BIZ Karts-backed Max Bladon narrowly missed out on this year’s MINI CHALLENGE JCW Rookie Cup title after a technical failure robbed him of the chance to finish as the year’s top newcomer.
Bladon went into the final two races of the season at Donington Park recently in a confident mood, having returned to the podium places during the penultimate meeting at Oulton Park.
Mid-season technical trouble had effectively ended his chances of the overall title, but the Rookie Cup was still on, despite him trailing rival Reece Barr ahead of the season finale.
Max started out strong, by leading the early stages of qualifying, before disaster struck. A suspension component failed at high speed when Max was on his best lap, which pitched him off the track. Fortunately there was no further damage, but he was resigned to starting ninth after a session that promised so much more.
“I was on two personal best sectors then hit a bump going through the chicane and it just went,” said Max. “It’s just another example of the bad luck that seems to be hanging over me over the second half of the year. But it is what it is and we’ll just move forward from here.”
Bladon’s Excelr8 team repaired the damage ahead of race one and Max was keen to put in a strong performance, with Barr starting ahead of him in fourth.
Max got a good launch to stay with the lead pack and held off an attack from Mark Wakefield into the Old Hairpin. Max then picked up a spot when Charlie Butler-Henderson ran wide at McLeans. Max pushed hard, but something still wasn’t feeling right with his JCW.
“When we were repairing the suspension we noticed that the track rod end was bent too, but perhaps there was more damage than we found,” he said. “The car’s balance just didn’t feel right and I was struggling to lean on it through the faster stuff.”
Max finished seventh in his ill-handling car, but was bumped up to sixth when Butler-Henderson was judged to have passed Max under yellow flags as he recovered from his earlier off.
That result left Max just outside of the reversed grid places, with only the top four being reversed for the season finale.
Max again got away well and was involved in a tight battle with George Sutton over fifth place, but was shuffled wide at the Montreal Hairpin when Butler-Henderson dived inside Sutton and left Bladon with no option but to run around the outside of the corner.
With his car still not truly comfortable, Max brought it home in eighth. That cemented a top six finish in the championship and second in the Rookie Cup standings.
“It was a disappointing weekend, but it’s been the tale of the latter half of my season,” said Max. “Luck just hasn’t been with me much, but I can’t let it get me down. This year has still been a real success – I’ve won races outright, which is a great achievement in my debut season in the turbocharged JCWs, and even led the championship overall at one point.
“Congratulations to Reece, he’s been a great rival all season and we’ve had some great racing between us. My focus is now on 2018 and seeing what we can put together.
“I’d like to give a big thanks to BIZ Karts for the amazing support and opportunity they have given me this year, and I really hope the relationship can continue.”
Max returns to form at Oulton Park
Max Bladon got his MINI CHALLENGE JCW Championship campaign back on track with two strong performances on home turf at Oulton Park last weekend.
Max showed strong pace and impeccable racecraft all weekend to come away with a hard-earned podium finish, but it could have been so much more had it not been for a controversial penalty in his first race.
Prior to the Oulton Park double-header, Max had endured a terrible run of luck, with two mechanical failures in the last two race weekends costing him dear in the championship. He went to his local circuit seventh in the points, but has now climbed to fifth ahead of the season finale at Donington Park next month.
Max again starred in qualifying, which was held on a wet-but-drying circuit. The session began with Max on full-wet tyres, but a late swap to dry-weather slick Dunlops meant a mad late dash to get pole.
“Qualifying was hard work,” said Max. “The track was drying all the time and I actually thought I’d left it too late to swap to slicks because I got one lap to warm them and one to nail the time. I was holding on to the car at every corner, but it was a great lap.”
Max went fastest, but would start third after a grid penalty picked up in the previous race at Brands Hatch. Regardless, Max made a great start on the damp-but-drying track to run second into turn one.
Despite the tricky conditions, Max had chosen to run slick tyres, regardless of the threat of rain in the air. All looked good until Max and promoted pole-man Charlie Butler-Henderson made contact at turn three, edging Max down to fourth.
Regardless, Max soldiered on, and picked up third when Butler-Henderon retired with steering damage. He then passed Rob Smith for second before attacking race leader Henry Neal. A safety car called for a multi-car crash at Knickerbrook allowed Brett Smith to close in and, on the restart Max dropped to third, but looked to have secured a first podium of the weekend.
But the stewards added 10 seconds to his race time, deeming his wheels were over the line of his grid slot at the start. That dropped Max to ninth.
“I was gutted after race one as it was a really good contest, and to have a podium taken away for something so small is really gutting,” he said. “I don’t necessarily agree with the decision and the penalty was made even more harsh by the safety car bunching everybody up. But it is what it is and I have to accept it and move on.”
Max was fired up for race two and, starting ninth, put in a shining performance to eventually secure that top-three slot.
Max got a great start to climb five places into fourth after the first lap, just before the safety car made another appearance to recover a car in the gravel at Druids. On the restart Max managed to sneak past new champion Brett Smith to snatch third late on.
“Race two was a tricky one as the safety car didn’t leave us many racing laps so I had to take every chance that came my way,” said Max. “I’m really happy to finally get on the podium again. It’s proven to others that I’m still here and fighting in this championship and it’s also proven to me that I can still run at the front. After so much bad luck in recent rounds you begin to doubt yourself a bit, but this goes a long way to firing me up ahead of the season finale at Donington.”
Max is now fifth in the points, 48 behind rival Reece Barr in the Rookie Championship, but with over 100 still on offer.
“The Rookie title isn’t out of the question, so I’ll head to Donington aiming to get another win before the year is out,” said Max. “I know I can win again, and if the results go my way, things can turn around very quickly in this championship.”
Max Bladon is keen to brush aside the bad luck that has haunted him at Brands Hatch this year and get his season back on track at Oulton Park in a fortnight.
The MINI CHALLENGE JCW Championship’s second visit to Brands in a month brought yet another dose of disappointment for Max, who was once again left rueing mechanical issues that cost him dear.
Having endured a costly driveshaft failure at the MINI Festival event on the Indy Circuit rounds in July, Max was keen to fight back around the lesser-used Grand Prix Circuit, but again was let down by a failures outside of his control.
Qualifying was made trickier when heavy rain lashed the track just before the JCWs were due to go out. All cars switched to wet tyres, but it left little time to get the cars fully prepared for the conditions.
“As soon as I went out my windscreen started misting up badly,” said Max, who struggled to see where he was going for much of the session.
That was the root of an uncharacteristic mistake, when Max locked his fronts into Druids and skated into the gravel. Despite only having his front wheels in the trap, the circuit did not use its ‘live’ recovery process and instead waved the red flags for other cars off around the circuit. With Max stationary at the time of the stoppage, he was not allowed to restart the session.
“I was gutted as it was a single little mistake and the marshals could have pushed me back out, but then the reds came out and they wouldn’t let me rejoin – it was tough to sit and watch,” he said.
Max would start 14th, based on his best time from just three laps, but the early stages of the first race looked promising as Max made up two places from the start, until he was again let down when a driveshaft failed at the start of lap two.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “To have two driveshaft failures in as many meetings is just such bad luck, and this one was the opposite side to the one that failed on the Indy Circuit.”
For race two Max was forced to start 25th, but few up the order early on. He gained 10 places on the opening tour before settling into to 13th spot and started applying the pressure on the pack ahead of him.
Sadly a tangle with Jack Wright at Druids cost Max time, before he suffered a tyre failure that forced him to crawl back to the pits, eventually finishing 21st. The results have left Max seventh in the championship.
“It is what it is sadly, it’s been another disaster,” he said. “I love Brands Hatch, but it’s not been kind to me this season, so I’m just keen to get back in the car for Oulton Park and go again. It’s a track I really like and know well, so I’m heading there ready to get back to the front.”
Max Bladon has set his sights on securing a top-three finish in this year’s MINI CHALLENGE JCW Championship after a damaging weekend at Brands Hatch when two mechanical failures severely dented his title hopes.
Max has been one of the stars of the JCW season so far, having secured two race wins and been a regular fixture in the podium places. Ahead of the three races in Kent he was second in the points and aiming to unseat Brett Smith at the top of the standings.
