HERBERT HOPS INTO CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD WITH BRANDS HATCH DOUBLE

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His face says it all - Herbert was very happy with his weekend's work at Brands Hatch - Photo: Gary Hawkins

The bright and sunny surroundings of Brands Hatch in Kent greeted the teams and drivers of the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 SuperCup for another three fast and frantic 20-minute encounters, with main protagonists James Blake-Baldwin, Luke Herbert and Jack Harding all keen to try and gain an advantage over one another on the short 1.2 mile Indy layout.

As it was, all three of them would end up at the front of the grid together for Race 1 after qualifying with Herbert on pole alongside Blake-Baldwin, while Harding lined up 4th next to Herbert’s teammate Aidan Hills. Jonathan Greensmith and Colin Bysouth would start on the third row from Steve Roberts and Simon Baldwin, with the top 10 completed by Garry Townsend and Jack Sycamore.

The start of race one only lasted a few corners before the safety car had to be scrambled following debutant Bradley Kent finding the barriers exiting Druids. After three laps, Herbert was able to maintain the lead off the restart from Blake-Baldwin, Harding, Hills and Bysouth. Harding was quick to pounce and passed Blake-Baldwin for 2nd before the first lap of the restart could be completed. Before they had a real chance to build up a rhythm and chase after Herbert, a second safety car period was required thanks to Nick Rutter and Kristian White found the gravel trap together at Paddock Hill Bend. After three more laps to neutralise the race once again, Herbert once again maintained his advantage off the restart and was able to pull a gap of more than a second. As Harding and Blake-Baldwin duelled over 2nd place, Herbert kept his cool to take the first win of the weekend and his third of the season.

Harding held off Blake-Baldwin in the end for 2nd place, but JB-B was able to keep up his strong run of podium finishes with 3rd. Aidan Hills continued to hover around a first win with 4th ahead of Simon Baldwin in 5th, who also took the flag as best placed Masters driver. Steve Roberts secured a 6th place finish ahead of Greensmith and Bysouth, with Sam Tatler and Carl Garnett completing the top 10.

With a carbon copy of the front row for Race 2 with Herbert on pole alongside Blake-Baldwin, the start of Sunday’s first race was always going to be intense. Not only did Herbert get the jump on JB-B, but teammate Hills also slid through into 2nd place on the exit of Druids. Meanwhile, Colin Bysouth’s race took an early nosedive when he was spun out exiting Graham Hill Bend and tumbled down the order. Hills began to act as something of a buffer between Herbert and the pursuing pair of Blake-Baldwin and Harding and while he was able to hold on for the first couple of laps, Blake-Baldwin decisively made a move that began at Druids and ended exiting Graham Hill Bend as the pair traded paint, also prompting Harding to pass for 3rd as a result.

From there, practically the entire top 10 contingent remained locked in something of a stalemate, as despite the best efforts of drivers attempting to make moves and getting close on occasions, no-one was really able to make the all-important pass to change the race order. The trio of Blake-Baldwin, Harding and Hills all continued to loom large in leader Herbert’s mirrors and while they eventually were able to break away at one stage, the battle for 4th would end up providing action. Hills was forced to fend off attacks from both Simon Baldwin and Steve Roberts, until the pair became embroiled in a fight of their own which only brought both Greensmith and Garnett into the mix as well, while Hills was able to pull away.

Hills quickly joined the back of the leading trio, but by this stage the race order looked set, and so it was. Herbert led them past the chequered flag to take his second win of the weekend ahead of Blake-Baldwin, Harding and Hills, while Simon Baldwin also tagged onto the lead train by the end to take 5th place. Roberts held 6th ahead of Greensmith with the top 10 rounded off by Carl Garnett, Sam Tatler and a distant Garry Townsend in 10th place.

The reverse grid draw for race 3 saw the top 8 finishers reversed on this occasion, promoting Garnett to pole position with Greensmith for company, from Roberts, Baldwin, Hills, Harding, Blake-Baldwin and double winner Herbert. Greensmith looked as though he had his nose in front off the start as the field powered out of Paddock Hill Bend and took the lead braking into Druids as Garnett, Blake-Baldwin and Herbert ran three abreast behind him and Harding ran wide. Garnett held on to 2nd place but had to defend from Baldwin in the early laps as Herbert led the pursuing pack.

Baldwin became something of a cork in the bottle holding off the train of cars behind him early on as Greensmith tried to make his escape in the lead. Eventually, both Herbert and Blake-Baldwin made a pass either side of Baldwin to push him down to 4th with Greensmith right in front of them in the lead. Blake-Baldwin briefly took 2nd from Herbert at Clearways, but the following lap saw both in a 5 car melee for 2nd place including Hills, Baldwin and the charging Harding. Hills was able to break free and chase after Greensmith leaving Blake-Baldwin to fend off the dicing pack behind him, but such was Greensmith’s defensive efforts that JB-B and co were back in the mix. Wasting no time, Blake-Baldwin elbowed his way past Hills into Paddock and moments later managed to pull off a slightly less robust move on Greensmith to take the lead.

From there he remained unchallenged and went on to take a hard-fought but well-earned Race 3 win, weaving across the line in delight as he did so. Greensmith’s knack of benefiting from the reverse grid came to the fore again as he secured 2nd place with Hills taking his second podium of the season with 3rd. Herbert and Harding duelled in the closing laps of the race for 4th with Herbert winning out on this occasion, while Simon Baldwin had to survive contact with Roberts at Graham Hill Bend deep into the race to remain 6th. A strong drive from Jack Sycamore rewarded him with 7th place, ahead of Garnett, Roberts and Will Stephenson.

Leaving Brands Hatch, the points table is even closer than it had been heading into the weekend. Herbert leads the way by a mere 6 points from Blake-Baldwin, while Harding maintains 3rd place only a further 4 points back. With only 10 points covering the first three in the standings, it’s clear that at this early stage, this trio are the main protagonists for now. It’s level pegging in 4th as Greensmith and Hills are tied on points, with Roberts sitting in 6th ahead of Baldwin, Garnett, Bysouth and Tatler.

With the halfway point in the season already approaching, the SuperCup will reach it at the conclusion of the next 3 rounds, taking place at Rockingham Motor Speedway in Corby on June 23/24. This occasion sees the SuperCup on their one and only race weekend away from TCR UK support duties, plus doing so on a circuit that’s known for being abrasive could have an effect on tyres and how the drivers manage them. On our last visit two years ago, tensions reached a boiling point in the fight for the title between Blake-Baldwin and Tom Roche, so will Rockingham provide more fireworks this time?

Scott Woodwiss

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