Oulton Park 14th September 2013

Title decider.....

The final round of the 2013 BRSCC MX-5 SuperCup Championship at Oulton Park would see the title fight go right down to the last corner of the last lap of the season in an action packed weekend of racing. Andrew Clarkson eventually taking the championship title by just 2 points from Paul Sheard! Read the full race report below.

Race Report

      

Qualifying

18 Mk3 MX-5s headed out for qualifying in brightening conditions for the 10.30am session to decide the starting grid for the first race of the day. Heavy rainfall overnight had washed the rubber build up from the circuit and the cool conditions meant that some damp patches still remained at the edge of the racing line, so things were sure to be tricky for the drivers as they headed out onto the track. Having managed to get track position and lead the drivers out onto the circuit, Paul Sheard initially set the pace closely followed by Clint Bardwell and Andrew Clarkson. First to fall foul of the greasy track conditions was Matt Davies managing only 1 corner before slithering onto the wet grass, however everyone else managed to stay on circuit as the times began to improve. It was Andrew Clarkson who was the first man to break under the 2:03.0 barrier, setting a time of 2:02.71 but he was immediately bettered by Mike Comber with a time of 2:02.58. The pair were closely followed on the next lap by Paul Sheard, who put in a time of 2:02.66 to nudge Clarkson back to third on the grid.

Shortly after setting provisional pole in the session, Mike Comber pushed a little too hard on the entry for Shell Oil’s and got caught out under braking for the corner, beaching his car half in the gravel at the top of the hairpin banking. This brought out the yellow flags at the corner and meant it would be difficult for drivers to improve their times, having to remain cautious through that section of the track while Mikes car stayed put for the rest of the session.

On his final lap of qualifying Paul Sheard put in what appeared to be the pole time of 2:02.29 before having the time subsequently disallowed for ‘short circuit’ according to the time sheet. Other drivers were able to find speed elsewhere on the circuit after Mike’s incident and improved their times towards the end of the session. The starting grid eventually lining up in the order; Comber, Sheard, Clarkson, Davies, Eaton and then Bardwell. Recently crowned Max5 Racing Champion David Chapman managed 7th in qualifying for his first time racing at the circuit. With less than half a second covering all of the championship contenders and just 1.3 seconds covering the first 7 drivers in qualifying, the scene was set for some great racing and an exciting conclusion to the championship fight!

Race 1

Conditions at the start of race 1 were dry and sunny as the weather continued to improve during the day. As the lights went out, championship leader Sheard bogged down badly from the front row which allowed Comber to take a comfortable lead from Clarkson into the first corner ahead of Eaton and then Davies. A mistake from Comber as the field rushed down through Cascades allowed Clarkson into the lead followed by Eaton and Davies. Davies took second on the run along the Lakeside straight but ran wide at Shell dropping him back to fourth. Paul Sheard was recovering well from his poor start and got the better run out of Britten’s chicane to overtake Eaton into Hislops for second and set after Clarkson in the lead. On lap 3 Sheard briefly took the lead from Clarkson, diving down the inside into Old Hall corner before Clarkson retook the lead through Cascades.

Clarkson would maintain his lead for the rest of the race with some expert defensive driving against challenges from all three of the chasing pack, both individually and collectively. The action was close and frantic throughout, with at times 2 or 3 cars abreast at numerous points on the circuit meaning the pace of the race was not as fast as that of qualifying. Pole sitter Mike Comber was pushing hard to try and get back on terms with Clarkson in the lead after losing places at the start of the race. Going through Hislops chicane on lap 6 of the race, Mike got too close to the tyres at the apex and clipped them with his front left wheel forcing him to retire with a bent steering arm.

At the front of the field there really was too much action to describe throughout the entire 10 lap race, with the top 6 cars separated by only 1.1 seconds over the line! It’s a testament to the skill of the drivers that contact between cars was minimal in what was a thrilling race for competitors and spectators alike, the top three podium places being taken by Clarkson from Eaton and then Sheard. Fastest lap of the race went to Clint Bardwell who crossed the line in sixth place. The in car footage from Car 91 Matt Davies shows just how much action there was!

