Rounds 3, 4 & 5 - Croft - 11/12th May 2013 Race Report

Maximum points for Tom Roche at Croft. Photo: www.tonytodd.co.uk

Tom Roche again proved to be the class of the field at the Croft triple-header...

 

The BRSCC Mazda MX5 Championship season continued at Croft Circuit on the weekend of 11th/12th May 2013. This was the first of 3 triple-header events that are scheduled this season. It was great to see 32 competitors make their way up to Croft and was a further indictment of the BRSCC Championship being the best supported Mazda MX5 for Mark 1 cars in the UK. A single qualifying session decided the grids for the opening race on Saturday with  the results of the preceding race forming the basis for the grids for both races held on Sunday. All qualifying sessions and races were for 20 minutes in duration.

Saturday was cold and windy and whilst Sunday morning started with bright sunshine, both races on Sunday were held in wet conditions.

Qualifying

With the 32 entries for the BRSCC Mazda MX5 Championship being the largest grid of the weekend, all competitors squeezed into the Assembly Area before making their way out onto the very cold circuit. 

Whilst Brett Smith and Ed Gay were Tom Roche’s nearest competitors at the previous rounds at Rockingham, Croft saw the return of James Blake-Baldwin who was runner up to Tom in the 2012 season. With Croft being one of his favourite circuits and having had two second place finishes in 2012, he had high hopes of taking pole or at least being on the front row. Sadly, it didn’t come to pass as after having completed just one timed lap his tyre came off its rim and he sadly had to retire. In the end, his one lap saw him qualify in a very respectable 15th place.

Only 4 competitors managed to to post a time below 1:43s with the fastest overall being set by Tom Roche. Whilst the first two laps completed by all competitors saw Brett Smith take provisional pole by 0.002secs, on lap 3 Roche got down into the low 1.42s and consistently posted similar times posting his fastest lap at the end of the session of 1:42.038; a comfortable 0.713 seconds ahead of his nearest rival.

The three other competitors below 1:43s were locked in a fierce battle for 2nd place and at the end of the session, they were seperated by only 0.194secs. In 2nd place was Brett Smith (left) who set his fastest lap early in the sesssion on his third lap, but then had to retire to the pits before heading back out onto the circuit for a final 2 lap rush which saw him unable to improve his time and remain in 2nd place. Simon Baldwin did manage to get up to 3rd place, but his lap time was disallowed due to him exceeding track limits and eventually he had to settle for 4th place. Alex Preston was very consistent in qualifying and again as with Tom Roche, he set his fastest lap right at the end of the session, improving his previous best by almost half a second which saw him take 3rd position on the grid.

Ed Gay, Alan Henderson, Charlie Charman and Wayne Le Montais (in his first event of the 2013 season) saw them take positions five to eight with Simon Goddard and Andy Coombs finishing out the top ten. Coombs was very pleased having identified and fixed some engine issues after having a torrid time at the previous event at Rockingham. The only other casualty in qualifying was Will Phillips who blew his engine after just one timed lap, but some excellent work by his team saw a replacement engine fitted in time for the first race of the afternoon.

In a change to the format from Rockingham, as the number of entries were below the maximum number of starters on the track licence, the races at Croft would see all competitors start each race on the same grid. 

Race 1 (20 Minutes) Saturday 11th May 2013

With the cars in grid formation and with the realisation that all 32 cars would soon try to get round the first corner at Clervaux, the smallest hint of a bead of sweat could be seen on the brow of Glynn Lee, the permanent Clerk of the Course for the championship. With the lights going from red to off, the grid moved off in unison and headed down to Clervaux. It was Roche who led out of the first corner and in his inimitable style was a position he would not relinquish for the rest of the 20 minute races. Praise was extended from Race Control for the fact that in this race, and indeed in the subsequent races on Sunday, all 32 competitors made it safely through the first corner.

Whilst Roche put in a superb display of consistently fast lap times to build a substantial lead, there was some fantastic battles behind him, none more so than the battle for second where Brett Smith battled with Alex Preston (below) and Ed Gay. With Gay starting fifth on the grid, he slipped back to sixth on the opening lap behind Alan Henderson. However, in consecutive laps he moved up to fourth position  and at the end of lap 2 and was pressing hard for third position behind Alex Preston.  He eventually took third position on lap 8 and then set about catching Brett Smith who was in second.  The two were nose to tail over 3 laps with Gay eventually getting past on lap 10. Alex Preston was never far away from the battle for the top places and on the following lap, he started to close on Brett Smith in Tower before overtaking him in the Complex to take 3rd place.  Despite Preston closing on Gay over the remaining lap of the race, the positions were set for the finish with Roche, Gay and Preston taking the podium positions.

