The 2019 season for the Mini Challenge JCW championship would likely see records broken and one of their most competitive years to date, as ahead of a move to the TOCA package in support of the BTCC in 2020, a grid of thirty-three were signed up, featuring emerging talent and plenty of experience. The opening round of the season took place at Oulton Park over the Easter Weekend and as the season approached Snetterton on the 18th and 19th May, anyone in the top ten were being looked at as race winners, split between race winning teams. The championship leader after round one may have been a surprise to a few, but James Gornall holds an impressive CV, taking the British GT title back in 2007 and more recently the BMW Compact Cup. Running under his own team banner of Jiggy Racing, James held an advantage of two points over series returnee Jac Maybin. Maybin runs as part of the ever strong Excelr8 team in 2019 and took a third and a first at the opening round. Series favourite Nathan Harrison sat third in the standings ahead of round two and after finishing as runner up in 2016 and 2018, leads the MINI UK Team. Having secured two podiums at the opening round, Harrison sits one point adrift of Maybin and capable of bagging first win in Norfolk. Calum King makes it four different teams in the top four with title winners JamSport and after top five finishes, King holds forty-one points, twenty back from leads Gornall, but has Dan Zelos for company, with Zelos sitting fifth on thirty-nine points for the MINI UK team. Privately run Lee Pattison is in the hunt tied sixth on thirty-five points with Kenan Dole and both are regular race winners in national saloon championships, like Clio Cup and VW Cup. Newcomer Max Bird had moved into the series from Ginetta racing and driving for Lawrence Davey Racing sat eighth after round one on thirty-four points. His team mate Callum Newsham, son of BTCC star Dave completed the top ten, split by Cooper Class graduate Richard Newman, who in the Excelr8 team held thirty points.
Lights to Flag for Championship Leader
Qualifying would get the weekend underway on Saturday, before competitors would tackle two races on the Snetterton 300 circuit on Sunday. With qualifying only being twenty minutes long and twenty-nine JCWs being on track, it was going to be crucial to get the lap in quickly to secure pole position. Championship leader James Gornall looked quick out of the box but had to wait until his final run to secure pole, a time of 2:02.626, just over half a second quicker than Lewis Brown. Grid positions in the 2019 JCW championship score additional points, so Gornall had boosted his title ambitions by six points ahead of any races. The top five were covered by less than a second at the end of twenty minutes, with Lee Pattison and Nathan Harrison lining up on row two, with Ben Palmer fifth and on row three. The pole sitter from Oulton Park, Dan Zelos would join Palmer on row three and his time of 2:03.653 was only 1.027 seconds slower than Gornall.
For the opening race on Sunday afternoon, conditions were matching what drivers faced in qualifying, so eyes were on the pace which James Gornall could produce. When the lights went green however, Gornall had to quickly go into defence mode, as Lewis Brown challenged early on. Gornall’s pace however was quicker than Brown’s over the whole lap, allowing the championship leader to pull clear to an advantage of over a second. The gap between the front two increased further over the next couple of laps as Brown was under pressure from the chasing pack, with Nathan Harrison quicker and moving closer, especially when Lee Pattison, who was battling within the top five, had a grassy moment exiting Coram and disrupted the pack. Harrison jumped Brown on lap five and left Brown to battle Ben Palmer for the final podium spot.
Into the second half of the race, James Gornall’s lead was nearly four seconds over Nathan Harrison, whilst Dan Zelos closed on Palmer and Brown to create a three way fight for third. With paint being rubbed, Dan Zelos took advantage on lap nine as contact at Oggies created a gap for Zelos to jump ahead as Palmer benefitted slightly to drop Brown to fifth.
As the chequered flag was waved after ten laps, James Gornall secured win number two of the 2019 season ahead of Nathan Harrison and Dan Zelos, by quite a large margin of nine seconds. The next two positions remain unchanged with Lee Pattison coming home sixth after his earlier mistake. Calum King took seventh ahead of Jack Davidson, Kenan Dole and Callum Newsham completing the top ten.
