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Rockingham 20th/21st September 2014

All images courtesy of Jon Elsey

Abbie Eaton...not quite there yet...but almost!!!

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The BRSCC MX5 SuperCup headed to Rockingham Motor Speedway in Northamptonshire for the penultimate meeting of the season. Practice, qualifying and two races on the International Super Sports Car long layout. Early autumn conditions shrouded the Rockingham bowl in mist for much of the Friday test session but as the circuit cleared in the afternoon the times started to come down and despite the long lap, times looked tight between the drivers, setting the scene for yet another fantastic weekend of racing.

Saturday

Practice

Practice got underway in cool and patchy dry conditions on Saturday morning. It gave those unable to test on Friday time to get into the groove prior to qualifying and those who had tested had extra time to fine tune their set-ups. The track surface at Rockingham is surprisingly low grip and saw the drivers slithering around the twisty infield section, but with over 10 seconds of the lap flat out running around the banking, the setup is always a compromise between top speed and ultimate grip. Abbie Eaton topped the times for the session continuing her superb form in the second half of the season. However, championship rival and current points leader Tom Roche struggled way down in 9th. Anthony Nield returning to the grid in the Paul Sheard Autos car went 2nd followed closely by John Davies in 3rd. Also looking quick were Will Chappell and Rob Way in 5th and 7th respectively.  Good times right down the field meant the starting order following qualifying was a tough one to predict.

Qualifying

The afternoon qualifying session was dry despite drops of rain falling throughout the morning and straight out of the blocks Eaton went fastest with a 1.44.9 on her opening timed lap. This would prove to be her quickest of the session as gearbox issues forced her to pit. After just two flying laps coolant dropped from Chappell’s car caught out the unfortunate Julian Taylor on the fast left hander Graceland and sent him spinning. Fortunately the gravel did its job and after a red flag to recover Taylor’s car, both he and the session were able to get going again. As the drivers circulated once more it was Nield who first beat Eaton’s time going 2 tenths quicker on lap 4, followed by Liam Murphy on lap 7 going 2nd fastest. Then on lap 8 Matt Davies topped the time sheets with a 1.44.6 which was enough for him to take his first ever SuperCup pole less than a tenth ahead of Nield. Times were phenomenally close with less than half a second covering the top 5 cars, championship leader Roche rounding out the top 5. A number of drivers had times disallowed for using some of Rockingham’s tempting painted concrete run off which is unfortunately deemed to be beyond the limits of the track. Jim Hart was pleased with his much improved pace as he pipped newcomer Ray Grimes in the Barnett & Southgate College entry.

Sunday

Race 1

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Abbie Eaton narrowly heads a locked up Anthony Nield

Bright conditions prevailed for the first race of the weekend on Sunday as the drivers lined up under the starters gantry. The start finish line at Rockingham is very wide but soon funnels down into the fast left hand sweep of the banking. Drivers had been warned that the apron at the bottom of the banking was off limits which would narrow the bend even further off the packed start. As the lights went out both the front row men made good starts, but Nield’s was better and he was able to sweep ahead of Matt Davies into the banking leaving a small gap back to Roche, Murphy, Eaton then John Davies. The pack fanned out as they approached the tight hairpin, everyone looking for space to get across to the inside line. Nield defended from Davies, the two exiting the hairpin as they entered.  Eaton came through in third with Roche having been forced onto the wider line. All the drivers made it safely through what is one of the most treacherous first comers in the country. Nield lead at the line on lap 1 with Davies in close pursuit followed by Eaton then Roche, the top 6 already edging a small gap out over the chasing pack.

The battling was frantic for 3rd place with everyone desperate to break away and chase the lead pair and it was Eaton that made the move on the third lap, at the same time Davies in 2nd was looking to put pressure on the leader but misjudged his braking into Deene Hairpin and went bumping across the grass on the outside. This gifted Eaton 2nd and dropped Davies down to 6th. With a clear track ahead, Eaton put the hammer down in chase of leader Nield, setting fastest lap of the race and a new lap record of 1.43.975 as she closed him down.  On lap 7 Eaton took the lead while Roche in 3rd backed up the pack behind. As the tyres began to go off, Roche was unable to fend off first Matt Davies, recovering from earlier, then his brother John Davies. A scary moment a lap earlier for Liam Murphy, who until then had been right with Roche, saw him suffer a burst brake pipe leaving him with only rear brakes to stop from close to 120mph into Deene hairpin. Murphy did a superb job in avoiding a far more serious incident.

