Rounds 9 & 10 - Snetterton - 21/22nd July 2013 Race Report

Two wins at Snett confirms James Blake-Baldwin as a series title challenger. Photo: Tony Todd

The Snetterton 300 circuit saw rounds 9 and 10 of the BRSCC Mazda MX5 Championship and brought to a close the first half of the championship calendar.

28 cars were entered for the event and including four new registrants joining the championship. Rhys Jenkins, a front running driver in many other Mazda MX5 races, entered the championship but would only be competing at Snetterton and Anglesey due to work commitments. In addition, joining the fun, were seasoned campaigners Nick Dougill and Martin Tolley and a warm welcome was extended to Michael Dunstan who made his Mazda MX5 and circuit racing debut. With the top of the championship tightening up after the results from Cadwell, rounds 9 & 10 would give us a big indication as to how the rest of the season might pan out.

Qualifying

With all cars making their way out onto the 3-mile circuit, it was Ed Gay who posted the fastest opening lap with a 2:23.265, closely followed by Alex Preston (2:23.947) and Alan Henderson (2:24.106). James Blake-Baldwin indicated what was to come by going quicker than all before him posting 2:22.337 and although Ed Gay improved his time on the next lap, he would remain in second place. Finding his line was Brett Smith moving up to third place with a 2:23.412. It seemed that over the next few laps the drivers took a breather with no real change at the front. The first to make his move was Brett Smith, moving up to second, after joining James Blake-Baldwin in the 2:22s posting 2:22.961. With 5 minutes remaining in the session, James Blake-Baldwin demonstrated he wasn’t yet finished, improving his pole time further to 1:21.752 with the gap to Brett Smith now 1.209 seconds.  

Alex Preston then found his rhythm and moved up to fourth with a 1:23.205. Tom Roche who was languishing down in eighth place moved up to fifth place but still a long way back on 2:23.564. In the dying seconds of the session, Brett Smith consolidated his second place with a 2:22.936 but it was James Blake-Baldwin who threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the field by improving his pole time further to 2:21.704. Therefore, Blake-Baldwin and Smith were on the front row with Ed Gay and Alex Preston behind them, but the championship points leader, Tom Roche could only finish sixth.

Race 1 Saturday 21st July

Saturday afternoon came and the cars made their way onto the track beneath a cloudy sky but more importantly a dry track. With Roche starting back in sixth place, Blake-Baldwin on pole would look to take maximum benefit from his poor qualifying. As the lights went from red to off, it was Blake-Baldwin who made the best getaway taking the lead into Riches followed by Preston who had made a lightning start from the second row. A typical first lap with cars jostling for position saw Henderson move up to third but he lost the place back to Brett Smith in Agostini. Henderson, running wide on the grass at Hamiltons, lost further places and re-joined at the back of the top six.

At the end of the first lap, Roche was up to fourth place and as he crossed the line nose to tail with Smith a terrific display of defensive driving by the latter just managed to keep Roche at bay as the cars entered Riches on the second lap. Championship and circuit racing debutante, Michael Dunstan, made an impressive start gaining a massive seven places. Another new boy, but not to Mazda MX5 racing, saw Jenkins move up five places on the opening lap. With the top six cars almost circulating as one, Blake-Baldwin just started to pull a gap on the chasing quintet behind him and the intense pressure proved too much for Smith as he went onto the grass and re-joined at Nelson still in the same position. With cars completing their third lap, Blake Baldwin had moved 1.7 seconds clear of the chasing pack with Roche now up to third.  Just behind the top six, there was another group of six compromising Blackwell-Chambers, Goddard, Baldwin, Hufford, Charman and Rogers proving that the battles for positions were just as intense with constant position changes during and at the end of each lap.

Amongst that group, it was Goddard who was shining - having started on row 7 of the grid he was now up to ninth.  Up-front Roche was still looking to limit the damage of his poor qualifying and from the exit of Montreal on the run into Palmer he seized his opportunity and passed Smith to go second. By the end of the lap Blake-Baldwin had increased his gap to second by posting yet again the fastest lap of the race so far.

With the front 6 now maintaining the same order it was that second train of cars in the battle for seventh place which at some time over the starting laps, was lead by Charman, then Hufford, back to Charman but it was Goddard who was maintaining the momentum claiming that hard fought seventh spot by the end of lap 5. An earlier mistake by Gay saw him drop off the back of the chasing pack and with Roche now breaking away it was left to Smith, Preston and Henderson to fight over third place.
With them changing positions almost constantly, Henderson moved up to third on the run into Brundle and almost gave the position back as Smith looked down the inside into the Bomb Hole.

With the battle in full flow for third, Gay got onto the back of this group and again we had a four-way fight for third. With all four cars almost crossing the finish line simultaneously on lap 7 Smith tried to make a move on Henderson into Riches and in doing so was almost mugged by Preston.  