As the front 7 cars battled a break in the field appeared. The chasing group was equally as frantic as that of the front for most of the race, with Will Chappell and Simon Fleet managing to break away from the pack that included championship new comers Andrew Buchannan and John Collins in a tight race which eventually settled down by the time the chequered flag was waved.

The result at the front meant that Clarkson and Sheard would start the final race of the season level on points at the top of the championship for a head to head duel in race 2, as a fourth place finish for Davies had now put him out of contention. The final race was certain to be eventful!

Race 2

The last race of the day for the SuperCup got under way after a delay for a Red flag in the preceding race. In the collecting area the drivers were warned that the SuperCup race may be red flagged itself to allow the air ambulance to take off from the circuit. This did nothing to ease the tension in the collecting area for the two title contenders as they waited for the season finale to begin.

As the lights went out a second sluggish start by Sheard and also this time by Clarkson saw Eaton and Davies get the jump into the first corner. After only one lap Sheard had had hit the front, meanwhile an excursion onto the grass for Clarkson saw him down in 3rd behind Davies. At this point the race at the front began to settle down with Sheard pulling a small gap to Davies, then a gap further back to Clarkson. All of the top 6 were once again running closely together but this time the pace at the front was so equal that the gaps were staying roughly constant despite the drivers pushing as hard as they could. Abbie Eaton ran wide on the exit of Old Hall and lost control of the car on the grass, spinning across to the inside of the circuit and dropping down the order.

      

As the positions stood, the championship seemed to be slipping away from Clarkson as Sheard looked comfortable at the front. However, 12 minutes into the race the red flags appeared at the marshal’s posts as the drivers headed up Clay Hill. With the circuit noise curfew fast approaching due to the delays, the drivers assumed this would be the last action of the day and Sheard in the lead waved his fist in celebration.

As the drivers returned to the grid the air ambulance could be seen leaving the circuit. At this point it became clear that there was a chance the race may be restarted, though there was confusion amongst both the drivers and officials as to what would actually happen. Following contact with the tyres on the apex of Knickerbrook seconds before the red flags were waved, second placed Matt Davies pulled off the circuit promoting Clarkson directly alongside Sheard for the restart. Meanwhile after having started the race in 17th following his earlier retirement, Mike Comber had come through the field up to 7th to be right in contention for the restart, along with the recovering Abbie Eaton.

With little warning the lights went out for the restart catching some drivers by surprise, Clarkson getting the jump on Sheard to lead into the first corner of the decisive championship race. The restart meant that the result from before the red flag was void and what followed was a frantic 3 lap dash to the flag, with Sheard pressuring Clarkson for the win at every point. It all came down to the final corner of the final lap of the season, where the two entered side by side! Paul Sheard got the run on Clarkson through Druids and Clarkson defended the inside line for Lodge. Sheard nosed fractionally ahead under braking and had no option but to attempt the pass round the outside of Clarkson if he was to win the championship. Clarkson got out of shape on the tighter inside line, forcing the pair wide onto the grass as they ran out of track and resulting in a spin for Sheard. This allowed Eaton and Comber to squeeze by and cross the line side by side, Eaton taking the win in the final race of 2013 by just 0.012 seconds from Comber!

Clarkson was next over the line in third place to crucially finish ahead of Sheard who was 5th at the flag, having been overtaken by David Chapman. The result means that Andrew Clarkson becomes the 2013 BRSCC Mazda MX-5 SuperCup Champion in dramatic style! After a year’s racing, the winner was only decided in the very last few seconds of the season. Congratulations Andrew!

Matt Davies’ retirement dropped him to 5th overall in the final standings, leaving Comber to complete the top 3 of the championship in his debut MX-5 season. 

A fantastically strong grid of 18 cars for the final round of the championship bodes extremely well for the coming season, where it is confidently expected that the championship will grow even further. Abbie Eaton’s win in the final race of the season means that there have been 6 different winners from the 7 meetings this year! The MX-5 SuperCup has been extremely close and competitive all year and no doubt will be even closer next season. We look forward to a brilliant 2014! 
 

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