One driver worth mentioning though who wasn’t off to the best of starts in Norfolk after taking a race win at Oulton Park was Jac Maybin. A strong championship contender after the season opener, his race ended in the tyre wall on lap six after contact at Riches comer saw his JCW slid across the grass and into the tyre barrier. Maybin had been running eighth at the time of the incident and unfortunately the damage would be too much for the team to fix ahead of race two, ending his weekend early. Luckily Maybin was unhurt from quite a heavy hit with the barrier.
Mini Challenge JCW – Snetterton Race One:
- James Gornall (No.18) = 20:44.502
- Nathan Harrison (No.27) = +8.792s
- Dan Zelos (No.445) = +10.766s
- Ben Palmer (No.2) = +10.983s
- Lewis Brown (No.39) = +11.441s
Conditions Perfect for a Scotsman?
The second and final race of the weekend was expected to be a lottery, as a heavy drizzle created uncertainty over tyre choice, however not all parts of the circuit were wet. Callum Newsham was due to start from pole position after finishing tenth in race one, but when he pulled off on the green flag lap, this handed the advantage to Kenan Dole as the only driver on the front row.
On a damp to wet circuit, the rears were lit up when the lights went green and Kenan pulled ahead of the chasing pack, followed closely by Calum King from row two and Jack Davidson, who slotted into third. With conditions causing mistakes, the early laps saw an extremely close fight for third, as Davidson was under pressure from Lee Pattison, followed by Zelos, race one winner Gornall and lastly Nathan Harrison, running bumper to bumper. Back out front it looked as if Kenan Dole was trying to break the tow of King, but on lap four King’s error promoted Davidson into second before the Scotsman led the race on lap five. Entering Brundle and Nelson, the rear snapped on Dole’s JCW Mini under the Snetterton Bridge and he headed for the tyre stack. Narrowly avoiding contact with the barrier or any other car, the spin dropped him out of the race lead and outside the top ten.
The unfortunate incident for Dole was Davidson’s gain, as in the melee, the chasing pack lost ground as the Scotsman advantage over Nathan Harrison was 1.3 seconds at the end of lap five. Slower lap times in the tricky conditions would result in less racing laps and Davidson’s pace was enough for him to take the chequered flag comfortably at the end of lap seven by 3.040 seconds. Championship favourite at the start of the season, Nathan Harrison would take the flag in second, only slightly ahead of championship leader James Gornall in a hard-fought tussle over the final two laps. Just outside the podium were Ben Palmer in fourth and Dan Zelos fifth, completing the top five by the narrowest of margins ahead of Lewis Brown, 0.287 seconds. Showing just how tricky conditions had been, positions second to sixth were by covered by less than half a second. The gap between sixth and seventh was a little bit bigger, 1.316 seconds with Harry Gooding, James Loukes and Tom Rawlings running bumper to bumper up to the flag. Finishing as the final driver inside the top ten was Ryan Dignan, but this was a close finish also with seven drivers all within half a second of each other.
Mini Challenge JCW – Snetterton Race Two:
- Jack Davidson (No.21) = 15:21.515
- Nathan Harrison (No.27) = +3.040s
- James Gornall (No.18) = +3.127s
- Ben Palmer (No.2) = +3.236s
- Dan Zelos (No.445) = +3.488s
The next round for the JCW Mini Challenge Championship sees the team visit Silverstone for two races around the GP layout, on the 8th and 9th June in support of the British GT and BRDC F3. After taking pole for race one and the victory, James Gornall heads to Northamptonshire with a larger championship advantage, sitting on top the standings on 123 points. With the gap being only two points before Snetterton with Jac Maybin the closest challenger, Gornall’s advantage is now thirteen points over new challenger, Nathan Harrison. Maybin has slipped to third on 99 points with Dan Zelos closing in on a top three spot, seventeen adrift on 82 points. The top five is currently completed by Calum King, who had a difficult weekend in Norfolk and sits further back on 79 points, but there is still a long to go in the 2019 season and many points left to play for.
To keep up to date with the JCW championship as part of the Mini Challenge, please visit https://www.minichallenge.co.uk/
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs.