Will Gibson (Camberley) is the early leader of the 2023 Legends Cars Championship with MRF Tyres following the opening two rounds of the season at Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire over the weekend, 15th/16th April.
Last year’s Vice-Champion started the weekend with victory in Heat One on Saturday, before Andy Bird (Calne) took the Heat Two win and Cadwell local Marcus Pett (Boston) was victorious in the round one Final. On Sunday, Bird sealed win number two in Heat One with Pett adding his second victory of the event in Heat Two. Matt Isherwood (Nantwich) then dominated the round two Final.
Four second places for Chris Needham (Altrincham), who was ultra-fast all weekend, mean he is second in the provisional championship standings with Pett third, Isherwood fourth, the 2022 Rookie Champion Ben Higgins (Abermule) fifth and Bird sixth.
In the Rookie class, Andrew Rogerson (Maidenhead) won both Heats on Saturday with Tyler Read (Weedon) taking the round one Final. In round two on Sunday the outcome was the same, Rogerson winning the Heats and Read the Final.
Gibson gets new season off to winning start
Race one of 2023 set a terrific benchmark with a superb battle at the front between Gibson, Needham and eleventh hour entrant Miles Rudman (Sutton Coldfield), who set the pace in a wet qualifying. Needham, one of last year’s Team Car Champions, made the early running and looked impressive but Rudman and Gibson were right there by the end of lap one – the latter starting ninth.
Midway through the race, with reigning champion Rudman down to third, there was precious little to split the top three and Gibson took the lead on lap four. Needham smartly hit back the next time around but Gibson managed to re-pass on the sixth and final tour, seeing off Needham by a tenth. John Mickel (Horsham) was fourth from Oli Schlup (Cuckfield) and Charlie Budd (Henley-on-Thames).
Heat Two was unfortunately shortened with an enforced stoppage, red flags shown on lap four due to several stricken cars. Bird claimed his maiden Legends Cars win from Luke Simmons (Lingfield) and Isherwood, the result taken from the end of lap three, with Mike Schlup (Cuckfield) fourth.
At the time red flags were flown, Bird was dominating at the front with an advantage of over four seconds. After passing Simmons on lap one, he never looked back and thoroughly deserved his first outright race victory. Equally, Simmons impressed on his first ever appearance at Cadwell.
In the Final, Gareth Sheridan (Altrincham) – 2022 Team Car Champion with Needham – made a great start and quickly moved into the lead but by the time the field arrived at the foot of The Mountain, Pett had hit the front. Opening a gap of three seconds by the midway point, Pett’s advantage then began to reduce when the flying Isherwood moved past Sheridan for second on lap four.
Closing down the leader, Isherwood grabbed first on lap six but Pett responded on the eighth and final lap into Charlies. He took the flag 0.3 seconds ahead of Isherwood, with Mickel coming through strongly from 16th to third. Gibson charged from 25th to the fifth with an excellent performance.
Bird and Pett win again while Isherwood and Needham star
Heat One of round two delivered an outstanding battle for victory, with Bird flying high once again to seal a lights-to-flag win. With some very quick drivers at the front of the grid from the ballot, Bird faced stiff opposition from the likes of Gibson and Mickel, while Needham steamed into contention.
By lap four Needham had made his may ahead of Mickel into third and after closing the gap to Gibson and Bird, he passed the former on lap five. Bird ultimately took his second win of the weekend by 0.7 seconds as Needham was pressured by Gibson – just 0.2s between them at the line.
Heat Two began 40 minutes later than scheduled due to a stoppage in the preceding race, but red flags were also required for the Legends Cars when a very nasty incident on lap two at Park led to Mickel’s car rolling end over end. Thankfully conscious after such a heavy impact, the five-time former champion was taken to hospital for checks. Everyone wishes John a speedy recovery.
Following a significant delay of around 45 minutes, the race re-started over a reduced four laps with Eduardo Gago (Windsor) on pole. Simmons swiftly took the lead with Pett moving up into second, but Pett then passed Simmons midlap and began to pull away. Then, on lap two, Simmons’ hopes were cruelly dashed when a wheel became detached from his car.
Enabling Pett to open a huge lead of 3.6 seconds, Sheridan then assumed second as team-mate Needham – absolutely flying – began to move through. Into the final lap Needham was fifth but within no time he had battled into third, before taking second. Setting a blistering fastest lap, he closed to within just 0.5 seconds of winner Pett with Sheridan third.
Mark Higgins (Abermule) was due to start the round two Final on pole, but he headed to the pits with dramas before the start. Nathan Anthony (Horley) therefore led away at the start before Matt Knight (Steyning) moved to the front at the end of lap one. Isherwood was already rocketing through the order and, along Park Straight on lap two, he was into the lead.
Dominating thereafter, Isherwood bagged his first win of 2023 with a flawless drive to win by almost seven seconds from team-mate Needham who stormed through the order from 23rd on the grid and delivered another masterclass. The podium was completed by Gibson, another great drive, who passed Mark Beaty (Gosforth) on the sixth and final tour. Knight took fifth with Simmons rounding out the top six.
Will Gibson – Rd1 Heat One Winner and Championship Leader:
“This was what we wanted [to start the season]. We were hoping and praying for a start at the front in race one so we could go and make a statement and show last year wasn’t a fluke to get second in the championship. I genuinely think we’re one of the quickest, if not the quickest, in the series. There are a lot of great guys getting faster and faster, so to start the season like this is fantastic.”
Andy Bird – Rd1 Heat Two and Rd2 Heat One Winner:
“It’s been a pretty good weekend! It’s a shame about the DNF in the Saturday Final and I ran some old tyres from May or June time last year, which I’m kicking myself about now as I just ran out of tyres on Sunday. Overall though, a really good weekend and a much better start than last year. I’m really pleased.”
Marcus Pett – Rd1 Final and Rd2 Heat Two Winner:
“I’m really pleased, a real solid start to the season and to take a couple of wins at our home track was a bonus! It was unfortunate to have a DNF in the second race on Saturday but, other than that, it’s been a really positive weekend and shows the work we’ve done over the winter is paying off. We need to keep the reliability and hopefully it will be a strong season.”
Matt Isherwood – Rd2 Final Winner:
“We had a DNF earlier in the day so I was out of position on the grid for the Final, but managed to get to the front quickly. Taking a one-two for the team with Chris [Needham] there behind me is exactly what we wanted ahead of the start of the Elite Cup. It’s fantastic to reward the team with a win for all their hard work, the car was set-up really well and we learnt some good things.”
There is now a nine week break for the Legends Cars Championship with MRF Tyres, with rounds three and four of the season taking place at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in Kent on 17th/18th June as part of the huge American Speedfest event.
Before then, the first two rounds of the new Legends Cars Elite Cup with JLM will be held at Brands Hatch – alongside the British Touring Car Championship – on 6th/7th May.
Provisional 2023 Legends Cars Championship Points (after Rd2):
1st Will Gibson, 970pts; 2nd Chris Needham, 830pts; 3rd Marcus Pett, 775pts;
4th Matt Isherwood, 695pts; 5th Ben Higgins, 690pts; 6th Andy Bird, 675pts