Minis provide the action as TOCA support titles decided at Brands Hatch

All five TOCA support categories crowned a champion at Brands Hatch last weekend, with the Mini Challenge providing the best of the action. At Silverstone, the season-ending Birkett Six-Hour Relay was held for the 70th time.

Minis provide the action as TOCA support titles decided at Brands Hatch

It was not the most encouraging of starts to a title-deciding meeting. Points leader Dan Zelos crashed at Westfield during Friday practice, and that meant his Excelr8 Motorsport crew had a busy evening ahead of themselves. “That hurt my confidence a bit,” admitted Zelos – not that you would have known it as he emerged with the crown after a dramatic finale.

He qualified down in ninth, but work to improve his car before the first race paid dividends. A storming opening tour left Zelos in fifth before a lengthy safety-car period limited his progress. He did jump Brad Hutchison on the restart, but was unable to climb higher and lost out to the guesting Bobby Thompson on the final lap.

Third place behind race-long leader Lewis Brown and Sam Weller for Zelos’s key rival, team-mate Max Bird, meant the gap was narrowed at the front of the points.

And Bird flew up to the top of the table, on dropped scores, thanks to another third place in race two, with Zelos fourth and Brown again winning. Bird had briefly climbed as high as second before running wide and dropping behind Thompson, but the result gave him a boost heading into the winner-takes-all finale.

“I’m a bit overwhelmed,” said Bird, after grabbing a slim three-point advantage. “There was a lot of nerves heading into the weekend and I didn’t feel very well. I dropped back to third but Bobby’s not scoring points [as a guest] and it’s all about points at this stage.”

Dan Zelos, 2021 Mini Challenge champion, Brands Hatch 2021

Dan Zelos, 2021 Mini Challenge champion, Brands Hatch 2021

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey

Predicting a champion ahead of the last encounter was impossible – and that proved to be the case throughout the race too. Both Bird and Zelos were part of a six-strong lead battle that provided plenty of entertainment.

Initially, Jack Davidson was at the front, but he was quickly reeled in by Max Coates and Zelos. The latter pair ran side by side, with Zelos bravely edging ahead into Sheene. But, while Zelos was progressing, Bird was dropping back and had fallen to the tail of the group in sixth.

Things then came to a head on lap eight of 10, with Thompson passing Davidson out of Hawthorn before Thompson then went off at Stirlings. All of the commotion left Coates leading from Davidson, Zelos and Bird – just enough for Zelos to take the title by the narrowest of margins.

Zelos was then given more breathing space, with Bird dropping behind Weller on the penultimate tour. While Coates won, Zelos passed Davidson for second on the drag to the line. That move cost Davidson third in the standings, on countback, to Brown, and meant Zelos emerged as champion by seven points.

“I won it with a fight and a half – it’s certainly a race I will never forget,” he said. “I was trying to think, ‘It’s just a race’, but I couldn’t help looking in my mirror and seeing Max there and he was there all the time!”

But that didn’t matter – and neither did his concern after his practice shunt, for Zelos resisted the pressure to take a deserved crown.

Dan Cammish, 2021 Porsche Carrera Cup GB champion, Brands Hatch

Dan Cammish, 2021 Porsche Carrera Cup GB champion, Brands Hatch

Photo by: Porsche

Dan Cammish was not feeling particularly upbeat about his title chances after the first Porsche Carrera Cup GB race at Brands Hatch. He was classified third but his closest rival, Lorcan Hanafin, had won and therefore narrowed the gap to Cammish to just three points.

But what was particularly troubling Cammish was his straight-line speed. “We’re just slow,” said Cammish, adding that his Redline Racing squad was mystified by what was causing the problem. The qualifying speed trap figures were especially telling. Despite setting the fourth-fastest time, he was slowest of all the drivers – including the Ams – at two of the four checkpoints.

And Cammish’s fortunes had taken a turn for the worse in that opening race when Team Parker Racing team-mates Harry King and Kiern Jewiss got too close for comfort. It always looked like trouble would strike the leaders, with Jewiss, King, Hanafin and Cammish all circulating as one, King surprisingly not converting pole into an early lead when Jewiss went around the outside of him at Paddock Hill Bend at the start.

Hanafin knew he needed to attack to close the deficit to Cammish, but his attempts only resulted in Cammish slipping ahead of him. The order behind Jewiss then continued to change, with King dropping back after sliding wide, before retaking Cammish out of Clearways.

But matters came to a head on what proved to be the penultimate tour when King made a wildly optimistic move at Stirlings, succeeding in nerfing Jewiss off and allowing Hanafin to pass them both. A red flag with Josh Caygill off at Paddock Hill Bend prevented any further drama.

Lorcan Hanafin, Porsche Carrera Cup GB, Brands Hatch 2021

Lorcan Hanafin, Porsche Carrera Cup GB, Brands Hatch 2021

Photo by: Porsche

“It was not the way I expected to win that race!” said a delighted Hanafin. “I was thinking, ‘Something is going to happen here.’” It certainly did, and King was given a five-second penalty for his part in it, which demoted him from second to sixth. That promoted Cammish to third behind Will Martin, and meant it was all to play for in the finale.

Cammish lined up second for this encounter but, instead of challenging polesitter Jamie Orton, he fell behind Martin at the start. But Hanafin was faring worse. He made a poor getaway and was left vulnerable to Jewiss, who cut across the JTR-run Porsche, making contact and damaging Hanafin’s steering. “I was on the back foot from Turn 1,” he said, knowing in that moment his title hopes were over. “And Dan wasn’t going to do anything silly.”

Worse was to come when Hanafin’s spirited efforts to progress were merely rewarded by a spin at Paddock, and that settled it for Cammish. He cruised around behind Martin and Orton to take third – and his record-breaking third Carrera Cup crown.

“I made a bad start and was down to third,” said Cammish. “But Jewiss was doing a fantastic job of holding people up. It could’ve gone one of two ways and it could’ve been chaos.”

Fortunately for Cammish, it was all very sedate. He may have been down after race one but he certainly was not out, and the Brands Hatch weekend was another reminder of how fortunes can change.

Matthew Rees, 2021 British F4 champion, Brands Hatch

Matthew Rees, 2021 British F4 champion, Brands Hatch

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey

Heading into the Brands Hatch decider, the destination of the British Formula 4 Championship was perhaps the toughest one to call of all the titles up for grabs. Matthew Rees had a slender 12-point advantage over Matias Zagazeta going into the weekend, and when the pair could only qualify sixth and seventh – with Zagazeta ahead – for the opener, picking a winner still looked tricky.

But those expectations of a close fight over the final three races of the year had not factored in an incredibly costly error from Zagazeta in the opening contest. Having already spun exiting Clearways in qualifying, the Peruvian then rotated again in race one at Sheene when running fourth and got stuck in the gravel. “I went a bit wide and it was dirty on the outside and I spun,” said the devastated Argenti Motorsport driver.

Suddenly, it was advantage Rees and, although he fell behind Joel Granfors late on, finishing fifth meant he was well placed to secure the title in race two. And that’s exactly what he did. The two rivals twice switched places on the opening lap, but Rees ended it ahead. Then a lengthy safety-car period prevented Zagazeta from launching a further attack, second-placed Aiden Neate was forced to pit with a damaged rear wing, and Rees passed Kai Askey on the two-lap restart to the finish, meaning the JHR Developments driver was sure of the crown. To compound the misery, Zagazeta fell to ninth on a difficult final tour.

“It means a lot to win,” said Rees, the single-seater rookie triumphing against drivers with much more experience. “It’s a prestigious title. We’ve had Lando Norris win and Zane Maloney, who’s been doing well in FRECA [Formula Regional European] and Luke Browning, who’s been doing well in ADAC F4, so to follow in their footsteps is an amazing achievement.”

Away from the title battle, McKenzy Cresswell took a dominant win in the opener after boldly passing polesitter Eduardo Coseteng around the outside of Paddock Hill Bend on the first lap, despite the pair touching wheels. He also triumphed in the finale – the last race of the current F4 era – while second place for Zagazeta ensured he pipped Cresswell to runner-up in the standings by a single point. In between, Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak landed his maiden victory in the disrupted reversed-grid contest, becoming the 11th different winner in a season where making predictions was always difficult.

Aston Millar, 2021 Ginetta Junior champion, Brands Hatch

Aston Millar, 2021 Ginetta Junior champion, Brands Hatch

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey

Any slightly hard-of-hearing, claret-and-blue-clad West Midlands football fan would have been delighted with the proclamation that Aston Millar was champion. In reality, the newly crowned Ginetta Junior king gained just reward for a super-consistent season. Crowned in the first race, he went on to win the second too.

That aside, it was a shabby weekend for Ginetta Junior as the kids burst out of the school gates to celebrate half-term. To be fair, it wasn’t entirely their fault, since the chronically lethargic Brands recovery process meant safety-car periods were far lengthier than they should be. As a result, a mere 11 racing laps were completed.

Millar had just taken the lead from Robert de Haan when the opener went under the race-terminating safety car, while Liam McNeilly slipped to fifth and conceded the title. In the second, it was Millar from McNeilly before red flags stopped play.

Once Millar had slid wide at Clearways on the first lap, McNeilly built up a gargantuan lead of over eight seconds in the finale, while an enthralling war raged for second place. De Haan wriggled free, with Edward Pearson third. And then the youngsters were short-changed again: one car in the gravel took 10 minutes to remove, and that was it.

Adam Smalley, 2021 Ginetta GT4 Supercup champion, Brands Hatch

Adam Smalley, 2021 Ginetta GT4 Supercup champion, Brands Hatch

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey

The Ginetta GT4 Supercup finale failed to provide a thrilling conclusion to the G55 era of the series, but that did not bother Adam Smalley one iota as he sealed the title with a race to spare.

