Two more wins for John Mickel (Horsham) at Rockingham in Northamptonshire over the weekend, 30th September/1st October, helped the reigning champion open a lead of over 200 points in the MRF Legends Cars National Championship title battle during the penultimate event of the season.
Added to two further podium results at a rain-hit International Super Sportscar Circuit, Mickel goes into November’s finale at Brands Hatch – where a capacity 34 car grid is expected – with an enhanced advantage over chief rival Ben Power (Guilsfield, Powys). Power, though, added to his victory tally with success in Heat Two on Saturday and he and Mickel are now level-pegging on 14 wins for the year.
Steve Whitelegg (Bury) claimed two fantastic victories on Sunday after battling back strongly from an engine-change grid penalty on day one. Sean Smith (High Wycombe) also climbed onto the top step of the podium with his second career win in cars during the first of Sunday’s encounters.
Mickel and Power take the day one wins
Forming part of the Truxx Factor event at Rockingham, the penultimate event of the MRF Legends Cars season began with Mickel lapping fastest in qualifying to head the impressive Marcus Pett (Boston), Miles Rudman (Sutton Coldfield) and Power.
Donington Park race winner Will Gibson (Camberley) made the early running in Heat One, taking the lead ahead of Robert King (York) and pole-starter Gary Whitelegg (Handforth). Heading the pack until lap six, Gibson was then passed by Mickel – who moved up into second on lap three – and the points leader went on to take his 13th win of the year by 0.4 seconds.
Whitelegg secured a richly deserved podium, seeing off King on the final tour, while Paul Simmons (Lingfield) finished fifth and also took away the fastest lap of the race. Jack Parker (Wolverhampton) just missed out on the top five on the dash to the flag by a mere 0.043 seconds. Power, meanwhile, ended the contest in a frustrating 11th place after being badly delayed in a lap one skirmish.
In Heat Two, though, Power hit back in style to increase his tally of wins for the season to 14 in a very close battle with arch-rival Mickel. With never more than a second between them at the head of the pack, Power just held on by little more than 0.1 seconds.
Steve Whitelegg came through to finish in third place but post-race he was handed a penalty for ‘gaining an unfair advantage’, dropping him to ninth and elevating Gibson onto the podium, Rudman into fourth, Pett fifth and Gary Whitelegg into sixth.
Rain arrived for Saturday’s Final and Mickel performed well in the conditions to chalk-up his second win of the day, 14th of the season, from the continually impressive Rudman. Power finished third to take important points away, but Mickel edged further clear at the top of the championship.
Parker led early on from Smith and Mickel, but the reigning champion hit the front at the end of lap two and then controlled the action from there. Rudman closed in as the rain worsened but to no avail, with Power and Steve Whitelegg close behind. Pett capped a strong day with fifth, just ahead of Parker and Smith, with Gibson recovering from two spins to take eighth.
Double victory helps Whitelegg consolidate series top three
Rockingham remained damp on Sunday and after a couple of sighting laps to get a feel for the conditions, the day’s opening Heat began with Mickel instantly taking the lead into Turn One of the oval banking. Parker, who moved through to second by the end of lap two, soon began to apply major pressure to the leader but on lap three a spin as he exited Gracelands put paid to his hopes.
Smith became Mickel’s next challenger and no sooner had he managed to move into the lead of the race on lap four at Yentwood, he pulled away into the distance to take a fantastic win from Steve Whitelegg who got ahead of Mickel on lap five with a superb pass around the outside at Turn One.
One of the standout performers was Pett who, after moving into the top five, delivered a sublime final lap. Taking fourth from Power into Yentwood, he then passed Mickel for third at Tarzan to seal a terrific podium. Power also got ahead of Mickel, on the run into Brook Chicane, to claim fourth with Rudman rounding out the top six. Parker fought back into eighth, behind Gary Whitelegg.
Track conditions were dry for Heat Two and Steve Whitelegg made the most of pole position to secure an untroubled lights-to-flag victory, five seconds clear of Parker who took the runner-up spot away from Rudman with a couple of laps to go and also set fastest lap on the final tour.
Gibson finished in fourth place ahead of Mickel who was embroiled in a terrific see-saw battle with sixth placed finisher Smith, the pair switching places on numerous occasions and running wheel-to-wheel on lap four for half a lap.
Gary Whitelegg was the early leader in Sunday’s Final ahead of Mike Schlup (Cuckfield), until Power made his way to the front at the start of lap three. By the halfway point, Power headed Rudman by a fraction with Whitelegg holding third from Mickel but Steve Whitelegg then came into the picture.
Slicing past his brother and Mickel, he then took second from Rudman on lap six – with Mickel also moving through – and Whitelegg duly closed on Power before grabbing the lead and the win on the penultimate lap. Despite taking the flag in second, Power was demoted to third behind Mickel due to a penalty with Rudman fourth, Gary Whitelegg fifth and Simmons rounding out the top six.
John Mickel: “With 1200 points left, six races to go, I need to make sure I do my bit and keep it on the track at Brands, don’t do anything silly and keep bringing it home in the top three. It was good to win in the wet on Saturday and we turned it around in greasy conditions today
Ben Power: “It didn’t get off to a good start in the first race, we got involved in somebody else’s accident and went off. We got the win in the second race, which was good, but in Saturday’s Final I really struggled in the greasy conditions. Sunday was good but, points wise, I’m not best pleased with where I am and I’ve got my work cut-out at Brands. It can all change in one race though.”
Steve Whitelegg: “We rolled the dice on Saturday, I took the plunge and ran a fourth engine – one more than we’re allowed for the season – which dictated I started from pitlane. It all went well for us, good damage limitation, and we’ve got rid of the penalties from using the fourth engine. I had the good old faithful third engine back in for Sunday and it did me proud.”
Sean Smith: “It’s been a good weekend and it was great to win again, we carried it on from Snetterton. Unfortunately we had an engine failure in the last race and we were doing OK in that one, we didn’t need that but we’ll go to Brands, hope for the rain again, and see what we can do.”
Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in Kent will host the grand finale of the 2017 MRF Legends Cars National Championship season five weeks from now, over the weekend 4th/5th November, as part of the season-concluding British Truck Racing Association event.
Provisional MRF Legends Cars National Championship Points:
1st John Mickel, 6915pts; 2nd Ben Power, 6705pts; 3rd Steve Whitelegg, 5855pts;
4th Jack Parker, 5585pts; 5th Paul Simmons, 5055pts; 6th Miles Rudman, 4905pts
Provisional MRF Legends Cars National Championship Masters Leader:
Provisional MRF Legends Cars National Championship Rookie Leader: