatic shift in the balance for the drivers as we see the MX-5 SuperCup support of the new TCR series coming to the UK for the first time. It was a weekend built on firsts as it also saw reigning champion Luke Herbert return to defend his winning title - something that he confessed was: ‘the most challenging but satisfying championship win of his career’. This season will not be an easy one for him either with the return of title contenders such as James Blake-Baldwin, Jonathan Greensmith and Jack Harding amongst others. Gracing the grid are a few names from our sister championship for the Mk1s such as Will Stephenson who was a top runner among the pack. After a few years in a Mk1 he has decided this is the year to ascend to the Mk3s with the assistance of AK Motorsport. What a year for some to make the move, as it is guaranteed to bring the excitement, adrenaline and fast paced moments associated with a grid of this size.

The Mazdas were representing the very best in UK club motorsport. There were nail-biting moments and winning drives by less than a hair’s breadth. After a ‘called off’ testing day due to dangerous conditions there was a slight lift in mood as the sun was clearly trying to break through on Saturday. With so much action being packed into this weekend the drivers were ready to go out there and join in the fun. The time came for everyone to put their helmets on and head down to the assembly area ahead of being released for their qualifying. After a quick check by the scrutineers, they were allowed out. Just 20 minutes to find room and a clear run is difficult at the best of times but this year the drivers were also learning what 37 cars on track felt like. Results showed Herbert on pole, followed by newcomer, but by no means novice, William Stacey, qualifying seven tenths of a second behind to complete the front row. Qualifying is more important than ever this year as there is a new system introduced to determine the grids. The fastest qualifying lap gives the position for Race 1, the driver’s second fastest lap dictates the positing for Race 2. While Race 3 now also sees a partial reverse grid combined with the results from Race 2.

Saturday saw the pack keeping the spectators guessing until the very end of Race 1. No one could predict how this race would end. Going to the grid the drivers knew the track was still greasy from the morning. They were going to have to plan their tactics very carefully, reaching into the far depths of past experiences to ensure their survival. Approaching the grid, marshals rushed to help Herbert as engine trouble occurred. Herbert dived out of his car, threw his bonnet up to investigate the mechanical failure. It was a nervous moment for his crew down on the pit wall when the rest of Race 1 pulled round without any sign of him. Finally his blue car pulled up with nowhere else to go but from he back of the grid.

Stacey shot into the lead once the lights went out, while Steve Roberts whipped all the horses under the bonnet to sweep into second. By the end of the race we had seen more moves being thrown than on a dance floor. Herbert gave a true champion’s drive by passing almost every competitor to ensure he could get back to fighting for the trophy. From a staggering last to 8th! After an exhausting 20 minutes Stacey took the chequered flag from Roberts and Greensmith. Other notable drives had been achieved by Blake-Baldwin, jumping from 14th to 5th, Ashley Boyles, from 34th to 22nd, and William Sharpe going from 25th to 18th. Lucky for the teams the next race was not until Sunday morning so it was back to the garages for the tweaks and repairs required before some much needed socialising and shut-eye. 

Race 2 saw the grid line up using the second fastest laps from qualifying, which meant a thankful Herbert was back on pole. This time he would have Greensmith alongside for company, with Harding, Aidan Hills and Stacey just behind. The excitement at the circuit was electric and it seemed the whole paddock had come out to watch the race. And with the racing being broadcast live on the internet every corner and move would be under scrutiny.

Just like the first encounter, Race 2 kept the crowd enthralled as the battle for victory played out with often a dozen cars running nose-to-tail trying to find an advantage.

Towards the closing stages Stacey suffered brake failure upon entering Beckett’s, one of the circuit’s heavy braking zones. Stacey had nowhere to go expect straight into the pack, lucky for all expect Richard Wicklen who became the stopping force for Stacey. Both managed to walk away with thanks given to the quick reactions of the marshals and the circuit medical staff.

Meanwhile Blake-Baldwin was giving the performance of a lifetime, defending his position from Hills and Harding. The joy of the Mazdas’ fiery nature truly showed with just how close the drivers became, with Blake-Baldwin having to reposition his wing mirror after it was folded in by another car on one corner. The seconds were counting down and the drivers knew it. Blake-Baldwin gave his best impression of an Italian gesticulating wildly, and only ever returned his hand inside the car to change gear. With one lap left Herbert had extended the advantage, leaving everyone else to battle it out. After exhausting all efforts the day before, he clearly wanted to make sure that the top spot was secure. Harding was pushing full throttle, so any mistakes now meant all could be lost. The flag went out and Herbert lead the way followed by a blur of cars. Cameras confirmed that Harding pipped Blake-Baldwin for second. Cheers came from the pit lane as the AK Motorsport team and Blink Motorsport crew came running over to greet their drivers. It was all over with just over a second between 2nd and 5th. Commentators and crew jumping round like school-kids, healthy signs that this season was going to be one worth watching.

After the dust settled the result was amended handing Harding the victory, Blake-Baldwin bumped to ruuner-up with Hills taking third. Herbert was handed a ten second penalty for repeatedly exceeding track limits.

 Race 3 meant the stakes were high, but even more so now the draw was about to be made to see who was going to grace pole position. Everything could change with the reverse grid. Colin Bysouth was promoted to pole from P7 maybe thanks to his lucky panda mascot. He was more apprehensive than thrilled, stating: “I’ve never come away from Silverstone without damage”, and so his milestone was in reach.

 Lights out and off they went with a fabulous start for all of at the front with Herbert claiming the lead. As the laps went by there was no let up and all of a sudden Blake-Baldwin got ahead, leaving Harding to defend second. With the battle ongoing Blake-Baldwin managed to get out in the distance, but only for so long before he checked his mirrors and saw the unmistakable blue car of Herbert powering down on him, finding open doors and parting the grid like the Red Sea.

Bysouth was also creating waves fighting in the top six, making it difficult for others to shake him off. In all this excitement Blake-Baldwin was starting to lose his tyre grip and this was all it took for his lap times to drop off. With two laps to go, the pack had caught up to first, and Herbert could almost taste the Champagne. On the last lap Herbert was right on the back of the leader. Blake-Baldwin threw his Mazda round trying to shake the tow. Herbert was so transfixed onto the tail of Blake-Baldwin that Harding found an open door. Half the pit lane closed their eyes as the pack all came round the penultimate corner. Herbert tried the rare move of going round the outside... was it a desperate last attempt, did he have it? Was there enough in it to pull back second? Did Blake-Baldwin have enough traction to swing across the line in first?

A photo finish was needed, as the chink between first and second was approximately one tenth of a second.

It had been a breathtaking race and Blake-Baldwin gasped for air as he sped across the line in P1. Herbert held of Harding to take second. That was it, racing over, nothing more could be done for the first weekend of the SuperCup 2018. 

The BRSCC MX-5 SuperCup will next be in action at Knockhill on May 12th and 13th. Tickets are  available from the circuit direct. And don’t forget to keep up with the antics on our social media platforms until the next round.

Lyndsay Close

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