However, motorsport can be cruel, and Max felt the full brunt of its dark side with two major issues undoing much of his strong early-season work.
Qualifying didn’t go to plan, and the car issues began to surface early on.
“I don’t think the car has really been right for the last few rounds,” says Max. “At the start of the year it was quite easy to get the lap times from, but recently it’s been getting harder and harder and I’ve felt I’ve been driving harder and getting no reward.”
The lack of performance was evident when Max was mired in the midfield and lost his best lap in traffic at the end of the session. A grid penalty from the last rounds at Silverstone compounded that and meant he started down in unfamiliar territory in 17th.
Max put in a real charge in race one to climb to 12th, but it again showed he was carrying an issue.
“After race one we studied the data and found a turbo problem, where it was gradually losing pressure,” explains Max. “That was sapping the power, so we changed the entire assembly to get back on track for race two.”
The fix clearly worked, as Max flew up the order to run eighth and looked set to make further progress before disaster struck and a driveshaft gave way, forcing him out of the race.
“It was gutting,” he says. “The car finally felt back on song and I was making some really good progress and aiming toward getting a great starting spot for the reversed-grid third race, then the driveshaft just went. There’s nothing you can do about these things. It’s just plain old bad luck.”
At least with a patched-up car Max could show his overtaking prowess in the final race, scorching from 25th on the grid to finish an eventual 11th.
“Race three was really satisfying, but also really disappointing,” he said. “It’s hard to overtake around Brands, so to make up 14 places meant it was action-packed and great fun, but it also showed that I had the pace to achieve a lot more if I hadn’t had the earlier problems.”
Max now sits fifth in the championship, but is just 29 points behind second-placed David Grady.
“Brett [Smith] has a decent gap at the front but there’s still a lot of races to go and he also has a touring car seat to focus on now too, so it’s not over,” says Max.
“The fight over second is incredibly tight so it sets up a grandstand finish to the season. I know that when the car is right, I can win races. I’m fully focused on getting that runner-up spot in the championship. I’ll just regroup after this one, forget the troubles, and get back out fighting for the big points again.”
The next round of the MINI CHALLENGE JCW Championship takes place on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit on August 5/6. The two races run in support of the British GT and Formula 3 championships and live coverage will be available on the Front Runner digital TV channel.
Max Bladon came away from Silverstone with a bittersweet feeling. On the sweet side the rising star cemented his second MINI CHALLENGE JCW victory of the season to establish himself in second in the points table. But bitter due to a contentious clash in a race one outing that promised much.
Max came into the two races at Silverstone, which mark the halfway point of the campaign, aiming to recover from an honest mistake last time out at Snetterton that cost him a likely race victory.
“The first fight of the weekend was to get my head together and move on from Snetterton, where I spun out of a solid lead in the last race,” said Max. “I had to put that behind me and move on, which is exactly what I did. Silverstone was a fresh start.
“It’s a track I really like and having done the Silverstone 24 Hours in Excelr8’s endurance MINI earlier this year I’ve done about nine hours around there this year, so I like to think I know it pretty well.”
Max made his point early on too, running at the top of the times during the early stages of qualifying before eventually sealing the third-fastest lap, Only championship leader Brett Smith and Rob Smith bettered him, both of whom benefited from a strong tow to set their times.
Max was confident ahead of race one, and made a strong start to hold third as he challenged Rob Smith for second place. Mark Wakefield made a move at Club corner to drop Max to fourth in the tight lead pack, but when Max tried to fight back a lap later Wakefield slammed the door shut.
Max looked odds-on for a top four place, before contact on his rear bumper from Charlie Butler-Henderson forced him wide at Brooklands on lap three, Max rejoined in sixth spot but kept his head to finish a fighting fifth and bag solid points.
“I wasn’t very impressed with Charlie’s move as he was tapping me right around the circuit and then that final contact just shoved me off,” said Max. “Aside from that the race was good fun. Mark put a good move on me and then closed the door when I tried to fight back, but that’s racing. The car felt good and we have the pace around here.”