Back at the front and Nield ran Eaton close for the win closing down a small deficit in the final laps to just 0.7 of a second at the flag but unable to stop Eaton taking her 4th win of the season. With Roche in 5th, his car clearly not to his liking, this moved Abbie back to the head of the championship points table.

Behind the lead bunch the racing was just as frantic, a poor start from Rob Way left him fighting back through and closing down 6th pace Justin Newnam in the latter stages but unable to make a move stick, both drivers pushing on at close to the leaders’ pace by the end of the race. The fight for 10th was also close with Carl Andrew, Julian Taylor and Chris Lord covered by just over a second at the finish.

Post-race scrutineering saw the top 6 cars have their exhausts removed to check the condition of the Jetex race catalytic converters and of course all cars were weighed against the championship minimum 1100kgs. The Jetex cats had withstood a season’s racing well and were all found to be in fully working order.

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Debut for the Barnet and Southgate College Car

Race 2

With Eaton and Nield now on the front row it was Nield who got the better start in Race 2 leading into the banking once again. Roche on row three made a demon start managing to get down the inside of both Davies brothers, starting on row 2, by the time they reached the hairpin.  Adam Brindle got off to a flying start and was challenging for 4th position on the opening lap but a minor spin a lap later left him fighting his was back up the field once again.

Eaton lead across the line on the opening lap, having found a way passed Nield who then came back to retake the lead on lap 2, a great battle taking place between the two drivers over the opening part of the race until on lap 4 Eaton made the decisive move and then opened up a 1 second margin which Nield was unable to close.

Just behind, Roche once again struggled for pace because of car problems but fought hard with Matt Davies for 3rd, the two going side by side on the brakes a number of times around the lap. This slowed the pair and allowed Murphy who was on a stunning recovery drive from the back of the grid to catch the two. Then on lap 4 Roche lost out to both Murphy and Davies at the hairpin and soon began to drop back into the path of John Davies. Murphy was flying but Matt Davies managed to go with him and on lap 7 made a move stick on the brakes coming out of Pif Paf, from then on it was a case of Davies defending hard all the way to the finish, just managing to stay ahead of Murphy for the final podium spot by 0.2 of second as the flag dropped.

Out front Eaton had stretched her lead at the finish to 3 seconds, once again taking fastest lap en-route to another commanding win and stretching her points lead over the struggling Roche who eventually came home in 6th. A good drive saw Russell Tamplin take 8th ahead of many more seasoned SuperCup racers, in his Paul Sheard Autos car while this time Chris Lord got the better of Rob Way to finish narrowly behind Carl Andrew for 10th.

Drive of the weekend after Eaton and her double win has to go to Liam Murphy, coming from the back of the grid to narrowly miss out on 3rd place in race 2. Although Anthony Nield who ran Eaton close in both races also deserves a mention as he is usually crawling under the Paul Sheard cars rather than driving them!

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Anthony Nield receives his trophy from Bob Marsh

Rockingham was surprisingly tough on the SuperCup cars which made for a busy weekend with a number of teams working hard to keep their entries running but, as always, the racing was excellent right down the SuperCup field and the championship received more positive comments and interest for 2015. The pace with which the championship has gathered momentum has surpassed everyone’s expectations  and is down  to the hard work of drivers representative Ray Worley, Drew Furlong at the BRSCC and of course all of  the drivers and teams involved.

The next meeting is the final round of the championship at Donington Park on the 18/19th of October and it seems that following the Rockingham results Abbie Eaton now has ‘one hand on the trophy’. It’s down to Roche to see what he can do and possibly also to try to fend off Matt Davies for 2nd in the standings. The championship is expecting big grids at Donington as many drivers come back for their final motor racing fix before the winter break.

Full Rockingham results: http://www.tsl-timing.com/brscc/2014/143831xsc.pdf

Championship Standings: http://www.mx5supercup.co.uk/standings

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