Smith kept himself out of trouble to provisionally claim the MX-5 SuperCup crown at the first attempt! = Photo: Jon Elsey

Samuel Smith made sure he finished off his first season in the Mazda MX-5 SuperCup by keeping his nose clean in the final three races of the truncated 2020 season at Brands Hatch, allowing him to become provisional champion for the year at his first attempt, after main rival Luke Herbert suffered an early end to his weekend.

Heading into the weekend, there were important developments even before Saturday’s track action began as Patrick Fletcher was forced to forfeit his chances of a podium finish in the final standings after he blew his engine in Friday testing and had to call it quits before he’d even turned a wheel in anger. Qualifying also provided its own dramas as championship contender Herbert had a gearbox problem which required the entire box itself to be changed ahead of the first race on Saturday. While this happened, Smith managed to claim pole position for Race 1 with Adam Bessell alongside him and despite the issues, Herbert was still able to start in 3rd alongside Richard Amos. James Cossins and Colin Bysouth lined up next on the third row from John Langridge and Simon Baldwin, while two-time Mk1 MX-5 champion Will Blackwell-Chambers made his SuperCup debut ahead of a full time switch for 2021 and would start his first race from 9th next to Garry Townsend.

The circuit was damp but drying for the start of Race 1, but that didn’t stop Herbert from getting a quick start and beating Smith into Paddock Hill Bend as Bessell took the lead. However, Herbert had other ideas and tried to steal it for himself to no avail, while Smith was already going into combat with Bysouth to hold on to 3rd place with the chasing pack snapping at the heels of all the front runners. Herbert did manage to squeeze past Bessell, but the two cars ran wide when Bessell made a lunge at Druids, allowing Smith to take his turn in the lead while Herbert dropped to 4th as Bysouth took advantage. After so much frantic action at the front of the pack, the race finally began to calm down a little - well, briefly!

With Smith pulling away in the lead, Herbert retook 3rd and immediately set off after Bysouth for 2nd place. The two cars ran nose to tail, but heading through Paddock Hill Bend both drivers lost grip and spun at the bottom of the hill, Herbert’s car spinning like a top on the wet kerb. His car began to roll back across from the edge of the circuit, but as the rest of the pack swept past, the hapless Richard Amos also lost control and in his efforts to try and avoid Herbert’s wandering car, he sadly made a hefty impact to leave both cars stranded on track. The officials had no choice but to stop the race to recover them, as well as help a shaken Herbert from his car.

Nearly 20 minutes later the race got back underway and this time Smith got a great start to lead the pack from Bessell and a rapid Garry Townsend up to 3rd off the line. The top two managed to run unchallenged for the entirety of the restarted race and Smith drove on to only his second win of the year with Bessell holding station in 2nd place, while behind them all the action was going on for 3rd place downwards. It eventually fell to Jack Sycamore with his second podium of the year, followed by James Cossins taking 4th and his teammate Michael Knibbs completing the top five. The rest of the top 10 was completed by Declan Lee, Townsend, Blackwell-Chambers, Chris Richardson and Bysouth.

Between races, the news wasn’t good for Herbert - the damage to his car wasn’t repairable, especially in time to get out on track again on the same day, and as a result his championship was over on the spot. This meant that Smith was effectively champion-elect by virtue of finishing the second race of the weekend, so that just meant staying out of trouble and getting to the flag. That said, the rain had arrived by the time the second race was ready to run at the end of Saturday’s timetable but starting on pole again thanks to Smith’s second fastest lap in qualifying being good enough meant his task was a little easier.

Bessell got the better start from the front row and led into Paddock for the first time with Smith following in 2nd and almost everyone trying to be 3rd through the first corner. Cossins became the main pursuer of the top two as the opening lap ended, but the trio were also being closed down by a charging Colin Bysouth. Making a superb outside pass at Paddock in the wet on Cossins for 3rd, Bysouth set off after the leaders as the weather continued to get increasingly treacherous with more rain falling as the race progressed. He kept Smith honest for a number of laps and staring at his exhaust during this time allowed Langridge to work his way onto his tail in 4th as the race continued to tick over lap by lap. Eventually Bysouth found a way past for 2nd with Langridge quickly following him through and immediately Colin set about charging after Bessell for the lead.

