Under the Norfolk sunshine at Snetterton, the season began for plenty of the national championships run under the banner of the British Racing & Sports Car Club (BRSCC), including the ever popular and ever competitive Mazda MX-5 Supercup. The lightening quick Mk3 version of Japanese model has seen this championship boom in recent years and with lots of competition, this sports car series can be a thrill to watch. Contested over eight rounds in 2016, the Snetterton 300 circuit would open the season on the 2nd and 3rd April, with twenty-six drivers taking part in two twenty minute races, set by qualifying on the Saturday. With all the drivers in identical Mazda MX-5 Mk3 machinery, racing normally goes right to the wire and this was expected to happen at the opening round, especially as former champions and champions from other Mazda series had lined up on the grid at Snetterton.
Leading the line-up of drivers was the 2015 and reigning champion Alan Henderson, who was looking to become the first champion to defend their title in such a competitive series. Carrying the No.1 plate, Henderson had a target on his back, but over nineteen races, he had another title in his sights after securing twelve wins in his title winning year. Former champions in the Mk1 class looking to challenge for the title in 2016 was James Blake-Baldwin, who shined in the later part of 2015 after what was a torrid year and Jonathan Greensmith, back also after visiting the podium in the second half of the 2015 season. With the Mazda MX-5 Supercup having history of seeing champions and competitors climb into higher categories over the past few years, such as British GT Championship (2014 champion Abbie Eaton) one driver was returning to the series after being runner up in 2014. After competing in British GT with Blendini Motorsport, Tom Roche was back to a hunting ground he knows well and was looking to go one better than 2014. With numerous Mazda MX-5 titles to his name in various versions of the Japanese model, Roche was certainly going to be a main title challenger, however the battle would possibly include more than the four mentioned above.
One driver listed by the organisers of the Mazda MX-5 Supercup as a potential challenger was nineteen year old Liam Murphy, who was competing in his third season in the championship. After taking fourth in his debut season in 2014, 2015 saw him in break into the final top three positions behind Alan Henderson and Jonathan Clements, so bigger things were expected. Liam didn’t seem like a driver phrased by champions being on the grid and certainly had title winning pedigree. As history has shown though in the Mazda MX-5 Supercup, a champion is hard to predict at this early point in a season, so the double header at Snetterton was the best way to start the season and see who could step forward as the early title contenders.
Title Defence Begins with Opening Victory
Overnight rain in the Norfolk area effected the early runners on Sunday morning and with the Mazda MX-5 Supercup first out on track, they were faced with wet to dry conditions. Taking pole position for the opening race of the weekend was theNo.2 MX-5 of James Blake-Baldwin, after posting a time of 2:15.284, ahead of Tom Roche by 0.207 seconds. With Alan Henderson lying third and Jonathan Greensmith fourth, the run to Riches was going to be extremely competitive.
With the track slippery in places, the getaway from the line when the lights went out was cautious and Tom Roche made the best of a front row start to lead into Riches and ahead of James Blake-Baldwin. With Henderson settling into third and keeping the leading two in check, nineteen year old Liam Murphy made a perfect start from row three to get ahead of Jonathan Greensmith and into fourth position. As the rest of the field streamed through the opening lap without incident, the front five broke away, before Murphy made an error and lost ground on lap two, slipping behind Greensmith and Jack Harding.
Back at the front, Henderson pressured Blake-Baldwin for second and finally moved ahead, once Blake-Baldwin found a damp patch entering Murrays and nearly lost the rear end. With Roche out-front, the gap closed to within half a second by the end of lap three and then a lap later, the reigning champion was in the lead and pulling away. With slippery patches catching a few out, the next to suffer was Jonathan Greensmith at Murrays, who had to straight-line the grass whilst entering the corner from Coram to avoid an accident. This lost Greensmith ground on Blake-Baldwin, but luckily for him he was well clear of Liam Murphy, who had climbed back up to fifth ahead of Will Chappell and the chasing Alex Preston.