Further back on the grid, Blake-Baldwin set about making up places from his 15th place on the grid due to his tyre problems in qualifying. Having made up four positions by the end of lap 3, he then became embroiled in a fantastic battle for 8th place with Wayne Le Montais and Simon Goddard on lap 5.  On lap 6 the 3 protagonists were three abreast on the start finish line with Blake-Baldwin taking the lead into eighth position. He would eventually finish in 7th place just ahead of Charlie Charman who despite starting in seventh place dropped back having made it as high as fifth place.

Joining Blake-Baldwin as the joint best improver in making up eight places from their starting position was Will Phillips who demonstrated that had he not had his engine issues in qualifying, a much higher finish would have been on the cards. Starting 30th on the grid he would eventually finish in 22nd place. Also a big improver was local Ripon native Stephen Craggs who finished seven places ahead of his starting position and set his fastest lap in the race over 2 seconds quicker than his qualifying time.

Race 2 (20 Minutes) Sunday, 12th May 2013

All 32 cars from the previous race made it onto the grid for Race 2. With the results for Race 1 forming the grid for Race 2, Tom Roche on pole was joined by Ed Gay on his left with Alex Preston and Brett Smith on Row 2.  The weather had turned wet on Sunday. That said as the cars made their way to the grid on the formation lap it did appear that the rain had eased somewhat. The change in weather didn’t make a difference to Tom Roche who emerged from the plume of spray into Clervaux to lead the race from Ed Gay, Alex Preston and Brett Smith. By the end of the first lap, Roche was in total dominance having opened almost a 2 second gap to Ed Gay, Alex Preston and Brett Smith. A bad start by Simon Baldwin saw him drop behind Alan Henderson at the start.  Similarly Charlie Charman was off the line quicker than James Blake-Baldwin. However, on the first lap, Simon Baldwin retook his position to move up to fifth and the hard charging Blake-Baldwin overtook both Charman and Henderson to move up to sixth. Blake-Baldwin now set about Simon Baldwin and on lap two got past him into Sunny corner.  At the back of the field Ian Prescott had a huge moment in Hawthorns which saw him spin and although he managed to get going again, he would retire to the paddock on the next lap.

With the race now settling down and the rain stopping, the battle for eigth place saw Simon Goddard get ahead of Charlie Charman on the long run down into Tower Corner with James Blake-Baldwin also getting ahead of Brett Smith and moving up into fourth position. Not to be outdone by Ian Prescott, Wayne Le Montais did a complete 360° spin at the Chicane (lets hope the TV cameras got it!) but he continued and held his race position. Lap 4 was a terrible lap for Brett Smith, first losing his fifth position to Simon Baldwin, then being overtaken by Alan Henderson and then Simon Goddard to find himself down in eighth place.

With reports coming from marshals on the circuit, a Black and White warning flag was now being displayed to Charlie Charman for exceding track limits. Also, a black  and orange flag was displayed to James Atherton due to a trailing rear bumper (right).  This was increased to a back flag but on his next trip past the start/finish line it detached itself. With a bumper now in the middle of the track, there was the possibility of a Safety Car but with a gap in the traffic, the startline marshals were able to retrieve the wayward bumper from the circuit.

A problem for Simon Goddard saw him lose 3 places in the intense battle from fifth all the way down to tenth. With Roche now in an extremely comfortable position out front and only a mechanical issue likely to stop him from making it five wins in a row, Alex Preston was applying  continous pressure to Ed Gay in the fight for second place. Having fought to get closer and closer to Ed Gay over a number of laps, Alex Preston succeeded in getting ahead of Ed Gay on Lap 8 at the back of the circuit. Preston then started to pull out a gap on Gay, with Gay dropping back quite significantly and falling into the clutches of James Blake-Baldwin and in danger of falling back into fourth position.

With the end of the 20 minute race fast approaching, Tom Roche led by 13 seconds and was now making his way through the backmarkers. On the final lap there came a change of fortune for Alex Preston who started to drop back and now found himself having to defend his position from Ed Gay with James Blake-Baldwin not far behind. It was a matter of seeing who braked last into Tower, but it was Preston who maintained his lead only for him to lose further time through the Jim Clark Esses and he now had his wing mirrors full of two very quick chasing drivers in Gay and Blake-Baldwin. With Tom Roche taking his fifth victory in a row by some 17 seconds and posting the fastest lap of the race, it was all eyes on the Complex to see which of the chasing trio would come back into view first. It was Gay who had gotten ahead of Preston, but the pair were still nose to tail as they rounded the final hairpin. In a drag race to the line, Gay took second by a mere 0.065 seconds followed by Blake-Baldwin in fourth and Simon Baldwin completing the top five.