Max’s off proved to be a bit of a blessing in disguise as he was drawn on the front row for the reversed grid second race. Starting alongside poleman Henry Neal, Max fitted two brand new Pirellis to the front of his JCW in an effort to find an advantage.
“I knew I had to make a move on Henry quickly and then try to get a gap,” said Max, who shot out of the blocks to pressure Neal off the line.
Going through the Maggotts-Becketts complex for the first time, Neal braked suddenly through the left-hander, catching Max off guard. The slight contact was enough to spin Neal off, handing Max the lead.
“I apologised to Henry afterwards as he’s a good mate and I’m not that sort of driver, but he honestly really caught me off guard as it’s not a point that you’d usually brake at but I think he was being a bit cautious on the first lap,” said Max.
With Max now out front, Rob Smith piled the pressure on, but a safety car was called when JM Littman crashed at Copse. After two laps under caution, Max got a good restart, only for the race to then be red-flagged for a car stranded on-track. Max was declared the winner.
“It’s not the way you’d want to win a race, it feels nowhere near as good as the first win at Rockingham because as a racing driver you always want to take the chequered flag,” said Max.
“But it’s still a win and it’s good for the championship. We’re at Brands Hatch Indy next, which has always been a strong track for me. The season now is about trying to stay in front of Brett Smith and claw back some of his points lead. With 30 cars around a 1.2-mile track, anything can happen.”
MINI CHALLENGE frontrunner Max Bladon netted two solid points finishes in the last round at Snetterton to stay firmly in the championship chase, but was left to rue a setup gamble that cost him in the finale.
Max came into the third weekend of the season off the back of his breakthrough race win at Rockingham, which had elevated him firmly into the box seats in the championship points.
With Snetterton being the year’s first triple-header, Max knew that strategy and consistency would be key. But firstly, he needed a bit of good fortune for qualifying, as did everybody.
A heavy rainstorm battered the circuit right before qualifying, forcing all cars to rapidly switch to wet tyres. When the session did begin visibility was essentially zero, but Max got an early lap in to bank fifth place, right before the red flags came out to stop the session for good.
With many of Max’s title rivals falling foul of the conditions, Max had a perfect opportunity to get ahead and score some big points.
For race one Max fitted brand new front tyres to his Excelr8-run JCW, but got a difficult start to run sixth at the end of the first lap before his fresh Dunlops came in and he could push his way back up the order.
Max inherited a place when James Turkington was nudged wide, and then race leader Rob Smith stopped with an alternator problem. A fine pass on Kyle Reid then put Max into the podium places, before Brett Smith eventually got past to leave Max fourth at the flag.
“This weekend is all about bagging solid points, and fourth has achieved that,” said Max. “I was struggling with the balance of the car a bit and knew I didn’t have the pace of the top two, so when I saw Brett coming I thought better of getting into a big fight with him. It’s consistency that pays in this championship.”
For race two, Max started on worn tyres, preferring to save his fresher Dunlops for the last outing. With Reece Barr picking up a grid penalty for contact with Turkington in race one, Max started third on the grid, but completed the first lap in fourth after losing out to the fast-starting David Grady.
Once in fourth, Max concentrated on conserving his tyre life and keeping things tidy. He had a great battle with Mark Wakefield, with Max defending solidly against his team-mate until a lock-up at Murrays on the last lap allowed Wakefield to nose ahead on the run to the finish line.
“It was an unfortunate mistake but fifth is still a good result,” said Max. “Mark was quick but I felt I had it in hand until I locked up and he just beat me in the drag to the line.”
For the final race Max and his team opted to stiffen the rear of his JCW in an attempt to find an edge with the handling and rotation through slow corners. But the move backfired.
“We fitted brand new front tyres, which gave the car more bite anyway, so in hindsight we probably didn’t need the setup change, but I’m still learning this car and the effects big changes have on it.” said Max.
Max started second on the reversed grid but soon stole the lead from poleman Freddie Lee and set about establishing a gap. Everything was going smoothly, until a big lock up on the brakes into Wilson Hairpin led to the rear of his car stepping out and half-spinning at the apex.
