Boston back with a bang as he bags Brands Hatch double

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Rob Boston leads Jack Harding and Tom Roche during Brands Hatch season opener. Pic: JON ELSEY

For once the pre-season hype lived up to all expectations as the 2017 BRSCC MX-5 SuperCup opened for business at Brands Hatch. The championship’s largest and arguably most competitive ever field descended on the hallowed tarmac for the first triple-header of the 24-round season.

With 40 drivers registered for the event, the Clapham North supported series was split for the first time in its history. The top 34 drivers formed the ‘A’ race grid, while the remainder shared track time with the BRSCC’s sister MK1 MX-5 championship. To add a little spice to the mix, a system of promotion and relegation would keep everyone on their toes.

To say that qualifying was tight would be an understatement. The true quality of the ‘class of 2017’ was underlined in emphatic style when the top 25 drivers were covered by less than one second.

Top of the pile was Yorkshireman Jack Harding, whose record-breaking lap of 55.145 narrowly edged out returning 2011 and 2012 champions Rob Boston and Luke Herbert respectively.

The excitement of qualifying carried over for the first race, which saw a great three-way lead battle between Boston, Harding and Tom Roche with the former holding on to take the inaugural victory. Herbert claimed fourth ahead of a titanic scrap led by James Blake-Baldwin, with Liam Murphy, Richard Wicklen and Jon Greensmith shadowing the reigning champion across the line.

Race 2 offered up more of the same, with its podium a carbon copy of the first, but this time Boston had things all his own way controlling the race from the front. Harding, Roche and Herbert locked horns in an entertaining battle for second as the trio ran nose to tail in the closing stages. But even more dramatic was the impressive sight of an eleven-car train ducking and diving its way around the Kent tarmac feuding over fifth. Once again Murphy, Wicklen, Blake-Baldwin, Greensmith were key players with brothers in arms Paul O’Neill, Brian Chandler, Richard Styrin, Sam Tatler, Steve Roberts, Mike Comber and Carl Garnett adding to the spectacle.

The weekend’s final encounter looked like it might go the same way, as Boston stormed away from the line and broke clear of the chasing pack. But any thoughts of a hat trick vanished when the race was ‘neutralised’ on the second lap, using the MSA’s new ‘Code 60’ protocol to allow retrieval of Alex King’s stricken Mazda. Boston was immediately jumped at the restart by both Harding and Roche and as the race progressed all threes’ cars began to fade in the sweltering sun. The race’s real threat came in the form of Herbert who carved his way up to the rear bumper of Harding in the closing stages. In the end, Harding held on to take the win ahead of Herbert, with Boston completing the podium. A strong drive from Greensmith was rewarded when he edged out Roche and Murphy in the battle for fourth.

In contrast to the close nature of the ‘A’ races, the ‘B’ races were each comfortably won by Jeremy Crook, Ben Short and Colin Bysouth.

Double winner Rob Boston said: “That exceeded all my expectations. The competition’s been fantastic. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a qualifying where 25 cars were within 0.9 of a second of each other.”

Recalling the first race he said: “I got a good getaway and made a bit of a break, then Tom started to catch me whilst in the slipstream. He went past and I followed him as close as I could but then Jack caught me. I thought, ‘Right I’ve got to make a break now’ and got into the lead again but Jack was pushing me around. It was all about knowing when to back off and when to press on.”

“Race 2 was much the same, I pulled away nice and early and tried to maintain the gap. Jack and Tom caught me in the second half of the race, but I have to say I was quite pleased with my performance in that one.”

He added with a smile: “Of course I would have liked to have got three-out-of-three but I’m not greedy.” He continued: “I’m not a sore loser BUT under the ‘Code 60’ I was maintaining the 60kph and I had a decent lead at the time. Inevitably, that comfortable gap became almost rubbing my bumper. Then when the green flag came out they [Harding and Roche] instantly split either side of me so they obviously hadn’t held the gap.”

