Snetterton race report
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.”