In the middle of pack there were a couple of sterling drives, in particular Will Phillips who despite losing two places at the start, then proceeded to make up 7 places over as many laps before mechanical issues meant he finished in 21st place. Another big mover was JJ Clements (below) who gained a position at the start and then made five more positions by the end of the first lap. However, the best improver went to James Atherton who despite his wayward rear bumper made up an impressive 9 places.

However, post race a protest was made by Alex Preston against Ed Gay for exceeding track limits.  Due to insufficient time between Race 2 and Race 3, the Clerk of the Course was unable to hear the protest until after Race 3. However after viewing video evidence and interviewing both drivers, the Clerk of the Course imposed a 30 second time penalty to Ed Gay which saw him demoted from his finishing position on the road of second to twelfth.

Race 3 (20 Minutes) Sunday, 12th May 2013

Again for the final race of the weekend, all 32 cars took up their position on the grid. With the grid based on the results of the previous race, all eyes were on Tom Roche on pole to see if he could make it three from three. 

As the lights went out for the start of the race, it was inevitably Tom Roche who took the lead through Clervaux. Despite Ed Gay’s misdemeanour in Race 2, it was due to the fact that his protest hearing had not yet been heard that he still took up his position of second on the grid. However, it was Preston who got the upperhand through Hawthorns taking second place, a position he would comfortably maintain right to the end of the race.  Gay then lost third and fourth place to Simon Baldwin and James Blake-Baldwin to end the first lap in fifth position.  Finishing the first lap Tom Roche was already 2.5 seconds ahead of his nearest challenger Alex Preston.

A solid start from Wayne Le Montais in 14th place saw him make 3 places up on the start. Having consolidated his position Monty then overtook Will Blackwell-Chambers and Charlie Charman to move into an incredible 9th place at the end of lap 3. On the following lap, he despatched with Matt Robinson to move up into eighth a long way behind Brett Smith in seventh but his eyes firmly fixed on a top 5 finish.  Meanwhile Ed Gay (above) was now pressing James Blake-Baldwin hard for fourth place eyeing a passing manoeuvre into the Hairpin. With Blake-Baldwin defending they continued on the rundown into Clervaux and on into the righthander at Hawthorns.  However, it was Simon Baldwin who spun coming out of Hawthorns in front of the battling duo of Blake-Baldwin and Gay and promotes both of them into third and fourth respectively. This excursion costs would cost Baldwin five positions and would drop him to eighth at the end of the lap. Wayne Le Montais was now in front of Baldwin in seventh, still intent on finishing in the top 5.

In a race defining incident, a spin coming out of the Hairpin by James Blake-Baldwin involving the cars of Ed Gay, Simon Goddard, Brett Smith, Wayne Le Montais and Simon Baldwin would see Brett Smith move from seventh up to third, followed by Ed Gay with Monty now taking his position in the Top 5. In the same incident Simon Baldwin would regain two of the places he lost in a spin on the previous lap.  Simon Goddard and James Blake-Baldwin would be the big losers dropping back to 12th and 13th respectively with Blake-Baldwin retiring to the pitlane on the next lap.

The race order would remain the same to the end of the race and at the chequered flag it was again Tom Roche with another fastest lap. The finishing order on the road behind him was Alex Preston, Brett Smith, Ed Gay and Wayne Le Montais. However, due to the Clerk of the Course again imposing 5 second penalties for exceeding track limits to a number of cars, this would see the provisional results show Brett Smith dropping from third on the road to fifth which meant that Wayne Le Montais had finished an incredible 10 places up on his starting position in fourth place. Subsequent to this result, Race Control issued further 30 second penalties, again for exceeding track limits, to both Simon Baldwin and Charlie Charman dropping them a massive seven places each.

The results from Croft would see Tom Roche score maximum points with three race wins and 3 fastest laps. This would see his points lead from the previous rounds held at Rockingham extend out to 36 points.  Alex Preston and Brett Smith would be joint second on 474 points with Ed Gay back in fourth having lost valuable points due to his twelfth place finish in race 2.

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