Max secured landmark first MINI CHALLENGE JCW race victory at Rockingham
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