The Elite Motorsport driver arrived at Brands Hatch with a healthy 44-point lead over Tom Hibbert, and that was extended further when Smalley headed his rival home in fifth and sixth places in a desperately uneventful opener.

Hibbert did jump ahead of Smalley at the start of race two before a caution period thwarted the Rob Boston Racing man’s charge. On the restart, he ran side by side with Joe Marshall out of Surtees but could not seal the move and instead lost out on fourth to Smalley at Hawthorn. That was how it stayed to the flag, with Smalley securing the crown.

“When I got out the car, I was crying!” admitted a relieved Smalley, who added: “These last two weekends have been about keeping our nose clean. Massive thanks to all of my team – they’ve done an incredible job.”

Those two races were both won in dominant fashion by two-time GT5 Challenge champion James Kellett. Tom Emson then secured his maiden win in the finale, while a hat-trick of podiums meant Josh Rattican beat Hibbert to runner-up in the points.

Silverstone 750MC: RAF strikes late for Birkett handicap glory

Royal Air Force Motorsports, Birkett Six-Hours Relay handicap winners, Silverstone 2021

Royal Air Force Motorsports, Birkett Six-Hours Relay handicap winners, Silverstone 2021

Photo by: Steve Jones

The Royal Air Force Motorsports team were classified only 41st out of 70 runners in Saturday’s 70th anniversary Birkett Six-Hour Relay on Silverstone’s Grand Prix circuit. But their pilots and technicians snuck up under the radar over the last two hours to regain the handicap prize last landed in 2011, veteran Chris Slator (Peugeot 306 GTI) again a lynchpin.

Second after an hour, behind the Ark Racing team – which lost its 1971 Thruxton Birkett-winning ArkSprite in practice, then had Derek Drinkwater’s Cadillac Le Monstre evocation succumb to an oil leak, leaving only Ivor Mairs’s BMW 325Ti serviceable – the RAF crew slipped to 38th by the second hour, two laps down on Triple A Racing’s BMWs. Consistent driving and well-drilled pitwork underpinned the rise to first when the chequered flag fell four hours later.

Darkside Developments – the Parkin twins, Scott and Ryan, driving the fuel-efficient VW Golf Mk5 diesel and shorter-ranged Audi TT respectively – made the running mid-race. They climbed to fourth on distance covered, best of the non-Radicals, before the Golf was stranded on the Hangar Straight, a sensor having gone.

Triple A’s mixed team thus went back atop the handicap table, while fighting for fourth on scratch with Prep’n’Lay Racing’s trio of BMWs, of which Bryan Bransom’s orange E36 M3 flew. The Mini Kievs’ BMW Mini saloons and Clubman estate circulated outside the top six until the final hour. While they completed five more circuits than the RAF servicemen, they had fewer credit laps, but nonetheless climbed to second, a lap down in the final reckoning.

Prep’n’Lay, for which Russell Dack drove his BMW Compact (the team’s slowest car) hard, snared third from the Triple As, headed out by Andrew Rath’s vivid green Lotus Europa. Winners for the past two seasons, The 3 Amigos’ 4.0 software upgrade fell just short of their hat-trick target. They settled for a class win, but such were handicappers Tim Moore and Colin Ayre’s calculations that the top 12 were split by two laps and the top 21 by three after another intriguing marathon.

RJ Motorsport 3 with Daytona, Birkett Six-Hours Relay scratch winners, Silverstone 2021

RJ Motorsport 3 with Daytona, Birkett Six-Hours Relay scratch winners, Silverstone 2021

Photo by: Steve Jones

Nobody was going to catch the Radical teams for outright speed. A devastating opening stint by Simon Freeman in the only SR10 currently racing in Britain broke the chasing pack. With Charles Graham (SR3) and Alistair Smart (1340cc PR6) following on from the 425bhp, 2.3-litre Ford EcoBoost-engined car, Josh Smith’s RJ Motorsport 3 with Daytona team covered 160 laps, a tour more than sister squad RJM1 for scratch victory on a dry day where the safety car was deployed only once, briefly, to retrieve the Parkin Golf.

Radical SR3 trio Mike Chen, Ash Hicklin and Chris Short never stopped chasing, despite Hicklin’s car throwing its left-rear wheel dramatically at Becketts. Once repaired, it was quickly sidelined by a leaky hose.

Third-place finisher M&M’s challenge was derailed when its double-driven SR3 lost its gear-downshift facility, while RJM 2’s effort was sidelined by a driver being disqualified (and his 24 laps expunged) for a series of flag infringements. Prep’n’Lay’s Paul Wood (BMW E46 M3) repassed Triple A’s Chris Etheridge’s similar car in the final dash for fourth.

The 7 Series - Midlands squad, one of very few Caterham teams this year, was a fine sixth, ahead of the Darkside team, which deserved more than a class win.

Reports by Stephen Lickorish, Marcus Simmons and Marcus Pye. Pics by Jakob Ebrey Photography/Motorsport Images and Steve Jones.

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