Herbert and Harding are both starting to feel the strain of this 2019 title battle - Photo: Jon Elsey

The second half of the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 SuperCup for 2019 got underway at the recent rounds at Brands Hatch in Kent, with at least three drivers still in with a realistic chance of becoming champion despite a lot of racing still to be conducted. With just a few points separating Luke Herbert, Jack Harding and Aidan Hills and with Steve Roberts also closing in fast, the following two days of competition were set to be very interesting.

Wet conditions for Saturday morning qualifying forced the drivers to make important setup and tyre choices for the session ahead. Nevertheless, the lap times were just as competitive as ever with Harding taking the fastest time followed by points leader Herbert, the returning James Blake-Baldwin in 3rd and Steve Roberts. All four drivers were separated exactly 0.100 seconds, with Aidan Hills back in 5th place a couple of tenths slower. Will Stacey and Simon Baldwin returned to the grid with 6th and 7th quickest respectively, followed by Patrick Fletcher, Garry Townsend and Jack Sycamore.

From the off, Herbert took the lead from the front row and ensured that Harding remained behind throughout the majority of the race. Harding had a number of attempts to try and overthrow the double defending champion from 1st place, but Herbert always appeared to have an answer and managed to place his car in all the right places at all the right times. Steve Roberts managed to pick off Blake-Baldwin for 3rd place early on before setting off after the top two in front, and despite a small mistake on Lap 5 he was able to keep them in touch. A safety car for Jack Sycamore’s excursion into the Paddock Hill Bend gravel trap allowed everyone to close back in, ultimately giving Roberts a real chance to snatch the win from under the noses of Herbert and Harding if possible. With Blake-Baldwin and Hills also thrown into the mix, it set up an epic 5-car lead group to fight for honours in the second half of the race.

As racing got back underway, Roberts and co began applying the pressure to the top two and eventually Lap 15 saw the shuffle he’d been waiting for. Steve was able to pick off both cars with a move from 3rd to 1st place, pushing Herbert down to P2 but still ahead of Harding with just 5 laps to go. The leading quintet began to lose one car gradually as Hills dropped back a little in his efforts to keep up, and as the final lap approached everything was poised on a knife edge. In Roberts’ attempt to hold onto the lead after an attack at Druids, an ambitious dive into Graham Hill Bend to reclaim the places he’d lost saw him spin away his chances of a podium finish in the process. As a result, Herbert slipped through and went on to pick up only his 3rd win of the season, with Blake-Baldwin reminding everyone how quick he was with 2nd place and Harding a little disappointed with 3rd despite a good haul of points. Hills collected 4th ahead of Will Stacey in 5th place, with the second half of the top 10 comprised of Simon Baldwin, Garry Townsend, Paul Sheard, Patrick Fletcher and Nick Rutter.

Herbert made a clean start to Race 2 from pole position to lead the opening lap while Harding, Blake-Baldwin and Roberts elected to go three abreast into Paddock Hill behind him with Harding winning the first battle for 2nd while the other two duelled over 3rd for the remainder of the lap. Herbert tried to escape in the early laps in the lead, however both Harding and Blake-Baldwin were able to keep him company in the opening laps, while Hills joined the party in quick succession. Soon enough a three way fight for 2nd place occurred which only benefitted Herbert in his efforts to get away. Blake-Baldwin won out and immediately chased after Herbert, leaving Harding and Hills to fight over 3rd place themselves, and JB-B ensured he would stick to the tail of the #1 like glue. With Blake-Baldwin’s efforts to usurp Herbert didn’t seem to work either and all this did was close up the gap to Hills and Harding to form the lead quartet once more.

In the closing stages, Harding managed to prise the door open for 2nd place as he squeezed past Blake-Baldwin as Hills watched on and a few laps later he was back on Herbert’s tail. Despite a little bit of rubbing panels at one stage, it ended up nose to tail on the final lap with all four cars in contention for victory, but despite Harding throwing everything he could at his title rival, it wasn’t enough as Herbert held on to win while Blake-Baldwin and Hills ensured the top 4 was covered by just 0.7 seconds! Roberts completed the top 5 with Jack Sycamore recovering from a Race 1 trip into the gravel to finish 6th from Fletcher, Stacey, Sheard and Henderson.

Patrick Fletcher’s inherited pole position for the final race of the weekend via the reverse grid draw came to nothing after was forced to start from the pit lane. Because of this, it was Sycamore who would take the lead into the first corner followed by a fast starting Harding who leapt from the third row of the grid to 2nd at Paddock, before elbowing his way past Sycamore for the lead exiting Druids. A lap later, a charging Hills passed Roberts into Paddock for 3rd before he too deposed Sycamore and stole 2nd around the outside of Graham Hill Bend, causing everyone else behind to bunch up on the exit. Sycamore then had some brief respite as Roberts, Blake-Baldwin, Herbert and Stacey squabbled amongst themselves, but once they’d finished it was JB-B who was next to hound Sycamore for a podium place.

After a few laps of defending, a failed attempt to pass at Graham Hill Bend resulted in Blake-Baldwin tagging Sycamore sideways and allowing both Herbert and Roberts to sail past in the process. By this stage, both Harding and Hills were several seconds up the road and were virtually uncatchable, leaving Herbert to fend off an ambitious Roberts in his efforts to make up for his mishap the day before. But in the end, it was Harding who dominated the race from the front and came away from the weekend with a victory of his own. Hills remained a distant 2nd almost 5 seconds back, while Herbert managed to hold off Roberts to take the final podium place. Blake-Baldwin survived an eventful race to claim 5th from Sycamore in P6, then Stacey, Townsend, Sheard and Rutter in the top 10.

Three weekends remain in what has been an ultra tense and competitive season, and next up is the first of two visits to Donington Park in a couple of weeks’ time with the first encounter taking place on the GP loop. You definitely don’t want to miss out!

Scott Woodwiss

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