Fortunately all cars managed to miss Max, who was sideways across the track, and he continued to an eventual 11th place. While it was a disappointing end to an otherwise promising weekend, Max can take the positives away as he leaves Norfolk second in the championship table.
“Race three was a real struggle as the car shifted from a little bit of slow-speed understeer to huge amounts of oversteer everywhere, I was sideways at every corner,” said Max.
“It was a learning curve, and a gamble as we were chasing something in the car all weekend and it just didn’t come together. But almost all of my championship rivals had their own troubles, so to come away second in the points is a good result.
“We’re at Silverstone’s Grand Prix Circuit next, and that’s a track I really like. I’ve done a fair few laps around there as I raced in the Creventic 24 Hours there earlier this year. I’m confident I can get my head straight and get back on the winning trail next time out.”
MINI CHALLENGE rising star Max Bladon has credited his stellar start to this year’s campaign to his prime sponsor BIZ Karts, leading manufacturer of rental and race go-karts.
Bladon entered into a year-long partnership with BIZ Karts at the start of this season, which paved the way for the reigning Cooper Class champion to step up to the two-litre turbocharged JCW category.
Since making the jump, Bladon has starred across the four races so far. He has claimed pole position for each of the opening two weekends and recorded a maiden race victory and another podium finish. The results mean he currently leads the championship by seven points ahead of 2015 JCW champion Charlie Butler-Henderson.
London-based BIZ Karts has been a long-term supporter of the MINI CHALLENGE, having backed the car of Chris Smith in recent seasons. Bladon has taken that machine over for this year, with Smith taking a year out to focus on the family business.
“This year so far has gone unbelievably well, and I have to thank BIZ Karts for its support and making this all happen for me,” said Bladon.
“BIZ Karts has done such great work in the CHALLENGE in recent years, not only backing Chris but also by helping aspiring karters have a shot at circuit racing with the BIZ Champions Challenge, which rewarded the fastest kart racers around the UK with a funded weekend in the Cooper Class.
“I’ve been friends with Chris for some years now, so when he and his father [BIZ Karts founder, Mike Smith] approached me with the idea of me running in the BIZ colours this year I was really honoured.
“Without BIZ I wouldn’t have the chance I do for this year, and that makes it even more satisfying to be fighting at the front and getting the results I have done so far. The plan is to keep that going for the rest of the year and hopefully have the BIZ Karts JCW fighting for the championship at the end of the season.”
The team at BIZ Karts wish Max the best of luck for the season!
Rising tin-top star Max Bladon secured a landmark first MINI CHALLENGE JCW race victory at Rockingham last weekend to mark himself out as genuine title threat.
The reigning Cooper Class champion has shone since his graduation to the MINI CHALLENGE’s turbocharged category, and took a stunning first race victory that has helped to elevate him to the top of the championship standings.
After taking both his maiden pole position and breakthrough podium finish during his first weekend in the JCWs at Oulton Park on Easter Bank Holiday weekend, Max’s hopes were high ahead of the two races in Corby.
The Chester man marked himself out as a frontrunner from the very start of the weekend, lapping Rockingham’s 1.9-mile circuit second fastest in qualifying, just 0.1s away from Reece Barr’s pole time. However, Max was elevated to top spot due to Barr carrying a grid penalty for a clash at Oulton.
Starting on pole, Max was confident of breaking his duck, but had to work extremely hard for it.
When the lights went out, Max got a great start to hold the lead ahead of a four-car train of challengers. Brett Smith pushed Max hard over the first few laps, but Max held firm until his tyres came into the performance window and he could begin to forge a gap out front.
That’s when trouble struck. An early safety car eroded Max’s advantage and left him with all of the work to do over again. He once again staved off Smith’s challenge at the restart but, when Will Neal’s car was stranded mid-circuit after contact, the red flags flew and Max faced an entirely different challenge.
“When I saw the safety car I was gutted as I’d just started to get a gap on Brett,” said Max. “When I saw the red flags and that we would be sent back to the grid for a second standing start it was pretty stressful.
