Near-freezing conditions greeted the M7RC for the opening National rounds at Croft, but some sizzling Mini racing helped warm the cockles for the hardy spectators.
Four action-packed races and record speeds injected much-needed ‘heat’ into a numbingly-cold meeting in North Yorkshire on 13-14 April, as the 2019 National Mini Challenges got underway on the newly resurfaced Croft circuit.
First off on the Saturday afternoon were the Se7en/S-Class cars, a strong grid led away by Joe Thompson, fresh from his impressive Miglia debut at Silverstone a fortnight earlier. Dropped oil interrupted the flow of a furious multi-car lead battle, but through it all Thompson kept a cool head to hold off Jeff Smith in second, the latter having started from the seventh row after qualifying out of session.
Andrew Deviny pipped Dom Burger for the third podium spot once Spencer Wanstall’s engine lost its water a couple of laps from home. From the ‘B grid’, reigning S-Class champion Scott Kendall led from the start to rise to sixth overall, with Jo Polley taking second in class three places further back.
Novice Jack Shearing got the better of Stuart Gilby for third in class, the pair having a great duel dodging oil and scattered gravel!
The Miglia/Libre encounter closed the first day’s racing, and what a belter it proved to be. Half-a-dozen cars were in with a shout before Lee Deegan hit the front. However, a slight off instantly dropped him back down the order before a superb recovery drive saw him work his way back in front once more to snatch the win ahead of reigning champ Aaron Smith.
Kane Astin edged third from Rupert Deeth, Colin Peacock and Joe Thompson, the latter emulating father Paul’s double-category campaign of 2008.
In the invitational Libre class, Rob Davis took advantage of an opening lap fracas to open up a clear gap, leaving Justin Cooper and reigning class champion Phil Harvey to give chase, before the latter ran wide and found the tyrewall. Newcomer Josh Evans meanwhile recovered from an early delay to edge out Cooper for second near the end.
Sunday afternoon felt even colder to those outside of a ‘cosy’ race car, and red flag delays in other races served only to prolong the wait. The Miglia/Libre grid went first this time, and once again several cars were on the lead pace before it boiled down to a straight fight between Deegan and Smith.
The lead changed several times before Smith made it stick, despite a last corner attempt at the hairpin from Deegan, and just 0.118s the difference at the flag! Deeth, Thompson and Astin were constant shadows for the final podium place after Peacock dropped out.
The Libre top three may have ended in the same order as the day before, but that didn’t tell the whole story. Cooper and Davis initially traded the class lead in an entertaining dice with Tony Le May’s Miglia. However, the recovering Evans – after another early delay - gradually caught and passed them all, before Davis got back past as Evans’ overworked tyres lost grip. Thompson improved on Deegan’s new Miglia lap record from the day before, likewise Evans who lowered his own best Libre time.
In the final Mini race, an early safety car slowed the pack for a few laps while Shearing’s S-Class was towed out of the barriers, but thereafter the Se7ens’ lead battle was on record pace, and when the chequered flag was waved after 11 laps it was Burger who secured his maiden victory in the formula by just 0.133s, after a superb performance to get ahead and stay there.
Thompson’s second place was enough to take the series lead, as Jeff Smith edged out Leon Wightman for third, the latter delighted to record a strong finish and further lower Thompson’s 1-day-old lap record, having non-started the day before.
S-Class honours again fell to Kendall by a clear margin, also with an even quicker best lap time, but the chase behind saw a great effort from Thorburn Astin - up from the back of the grid after a DNS in the first race - who looked on for second in class before gearbox issues allowed Polley to snatch back the position.
The Dunlop National Mini Challenge supported by Mini Spares now gears up for its much anticipated invitation to the BTCC meeting at Thruxton over the 18-19 May weekend, with live TV coverage and massive crowds guaranteed ●
Race 1 Se7en/S-Class 12 laps
1st 4 Joe Thompson
2nd 35 Jeff Smith
3rd 77 Andrew Deviny
6th 708 Scott Kendall
Race 1 Miglia/Libre 13 laps
1st 48 Lee Deegan
2nd 1 Aaron Smith
3rd 11 Kane Astin
13th 500 Rob Davis
Race 2 Miglia/Libre 13 laps
1st 1 Aaron Smith
2nd 48 Lee Deegan
3rd 23 Rupert Deeth
9th 500 Rob Davis
Race 2 Se7en/S-Class 11 laps
1st 28 Dom Burger
3rd 35 Jeff Smith
8th 708 Scott Kendall
NEW LAP RECORDS
Croft Circuit: 2.1250 miles
Miglia J Thompson 1:33.326 – 81.97 mph
Libre J Evans 1:35.465 – 80.13 mph
Se7en L Wightman 1:43.056 – 74.23 mph
S-Class S Kendall 1:44.892 – 72.93 mph
NATIONAL CHALLENGE POINTS: after rounds 1+2
1 J Thompson 39 pts
2 D Burger 37
3 J Smith 37
1 S Kendall 40 pts
2 J Polley 38
3 S Gilby 34
1 L Deegan 39 pts
2 A Smith 39
3 R Deeth 35
1 R Davis 20 pts
2 J Evans 16
3 J Cooper 12
Words by: Richard Williamson