As the race moved into the second half, the gaps between the front three had spread to a second, with Tom Roche trying extremely hard to close on Henderson. Adapting to conditions better than Henderson allowed Roche to set faster laps than the leader, but the speed of Henderson kept the gap to just over a second. With the twenty minutes coming to an end, the final lap saw Roche 1.084 seconds back, but by the flag the 2014 runner up had closed to within 0.563, showing just how much Roche wants the title in 2016 by being so competitive in the opening race of the season. Unable to match the times of the leading two saw James Blake-Baldwin settle for the final podium spot in race one, two seconds behind the race winner.
Mazda MX-5 Supercup – Race One Top Five Classification:
- Alan Henderson (No.1) = 8 Laps = 20:15.522
- Tom Roche (No.25) = +0.563s
- James Blake-Baldwin (No.2) = +2.208s
- Jonathan Greensmith (No.5) = +18.861s
- Liam Murphy (No.3) = +30.920s
Gloves come off in Race Two
For the second and final race of the opening weekend, Alan Henderson and Tom Roche lined up on the front row due to results from race one, with the track completely dried out after Saturday night’s rain. With James Blake-Baldwin lying in third, it was immense pressure from the former Mk1 Mazda champion that saw the No.2 MX-5 lead the opening lap ahead of Roche, with Henderson slipping to third and having to defend off Jonathan Greensmith. With the rest of the field fighting for positions on the opening lap, the race lost Phillip Callow and Jamie Goddard on the opening and second lap.
Whilst Blake-Baldwin held the lead on the opening lap, positions did change on lap two with Roche pulling ahead, but his lead didn’t last long. With the two slowing one another, Henderson closed right in and by lap five, Roche found himself in third and Blake-Baldwin led again.
As Jonathan Greensmith held fourth position and Liam Murphy was a comfortable fifth, these two were about to be promoted up one place, as fireworks exploded between the front three drivers. With Blake-Baldwin breaking slightly clear with only a few laps remaining, Roche pilled the pressure on Henderson for second, with the two running side by side through the Nelson and Brundle corners. With Roche on the outside coming out of the Bomb-hole, the two Mazda MX-5s made contact and Roche pulled wide at Coram. Limping back to the pits with a damaged wheel arch, Roche would re-join the circuit to take the chequered flag a lap down in twenty-fourth position, in order to score points.
The incident between Henderson and Roche technically sealed the victory for James Blake-Baldwin, as he broke away to a four seconds advantage and would take his first win of the season. With Henderson holding onto second place, the final podium place was secured by Jonathan Greensmith, comfortably ahead of Liam Murphy and Will Chappell, who completed the top five.
Mazda MX-5 Supercup – Race Two Top Five Classification:
- James Blake-Baldwin (No.2) = 9 Laps = 20:37.969
- Alan Henderson (No.1) = +4.087s
- Jonathan Greensmith (No.5) = +8.383s
- Liam Murphy (No.3) = +18.861s
- Will Chappell (No.4) = +23.101s
With the championship moving onto Anglesey in Wales for the first triple header on the season on the 7th and 8th May, the defending champion is in the best possible position to challenge for back to back titles by leading the standings on 198 points from two races. The win and a second around the 300 circuit at Snetterton puts Alan one point ahead of former Mk1 champion James Blake-Baldwin, who backed up third in race one with the win in race two. James Greensmith rounds out the top three in the standings after the opening rounds on 190 points after his podium in the final race went with fourth in race one. One of the surprises going into the third round has to be that Tom Roche lies twelfth in the standings on 153 points. After finishing second in race one to Henderson, the collision between the two exiting the Bombhole in race two left Roche in twenty-fourth place, after he sensibly re-joined from the pits to finish and score, rather than collect a DNF and pick up zero points. On 153 points and forty-five points behind Henderson, you can expect Roche won’t go down without a fight in this part of the season.
Mazda MX-5 Supercup – Top Five Classification after Rounds One and Two:
- Alan Henderson (No.1) = 198 Pts
- James Blake-Baldwin (No.2) = 197 Pts (+1)
- Jonathan Greensmith (No.5) = 190 Pts (+8)
- Liam Murphy (No.3) = 186 Pts (+15)
- Will Chappell (No.4) = 180 Pts (+18)
To keep up to date with the 2016 BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Supercup and how the championship progresses, please check out http://www.mx5supercup.co.uk/
To see plenty more photos of ours from the action at Snetterton, please click here.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs for Collierhousehold Motorsport.