Neither driver had won a MX-5 SuperCup race in their careers before, so this was the prize at stake as Bysouth got a mighty slingshot off Paddock Hill Bend to glide inside Bessell for Druids and pinch the lead away. From here, Bysouth had a level of pace that not even Bessell seemed to be able to match in the final laps, extending his lead even through lapped traffic and powering on to take his first win in the championship to his delight. Bessell equalled his best finish from earlier with 2nd while Langridge clinched his first SuperCup podium at last by finishing in 3rd. Behind them, however, attention was also turned to Samuel Smith, who fended off a late challenge from Blackwell-Chambers to finish 4th and become the provisional champion for the 2020 BRSCC Mazda MX-5 SuperCup season - an incredibly achievement in only his first season since graduating from the Mk1 ranks. Cossins took the flag 6th ahead of Knibbs and a euphoric George Grant who drove brilliantly in the Clapham North machine to claim a personal best 8th place finish, with Lee and Simon Fleet rounding off the top 10.

Thankfully the weather was kinder for the final race of the season and with the partially reversed grid draw, it left George Grant as the surprised and delighted pole sitter with Michael Knibbs parked alongside him for company, while the new provisional champion Smith would start in 5th. Knibbs managed to get the better jump and the lead through the opening corners with Blackwell-Chambers climbing into 2nd ahead of Grant and Cossins, while Langridge made an early exit when he locked up approaching Druids and skated off into the gravel to his evident frustration. This instantly bred a safety car to keep the pack bunched together, which ended up staying out for several laps due to the length of time to recover Langridge’s car, but when it did capitulate to the pits, the action was back on.

Grant had the audacity to try for 3rd place outside at Paddock which ultimately lost him momentum and dropped him to 5th behind Smith, while Cossins attacked Blackwell-Chambers to slot in behind teammate Knibbs, but the pair also had to contend with a feisty Smith who also went on the attack and not only passed both Blackwell-Chambers and Cossins, but then immediately caught and passed Knibbs moments later to steal the lead away. WIth just over five minutes of the race to go and the championship effectively provisionally sealed, Smith put his foot down to enjoy the remainder of the final race and wasn’t caught for the duration to take his second win of the weekend, his third of the season and to seal off his 2020 season in the best possible way. But what went on behind him was much more entertaining for 2nd place downwards!

The Hills Motorsport trio of Cossins, Knibbs and Bysouth came next in 2nd, 3rd and 4th in a rather uneventful run to the flag, but 5th place backwards was where all the action turned out to be. Blackwell-Chambers finished 5th in a weekend that gave him a proper taste of what was to come next year, followed by Lee in 6th, but while Simon Baldwin crossed the line behind him 7th and looked as though he’d done enough to win the Masters title, a technical infringement found during post race scrutineering disqualified him from the result and moved everyone else behind up one place. This put Bessell in 7th place ahead of Tolley in 8th, Brayden Fletcher in 9th and 10th for SImon Fleet which ended up giving him the provisional Masters crown instead.

So, despite the shortened calendar, the decision to reunite the entire BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Mk3 paddock onto one grid again was thoroughly justified as every race featured packed grids and the new class system worked a treat for all involved. Our congratulations go to our provisional champions - Samuel Smith in the Pro Class, Xavier Brooke as the first ever Club Class champ and Simon Fleet who finished as the top man in Masters. It may have been a strange year on several fronts, but the MX-5 SuperCup still shone bright in a world that became a little greyer. Now the focus is on the 2021 season, where we expect a full calendar as normal and the racing to be just as intense as this year!

Scott Woodwiss 

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