Clive Powles (above) will want more podiums on Saturday - Photo: Jon Elsey

After a successful and enjoyable excursion to Zolder for the first European round in its history, the runners and riders of the Mazda MX-5 Championship are back in good ol’ Blighty to continue the 2016 season, heading west to Cheshire and the splendid sweeps, dips and curves of the sensational Oulton Park International circuit.

Despite the field in Belgium being half as big as a typical round here in the UK, the quality of the racing was second to none, with all drivers on their best behaviour and proving some of the cleanest and most professional racing to date. All the while, the regular frontrunners had all made the trip out there and were keen to make sure they weren’t unnecessarily dropping any valuable points to their rivals.

Tom Roche put the disappointment of missing out on the trip to Barcelona for the European MX-5 Cup Final firmly in the back of his mind with another pair of fairly commanding victories and once again asserting himself as points leader. His performances all weekend were virtually flawless and he’ll hope this remains the status quo this weekend. Of course, the same could be said about chief rivals Oliver Allwood and Simon Baldwin. Allwood is the lucky man heading to Spain and has surprised many in becoming Roche’s main challenger all season to date. He and Baldwin are usually locked in combat for 2nd place if they find themselves unable to dice for the lead, so each will want to one-up each other and especially at a circuit as popular as Oulton.

Looking down the points table, it’s brilliant to see some drivers making large strides in their form compared to last year. Outside of the top 3, the best of the rest is Clive Powles whose steady results in and around the top 5 have treated him well. Michael Fisk, Paul Bishop, Paul Bateman, Brian Trott and Paul Tucker have also been able to throw themselves into contention for strong finishes. The strongest of this lot that actually went to Zolder was Paul Bateman, who took a 4th and 6th in both races.

Another driver who returned to the paddock and certainly made his presence felt was Simon Goddard, a driver who like Tom Roche is known to be one who likes to do double duty on MX-5 weekends in both the Mk1s and Mk3s. A top 5 in Race 1 was sadly followed by a finish down towards the bottom of the order in Race 2, however Simon is known to be one that can regularly put in top scores when the time arises. Expect him to perform well at a circuit like Oulton. Other drivers who managed to steal valuable injections into their points tallies from Zolder included Stuart Symonds, Lewis Field and Richard Collins – all of which ended up with at least one top 10.

So, what of the drivers who weren’t able to make the trip to Europe? Sadly, none of Go4It Racing’s crew could attend however Kevin Brent, Martin Tolley and their newest recruits Jack Warry and Andrew Adams should all be set to re-appear here this weekend. In addition, father and son duo Sam and Jake Bailey will also return with Jake showing improvements with every race he completes. Another frontrunner who’s looking to make up for lost ground is Paul Bishop, who impressed many towards the end of last year and has carried on this good fortune though the start of 2016. Brian Trott is another as he’s also been able to mix it in and amongst the top 10 on occasions this year too.

This weekend’s field is being limited to just 46 cars due to all entries being grouped together into one qualifying session. This will certainly mean that the battles for places in the two groups will be fought harder than they have been so far come Saturday morning. Still, there’ll be plenty of hungry drivers who will be desperate to make up for lost ground after missing out on what was remarked by pretty all who ventured out to Zolder as a thoroughly enjoyable and fantastic weekend away. Who’s going to be on the ultimate pace now the MX-5s are back in the UK?

Your field for this Saturday's double header is as follows:

5 Richard Collins
8 Michael Fisk
12 Paul Hughes
14 Jake Bailey
16 Matt Pickford
17 Russ Lindsay
18 Clive Powles
19 Oliver Robinson
20 Paul Maguire
23 Martin Tolley
25 Ivan Leary
30 Paul Austin
32 Andrew Adams
35 Matthew Simmonite
36 James Love
41 Kevin Brent
42 Paul Bateman
44 Paul Bishop
46 Simon Goddard
47 Darren Stapleton
48 Simon Baldwin
56 Bryn Griffiths
61 Lewis Field
62 William Stephenson
63 Oliver Allwood
66 Nick Riley
67 Simon Orange
68 Paul Tucker
72 Joshua Jackson
74 Clive Chisnall
75 Bruce Carter
80 Anthony Hutchins
81 Richard Breland
88 Brian Trott
93 Jack Brewer
96 Michael Lawson
101 Simon Woods
107 Sam Bailey
111 Danny Green
125 Tom Roche
132 Jack Warry
291 Martyn Canning

Looking at the weather, there does appear to be the threat of light showers potentially before qualifying, which could mean that a slightly mixed grid could be in store if some drivers are able to excel. They look as though they could continue on and off throughout the day, meaning that a circuit that's somewhere inbetween wet and dry will make it a nightmare for car setup and for the drivers to tackle. Ask a driver what they'd be happy racing in and almost all of them will tell you either completely dry or full wet conditions - very rarely in between! You can find a detailed breakdown via the Met Office HERE.

Scott Woodwiss

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