“When you’re sat on the grid everything loses temperature, and starts can be a lottery – you can get a good one, a bad one, be hit by somebody else – anything can happen!”
But Max didn’t bow to the pressure, and got a second strong launch to lead all of the remaining five laps and build a 4.5-second advantage at the flag.
“To get my first race win in the JCW Class feels amazing, but to do it in what was perhaps the most stressful race I’ve ever had makes it even more special,” said Max.
“To deal with a safety car and a second standing start really was hard work as it was hard to get back into a rhythm with the car each time. Coming into this year just winning a race was my top priority, not I’ve done that I have to reset my goals and aim that bit higher.”
Race two was even more testing. Max was forced to run on worn tyres, having used all of his available fresh sets. Despite the sizable grip advantage, Max went on the offensive at the start, rising from his fifth-place grid slot to run third on the opening lap after a daring move on the brakes into the Deene Hairpin.
Max held on to the provisional podium slot valiantly until his Dunlops eventually cried enough and he fell prey to cars with fresher covers. Max eventually wound up 11th, having put on a fine fighting display.
The net result of the weekend is that Max has vaulted into the championship lead and now holds a seven-point advantage over former champion Charlie Butler-Henderson.
“Although race two was difficult after I ran out of tyres I still have to count the weekend as a success,” said Max. “I learned a lot, both from taking my first win and also about the car in race two.
“I think I’m surprising a few people this year. Some people discounted what I did in Coopers last year as it wasn’t the top class of the championship, but to come into the JCWs and to be as competitive as I am says a lot about my ability as a driver.
“Despite that I know this year will be a really tight battle as there’s some great drivers in the field. But I’m determined to keep learning and keep pushing to be in the championship picture at the end of the season.”
Photos: Mark Campbell
This season Max, having won the championship in the Mini Coopers has graduated up to the prestigious Mini JCWs. Often described as ‘a mini touring car’, the JCWs feature some of the most up and coming drivers on their way to BTCC and Max showed he was ready for a great season by grabbing pole position in the first qualifying round at Oulton Park this Easter.
His ascent to the top of the times only occurred towards the end of the session however, which was disturbed by two red flag stoppages.
After a restart of the session, Max was able to gain clean air, and with the help of a tow from his fellow Excelr8 Motorsport teammate, manged to grab pole by just 0011s.
“It’s an amazing start,” Bladon said. “After the red flag restart, I knew I had to get a lap in quickly with a crowded 31-car grid, and it was fortunate that Mark and I were able to get some clear laps in. I’m ecstatic and hope this will carry on into Monday’s races.”
Max Bladon – A Rising Star Of The Motorsport World
19 year old Max Bladon, who spends much of the year in Llanbedog, is well on the way to the top in the competitive world of motorsport racing by winning the 2016 Mini Challenge UK Cooper championship. Of 17 races entered in 2016, Max won and incredible 14 and only missed out on the podium once!
In Max’s own words…
“After time to reflect on my 2016 season since the last round 2 weeks ago at Snetterton. I have to say it has been a long season from testing at the start of the year to the final round at Snetterton, with loads of massive highs along the way!”
“Going into the season I said would be a dream to get a few wins across the season and hopefully have the chance to battle out for the championship at the final round of the season, but little did I know I would go onto winning 11 races in a row and win the MINI CHALLENGE UK Cooper championship a meeting early at Cadwell Park!”
But while I was concentrating on my Cooper Championship throughout the year, I was also entered into the Sunoco UK 200 Challenge. This is a separate championship to the MINI CHALLENGE UK, where multiple classes across the country who use Sunoco UK race fuels can enter into the championship. The championship works off a points system where the person with the most fastest laps, wins and pole positions across a season wins a prize of a drive in Daytona International Speedway for the Daytona 24 Hours support race in January. Amazingly I have the pleasure of saying I have won the prize after a really successful season and that I am counting down the days until January! I still have a few advertising spaces left on my race overalls, helmet and car for Daytona! There a viewing audience of over 20 million people so it could be a massive marketing opportunity for any company!”
“I will be able to announce something soon! If anyone would like to join me on my journey please get in contact!”