CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE TAKES DRAMATIC TURN AT CASTLE COMBE

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Roberts (#56) expereinced the high of winning Race 1, before contact forced him out of Race 2 - Photo: Jon Elsey

The recent visit to Castle Combe in Wiltshire for the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 SuperCup was arguably the most dramatic of the season to date, as on track events dominated the main talking points from a weekend where the championship battle may have taken its most significant turn so far.

Qualifying on Saturday morning would produce a brand new pole sitter, as Rob Boston Racing’s Steve Roberts propelled himself to the best lap of the season, driving himself to the top of the timing charts and start P1 for the opening race of the weekend. Title contender James Blake-Baldwin would start alongside him on the front row, while defending champion Luke Herbert took up 3rd fastest, but had another new name to share a row with. Former Toyota MR2 racer Kristian White showed how much progress he’d made by taking 4th fastest in his best grid slot ever, ahead of a third row consisting of Carl Garnett and Aidan Hills. Simon Baldwin, Sam Tatler, Jonathan Greensmith and a bewildered Jack Harding made up the top 10, while a notable returnee was 2015 champion Alan Henderson, making a surprise one-off cameo and starting the first race from 13th.

A weak opening lap from Roberts saw him tumble down to 7th place by the end of the opening lap, leaving Blake-Baldwin to take the lead ahead of Herbert, Hills and a fast-starting Jack Harding who leapt from 10th to 4th on the opening tour. Hill briefly took the lead away for a lap before Blake-Baldwin snatched it back, but while this was happening Roberts was on an absolute charge back through the field after his less than satisfactory start. By half distance, he was back up to 2nd place and quickly applying pressure to take the lead. Blake-Baldwin was able to resist all the way until the penultimate lap when Roberts finally found an avenue to slip back through and claim the lead he felt he should have had from pole.

Roberts went on to claim his first ever SuperCup race win as the former BMW Compact Cup champion held off Blake-Baldwin by just under 0.3 seconds, with Luke Herbert completing the podium places in 3rd. Aidan Hills continue his strong run of form with a 4th place finish ahead of Jack Harding, who would have like to have finished higher, but still could be content with a solid drive to 5th place. Jonathan Greensmith picked up 6th ahead of White in 7th, followed by Baldwin, Henderson and Garnett as they completed the top 10. Baldwin was also the highest placed Masters driver in the field ahead of Garry Townsend and Alec Livesley.

The second race of the weekend was where all of the drama was produced as it required two starts. The first start saw Roberts again on pole but this time with White on the front row alongside him as a result of the grid being formed by the second fastest qualifying times. While the opening lap was relatively trouble-free, it was the run through Folly and Avon Rise that would produce a premature halt to proceedings. A three-car incident at high speed would cause Nick Rutter to be fired into the barriers and the subsequent damage to his car and the barriers themselves caused the race to be stopped. Sadly, Rutter’s weekend was over and there were subsequent delays of more than 30 minutes while the marshals and circuit officials worked frantically to rebuild and reinforce the barriers before racing could resume.

It was decided to run the restart of Race 2 later in the day with the grid reforming in the same order. Off the line, Blake-Baldwin had a near perfect launch and shot away from the second row of the grid to take the lead heading into Quarry with Roberts slotting in behind. Roberts would retake the lead a couple of laps later as he held his line into the Esses and relinquished JB-B of 1st place. By this point, a clear lead group of 9 cars was forming as with the leading pair went Herbert, Hills, Garnett, Harding, White, Greensmith and Henderson. With the pack so close together, jostling for position was occurring at every corner which entertained the spectators no end.

Hills bravely attempted to take 2nd place from JB-B into Quarry around the outside but found himself edged out and using his junior rallycross skills to keep himself in the pack as a result. But just a few corners later, the defining moment happened – heading towards Tower bend, JB-B decided to take a look up the inside to repass Roberts for the lead. Roberts took his regular racing line but Blake-Baldwin remained to his inside and as the pair turned through the corner, contact was made on Roberts’ right rear corner. This put him out of shape, but correcting the slide only saw him shoot towards the barriers and hit them head-on. While Blake-Baldwin carried on, Roberts’ race and weekend were both over.

