MINI CHALLENGE: Rockingham (JCW Rd 3&4)

Round: 3         Laps: 6             Weather: Sunny, dry

Max Bladon learned from his starting errors at Oulton Park to take his maiden JCW victory in a fragmented first race at Rockingham.

Bladon didn’t just have to get off the line once to notch his first win in the turbocharged class, he had to do it twice after a mid-race red flag prompted a full re-grid.

When the lights went out Bladon got a great getaway to hold the lead from the charging Brett Smith as the top four held station with David Grady running third ahead of James Turkington. Charlie Butler-Henderson managed to sneak past Mark Wakefield for fifth off the line.

Things stayed that way until CB-H and Turkington rubbed through the fast Gracelands left-hander. Turkington was spun off while CB-H was delayed with bumper damage. While CB-H continued in fifth, Turkington was 22nd when he rejoined.

That wasn’t the end of the chaos either. The safety car made a brief appearance before the red flags flew when Will Neal’s car was stranded mid-circuit after a collision in the pack out of Tarzan corner.

Will Neal gets stranded on-track

Both delays heaped the pressure on Bladon. “Starts are like a lottery, they can go well, or badly and I could get hit or delayed or anything, so I really had to focus on both restarts,” he said.

Safety car and red flags hold up the racing
“The second standing start was way worse, as the car had lost all temperature by the point we got going so it was really stressful.”

Despite his fears, Bladon nailed it and pulled a colossal 2.6s clear on the first lap as an epic battle broke out behind him. Brett Smith was forced wide through Deene when the pack ran four-abreast into the tight turn, leaving Wakefield in second ahead of Grady, CB-H and Barr.

Grady leads the rest of the pack
Not happy to settle for fifth, Barr dived past CB-H into the Brook chicane before sneaking around the outside of Grady at Tarzan to net third. He then latched on to the back of Wakefield, but couldn’t find a way past in the remaining few laps.

Reece Barr squeezes past CBH on the closing laps

“I’m delighted to get the win and clear the monkey off my back,” said Bladon, who took the flag almost five seconds clear. “The restart went perfectly and I couldn’t believe the gap I got. I was able to back off a bit and look after the tyres as race two could be a struggle on the rubber as it’s very abrasive around here.”

Wakefield said: “The restart could have gone either way for me, better or worse. Thankfully it went better and I got behind Max through the hairpin. When Reece got through behind me I had to turn on defend mode and quit attacking as this championship is all about scoring solid points, not winning every race.”

Barr added: “If you’d offered me third yesterday I’d have happily taken it so I was really happy with my drive. It was about picking my moments and taking every chance I got. I start three places higher for race two, so let’s see what we can do from there.”

Grady was fourth, ahead of CB-H, Brad Hutchinson, Brett Smith, Scott Jeffs and Stuart Gough. Turkington fought his way back to 10th, netting fastest lap in the process. “What happened at the start was unfortunate, but I’ve got to take the positives – we had the pace in the car and I got the bonus for fastest lap. Now on to the next one!”

Round: 4         Laps: 14           Weather: Cloudy, dry

Reece Barr made it four different winners from as many races this year after scoring an emphatic maiden JCW victory in race two at Rockingham.

Barr, a former double Irish karting champion, showed maturity and race craft beyond his young years to storm through the pack and secure a commanding first victory.

The reversed grid placed Charlie Butler-Henderson on pole, with David Grady alongside as Barr and Mark Wakefield occupied the second row, with race-one victor Max Bladon back in fifth.

Bladon and Barr in an early tussle
CB-H’s start wasn’t the best, allowing Grady past on the outside of Turn One before Bladon made an audacious lunge on the brakes down the inside on the brakes into the Deene Hairpin to secure third, as those behind were delayed. Barr was swamped down to fourth and Brad Hutchison secured an early fourth.

Barr didn’t wait long to start making a move and went door-handle to door-handle with Hutchison as Rob Smith also closed in. Smith pulled off a fine move to briefly dive in front of both on the brakes at Deene, before contact with Mark Wakefield a lap later led to Smith spinning and Wakefield heading to the pits with damage.

Mark Wakefield has to pit after damage in a collision with Rob Smith
Barr slipped past Hutchison and then set his sights on the top three. He passed Bladon with a fine move up the inside through Gracelands, which he also then repeated on Butler-Henderson for second. Grady then fell victim to the charging Irishman on the brakes into Deene with a few laps to run.

Barr has CBH and champion Grady in his sights
“That was an amazing race,” said Barr. “I lost a few places in the first corners but then calmed myself down and started concentrating on pumping the lap times in and the car felt great. I had new-ish tyres on the front and the extra grip really seemed to pay off.

“After the start to the weekend with the penalty this is the perfect result. It’s moved me up in the championship and I’m feeling really good ahead of the next rounds.”

Grady said: “I was blown away by Reece’s pace there, I didn’t expect him to come through as fast as he did. I was managing the gap to Charlie and then he just arrived and cruised past. It caught me by surprise a bit. I’ll still take second as a good result though.”

And takes the win to make it four different winners in four races
Butler-Henderson added: “I thought age and experience pays over youth, but that little Irish lad is quick! It’s great for points and I really enjoyed it. We were all really struggling with tyres and around turn one there’s huge clumps of rubber vibrating and flying off the car so it feels like the tyres are about to blow out and it’s massively unsettling. I backed off when I knew I was sure of a podium.”

Brett Smith was fourth ahead of Stuart Gough, Hutchison and Scott Jeffs. James Turkington fought to eighth place ahead of Henry Neal and Mohammed Nalwalla. Max Bladon gradually slipped back after opting to not fit any fresh tyres for this race. He wound up 11th, but said: “It’s a learning exercise really. Sure we got the call on the tyres wrong but we’ve still won a race and earned good points this weekend.”

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