750MC Toyota / Toyo Tires / Millers Oils MR2 Championship 2013 - Rounds 1 & 2 - Brands Hatch
The 20 minute morning qualifying session was dominated by Matthew Palmer, one of 2012's frontrunners. His time of 57.28s was almost a full second quicker than the second placed car of Alex Knight, the Scottish restaurateur back for a serious campaign in 2013 after sporadic outings in previous seasons. The second row was filled by family Nicholls with their Mk3 Roadsters, father Mick just shading son Stuart for race one with the roles reversed for the second event. Tim Heron and Devonian Ben Rowe were next up with their Mk2s, Rowe having burnt the oil to get to Kent in time after the team truck suffered electrical failure, leaving him and his father, David, having to borrow a flatbed lorry for the weekend. Robert Wells and Paul Grimmett were on row four with the top ten rounded out by newcomer Kristian White and series regular Luke Austin, the Force India employee hoping for a cleaner weekend after sustaining substantial car damage at his last two outings to Brands. Well down the order were Matt Wallis, whose car suffered an oil leak, and last year's class C champion, Jim Davies, a mysterious lack of power in his red Roadster leaving him a dejected 6s off the pace.
Thirty-two cars took the start of race one and Knight, in his Rogue Motorsport prepared Mk2, made an absolute belter, leading Palmer, Nicholls snr, Nicholls jnr, Heron, Rowe, and Wells in to Paddock Hill Bend. Palmer wasn't to be outdone, however, and sailed around the outside of Knight at Druids to grab the lead. He had a comfortable 1s cushion after one lap, 2s after two laps but starting lap three the electric blue Mk2 stuttered and Knight and Mick Nicholls went by. Palmer got back up to speed but dropped to fourth when Stuart Nicholls passed him. A bolt had broken in the gearbox linkage leaving it stuck in third gear and he sadly retired the car on the run up to Druids on lap five. His only consolation was a new lap record of 57.53s, set on his second lap.
By now, Knight was building his own advantage over the two Roadsters behind. Unbeknown to Alex, however, the timekeepers had judged his start to be a little premature and had penalised 10s to be added to his race time. This meant the battle for second on the road would effectively be for the overall win. Rowe had now joined the Nicholls' intra family scrap and got past Mick on lap nine. Stuart then nearly got tangled up at Paddock Hill Bend when Chris Frankling dropped his black Mk2 whilst being lapped. Rowe gratefully nipped through to second whilst Stuart set about a quick recovery. Mick Nicholls briefly got by Rowe only to spin at Druids on fluid emanating from Paul Flinders' dying Gulf-liveried Mk2. Stuart then found a way back past Ben to finish second, which would be the win overall after Knight's penalty was applied. However, Alex was adamant he didn't jump the lights, appealed and had his penalty overturned. A gracious Stuart Nicholls, first-time winner for all of half an hour, congratulated the 46-year-old Scot, as did Rowe, a great result for the series veteran.
Another series veteran, albeit after a season or so away racing in the MR2 Super GT series, John Wilson, drove a sterling race to finish sixth, from eleventh on the grid, just behind Rob Wells, both in Hennessy Motorsport-prepared Mk2s. Luke Austin's poor luck continued, a broken suspension drop link leaving him the last finisher in 28th, a lap down. Jim Davies, however, fared even worse, his power-less Roadster retiring on the third lap with suspected electrical gremlins.
Race two was terrific! The first two home were separated by a scant 0.23s after 14 laps of hard, close and very fair racing. Knight made a reasonable start from pole - Palmer's gearbox woes sadly rendering him out for the day - but was fairly mugged around Paddock and on the run up to Druids by both the Nicholls' and Rowe. Stuart led from Ben and a titanic scrap ensued, the lead swapping places throughout the race. Rowe led across the line from lap nine onwards and despite a lurid moment at Clearways on the penultimate lap, finally won his first championship race after some four years of trying; a very popular victory throughout the close-knit MR2 paddock. Mick Nicholls made it a father-and-son podium by holding on to third from Wilson in fourth, another great drive from the Top Gear stunt driver - no, he's not The Stig! Knight held off Austin by 0.03s for fifth, young Luke just pleased that his luck appeared to have changed at last! Heron and Wells were next up with Kristian White in ninth, and the best newcomer as he was in race one.
With the Roadsters now developed to a point where they are virtually as quick as the Mk2s, there will, for the first time, be a Toyota MR2 Champion in 2013, as well as the individual class champions. On the basis of the first two races, it really is anyone's guess which way it'll go.
The Toyota MR2 Championship is sponsored by Toyota GB, Millers Oils, Toyo Tyres, Bilstein and Whiteline Performance Suspension