Blake-Baldwin then used the clear track in front of him to his advantage and did his best to escape in the lead, but Hills was able to break free from the melee for 2nd place and for a brief moment challenged for the lead. Despite getting alongside and edging his nose in front on the outside line heading to Quarry, Hills ended up carrying a little too much speed and slid wide, just keeping the car on the road but dropped to 5th. Meanwhile, Harding was able to pick up 2nd place from Herbert a lap later at the same corner before Hills regained his composure and first passed Garnett for 4th and then teammate Herbert for 3rd, finally making the outside line work on his third attempt.

In the end, Blake-Baldwin was able to take the chequered flag unchallenged as pick up the race win on the road, but afterwards, the stewards would have their say. They judged him to be at fault for the contact with Roberts earlier in the race, and as a result would disqualify him from the result. This not only meant losing the race win and the points to go with it, but he is also now unable to use this round as a dropped score, leaving him with a lot of hard work to regain his place in the championship fight.

The man who inherited the win would be Jack Harding, although he was fortunate to hold on to it in the end. On the last lap, Hills was right on his tail and ready to pounce to take what at the time would have been second place on the road. Despite his best efforts, he was unable to break down Harding’s defence and had to settle for the eventual 2nd place by just 0.130 seconds. Luke Herbert was promoted back onto the podium with 3rd ahead of Carl Garnett and Jonathan Greensmith, while Alan Henderson showed he hadn’t lost his touch with 6th place on his one-off comeback. Kristian White and Sam Tatler took 7th and 8th, with Garry Townsend topping the Masters runners in 9th place ahead of compatriot Simon Baldwin.

Unfortunately, due to delays caused by incidents throughout Sunday’s timetable including that of the event in Race 2’s first start, the third and final race was unable to be fit into the remaining time available before the circuit curfew. The plan is to run the third race at one of the last three race weekends left in the season, however we will provide news and confirmation on this once it becomes available.

Taking everything into consideration, the points standings at the top genuinely cannot be closer. Jack Harding now assumes the championship lead, but incredibly is now tied with Herbert on 1078 points each after dropped scores. Aidan Hills has moved into 3rd place now 28 points behind the top two, and also holding a 16 point advantage over Jonathan Greensmith in 4th. Despite the accident, Roberts’ win helped him to take 5th in points, but the notable change is of course in Blake-Baldwin’s position. The exclusion from Race 2 means that with a zero score and no ability to drop it from his final total, he falls to 6th place and now 106 points back from the lead. While title success isn’t entirely impossible, he has a mountain to climb in the last three meetings to put himself back into any sort of contention.

Simon Baldwin lies in 7th place and the top Masters driver in the overall standings, followed by Carl Garnett, Sam Tatler and Jack Sycamore, who remains in the top 10 despite not appearing on this occasion. Over in the Masters standings, Simon Baldwin remains in the lead with defending champ Garry Townsend continuing to pursue in 2nd place, while Alec Livesley remains in contention in 3rd.

The next rounds take place all across one day, as it’s a trip to Oulton Park in Cheshire where the racing always tends to be entertaining and memorable. That being said, has the championship now just turned into a two horse race between Harding and Herbert? Is Aidan Hills now in line to edge himself into the frame? And is it totally all over for James Blake-Baldwin, or can he perform the miracle of all comebacks?

Scott Woodwiss

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Brands Hatch (Indy) - 27th - 28th Jul 2019

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Croft 6th - 7th Jul 2019

Current Standings

Driver Accrued Points Adjusted Total
1 Luke Herbert 1188 898
2 Jack Harding 1172 888
3 Aidan Hills 1058 874