He wryly conceded: “It was never going to be policed so I guess it was always going to be an issue.”

Boston obviously liked what he saw at Brands and had this message for the other title favourites: “It’s no secret that I was only intending to do just Cadwell and ended up doing this one, but I’ve really enjoyed it so hopefully I’ll be doing some more now too.”

Race 3 winner Jack Harding summed up his weekend by saying: “Rob’s been racing for years and knows exactly where to put his car. He’s a difficult person to pass. I got a bad start in Race 1 and he got in front and I thought ‘Oh for God’s sake, it’s going to be a long weekend!’

“I was really happy with the two second places but we really, really wanted a win. After all we put it on pole and we’ve been consistently quick all weekend.”

Talking of his win he added: “I was a bit annoyed when the ‘Code 60’ flag first came out because me and Rob had got away which is what I wanted. I was constantly looking at the marshal posts and saw them pull the flag in and show the green. I don’t know if he fluffed his gear change but I pulled out from behind Rob and I got past and managed to pull a bit of a gap.

“We’d deliberately set our car up so we could be on Rob straight away. I knew the car was going to go off, and it began to slide and the lap times got slower and slower. So it was inevitable that Luke caught up and I just managed to keep in front of him. All in all, it’s been a great start to the season.”

Tom Roche’s efforts were repaid with a brace of third places. The frustrated Welshman said: “I was pretty pleased with the first two races. I was on the pace and the car felt really quick early on and then I seemed to struggle towards the end. The tyres had completely gone by the last five minutes. I was just hanging on, which was okay because the boys in front were fighting but there’s no way I could have caught them.

“So I thought I’d change things for Race 3. Don’t do that! I should have left well alone, I changed the settings and straight away I knew it hadn’t worked, I had no grip at all.”

Talking about the ‘Code 60’ restart he said: “I don’t know if Rob wasn’t expecting the green flag or he was in the wrong gear and hit the limiter. But he slowed and Jack and I got past and at that point I thought might be able to stay with Jack, but there was no chance. The car was over-steering everywhere, so I was just a rolling roadblock from then on.”

He added: “The competition’s so much stronger this year although I think it will change from event to event. The key will be consistency and to try and get on the podium at every round. Plus I’m sure it will rain at some point and I’ll keep reminding Jack of that point.”

Another driver happy with his performance at Brands was Luke Herbert, who said: “I’ve had 18 months away from racing, and since deciding to come back to Mazdas I’ve only had a month to get the car ready. And it’s been the most stressful four weeks of my life.

“Testing on Friday didn’t exactly go to plan either – we broke a gearbox and had a problem with the fuel which meant we only got half our track time. So all the set-up work was really done in qualifying and the first two races. Then for the final race everything just came together. I got up to the leader Jack, but he’s a strong driver and very quick. I reckon I could have had a pop but I was happy with second. I just wanted to go home with a trophy.”

He echoed Roche’s thoughts saying: “I don’t think it will be us four at the front all the time this year. Different tracks will suit different drivers. It’s such a strong field out there that things could quite easily and quickly change.”

The former Clio champion added: “I think that now we have a weekend’s experience under our belt, and I’ve got the rear wheel drive technique sorted that hopefully we’ll be challenging for the top step come Cadwell.”

If Brands was anything to go by, we’re in for a great season with new and old names alike rising to the fore. Harding heads to Lincolnshire with a solitary point separating him from Boston, so after a sunsoaked first round things could hot up even more for a super competitive year.

JON ELSEY

 

A detailed meeting review from our new report writer ALEX SOAR will be available shortly.

Gallery of images can be viewed HERE

Full results can be found HERE

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Last Race

Donington Park (National) 14th - 15th Oct 2017

Current Standings

Driver Accrued Points Adjusted Total
1 Luke Herbert 2227 2055
2 Tom Roche 2264 2042
3 Jack Harding 2199 1923