As the cars ran down Bentley Straight slipstreaming each other, Smith emerged into Bomb Hole having retaken third place, repeating the move Henderson had done on the previous lap. With cars now on their last lap, Preston in fifth, tried to make his move round the outside of Henderson at Palmer, but he had Gay right on his tail poised to punish any mistake, and indeed that is what Gay did moving up into fifth as the cars came out of the new section of the 300 circuit. At the chequered flag Blake-Baldwin recorded a lights to flag win including fastest lap. Roche was the next man home with Brett Smith in third, Henderson in fourth and completing the top five was Ed Gay.

Race 2  Sunday 22nd July

Sunday started misty and overcast but with the sun breaking through for the first race after lunch, battle recommenced with Roche’s nearest title challenger Blake-Baldwin on pole looking to inflict further damage on Roche’s title aspirations. From the start, it was first blood to Roche making the quicker start and he moved into the lead at Riches with Smith, Henderson and Preston completing the top five. However, Blake-Baldwin was soon on the move and tried to get ahead of Roche round the outside of Williams but it was after the drag down Bentley Straight that he succeeded and at the end of the lap he held a 1 second lead over Roche.

In a repeat of the first race, Blake-Baldwin and Roche seemed to settle into a very comfortable first and second place and again we had a train of six cars battling for third position. Henderson, in fourth place, tried to get ahead of Smith into Palmer but he needed to be careful as right behind him was Preston and as the battle continued down into Agostini, it was Preston who emerged ahead of Smith and Henderson. However, Preston couldn’t avoid going wide onto the grass at Hamiltons and the cars streamed past him again. Up into third place came Goddard who was at the tail end of this fight for third.

As the cars raced onto Bentley Straight, it was nose to tail between Goddard, Smith, Gay and Preston. Contact between Preston and Gay seemed to concertina through that pack with Smith running into the side of Goddard on the fastest part of the circuit. At the end of the Straight, it was Gay who went wide at Brundle on the right hand side and re-joined safely at Nelson. As the cars completed the lap, Blake-Baldwin lead by 2.5 seconds from Roche, Smith and it was Gay and Goddard who crossed the start/finish line side by side trying to get to Riches first.

With Goddard taking fourth, attention turned to the biggest improver in the previous race with Baldwin moving up to fifth ahead of Gay and Preston. Baldwin moved closer to the front by taking Goddard in fourth place by the end of that lap.  Still this group of six cars, headed by Smith, circulated almost as one probing at each opportunity to try and get to the head of the group.  On Lap 6, as the cars exited Williams and headed down the straight it was Smith, then Baldwin, Goddard, Henderson, Preston and Gay who raced almost as one down Bentley Straight. However, it was Baldwin who proved fastest and he squeezed in front of Smith as the cars entered Brundle.  

But having been the pursuer, Baldwin was now the pursued and all five cars behind him were looking for that one break which would allow them to move up a position. Smith certainly wasn’t going to give up his position easily jostling side-by-side round the outside with Baldwin as the cars headed into Riches on the next lap, but Baldwin defended beautifully to maintain his third place finish.  

With Smith attacking Baldwin, Henderson readied himself and in Oggies and Williams managed to get ahead of Smith to move into fourth. At the front of the field race leader Blake-Baldwin posted yet another fastest lap of the race and this one of 2:23.000 gave him an extra two points in his fight for the championship title. Further back down the field on lap 6 a terrific fight was taking place for 17th place between Craggs, Gendy, Smith (Sam) and championship newcomer Martin Tolley. Next time round, Gendy was in the lead having gotten ahead of Craggs and it all changed on the next lap with Craggs, being followed by Smith, then Tolley and then Gendy.  Plenty of action all the way down the field illustrated just how much fun competitors can have in these evenly matched cars. With the clock counting down and on completion of 9 laps round the long Snetterton 300 circuit, Blake-Baldwin took the chequered flag from Roche, a magnificent drive by Baldwin in third, with Henderson and Smith completing the top five places.

So, with Blake-Baldwin taking maximum points from Snetterton and now having won four of the last five races, he moves into second place in the championship and the lead enjoyed by Roche is down to 20 points. To a huge cheer on the podium, the “Driver of the Event” award went deservedly to Simon Baldwin. One final award was the fastest lap competition whereby a set of shaved Hankook tyres is awarded to the competitor who guesses closest to his actual lap time over the two races. Top of the sheet for this event was Charlie Charman who gratefully received his award from MOT Motorsport at the end of the event.

The next meeting will see the championship move back to a more twisty circuit running on the Anglesey Coastal circuit on 3rd/4th August where we will have the final triple header event of the season before the championship concludes with Brands Hatch, Donington and Silverstone International.

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