Six fantastic Legends Cars Championship with MRF Tyres races at Snetterton over the weekend, 17th/18th September, produced a series of intriguing stories – not least the battle for the overall title between Miles Rudman (Sutton Coldfield), Will Gibson (Camberley) and John Mickel (Horsham).
With Gibson taking a pair of wins in round 12 on Saturday at the Norfolk track, and adding two more podiums in round 13 on Sunday, he leapfrogged Mickel for second in the driver standings and also cut championship leader Rudman’s points advantage from 540 down to 380.
Rudman, who claimed one podium from the opening day’s three races, hit back with two wins of his own on Sunday – including his 50th career win – to ensure he retains a healthy cushion going into the championship finale at Brands Hatch in early November.
Mickel, although having slipped to third in the standings, ended the event with victory in the round 13 Final. The other Snetterton winner was Matt Isherwood (Mold), who raced to his second ever Legends victory in the round 12 Final on Saturday and also added two other podiums on day two.
In the Rookie class battle, Oli Schlup (Cuckfield) claimed a pair of Heat wins in round 12 before Ben Higgins (Powys) took victory in the Final. On Sunday, Higgins was the top Rookie in all three races and also secured his second outright podium in as many events. He now leads Schlup by 125 points.
As a poignant mark of respect to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, all of the cars featured a special tribute on the windscreen visor. Additionally, everyone at Snetterton impeccably observed two minutes of silence each day in memory of Her Majesty.
Gibson takes the fight to champion Rudman in round 12
Saturday’s opening Heat produced a fantastic battle for the win between Rudman and Gibson, with the latter emerging victorious after a last lap pass on the Bentley Straight. Mark Beaty (Gosforth), who was drawn on the front row, took the lead at the start before Mickel moved by later around the lap. On lap two at Riches, though, Rudman hit the front and opened a cushion of over two seconds.
Gibson, who climbed into second on lap three, pumped in fastest laps to storm up behind Rudman and after grabbing the lead on the final tour he ultimately won from Mickel, after Rudman was given a 20 second penalty for a false start and dropped to 14th. Marcus Pett (Boston) was therefore third from Beaty and Chris Needham (Altrincham), just ahead of star Rookie winner Schlup.
Due to timetable delays, Heat Two on Saturday ran over a reduced distance of five laps and it ended up as a carbon copy of the earlier contest with Gibson again getting the better of Rudman on the last lap to claim victory – his 14th of the season. Steve Whitelegg (Bury) made the early running from Paul Simmons (Lingfield), but Rudman soon moved into the lead and headed Simmons into lap two.
Rudman did begin to stretch his legs, but Gibson soon moved into contention after taking second on lap two and again setting fastest lap pace. In no time they were nose-to-tail again, and Gibson slipped through on the final tour to win by 0.2 seconds. Rudman was second from Mickel, a great drive from near the back of the grid, while Simmons was fourth from rapid young team-mate Schlup.
The round 12 Final unfortunately fell under Safety Car conditions pretty quickly, after a multi-car tangle at the Wilson Hairpin which accounted for half a dozen cars – including Schlup. The action resumed on lap three with Rookie class racer Luke Simmons (Lingfield) leading from Isherwood, Higgins, Nathan Anthony (Horley), Sean Smith (Marlow) and Pett.
Isherwood hit the front into the hairpin and then streaked away, opening a lead of 1.7 seconds by the end of the lap. Going on to dominate the race, Isherwood secured his second win in Legends Cars and his second of the year. Mickel stormed through from 22nd on the grid to finish an excellent second, three podiums from three, and did much of the hard work on lap one, already having climbed to 11th.
Mickel just saw off Pett at the flag on lap seven, by 0.1 seconds, with Gibson starring again in fourth place – from 23rd on the grid – with the fastest lap on the final lap. Higgins overturned misfortune from both Heats to finish fifth and win the Rookies, with Jack Parker (Wolverhampton) rounding out the top six. Rudman entered the last lap in seventh, but dropped to 14th position before the finish.
Reigning champ Rudman hits back with Sunday double
Heat One on Sunday started in fairly chaotic fashion, meaning trouble for a number of the front-runners – not least Mickel who, having started third, found himself having to fightback from the rear of the pack. Gibson too dropped back from the front row to ninth, while Rudman was mid-pack where he started. Mark Beaty led into lap two, before Isherwood moved ahead prior to a Safety Car.
Racing resumed on lap five with Isherwood holding the lead but on the sixth and final tour Gibson and Rudman went by, both having fought back strongly. On the sprint to the line, Rudman took his first win of the weekend by just 0.027 seconds from Gibson with Isherwood only 0.2 seconds shy in third. Whitelegg was fourth from Kieran Beaty (Hexham) and Mickel, who recovered superbly.
Charlie Budd (Henley-on-Thames) and Higgins lined-up on the front row for Heat Two and both were in the lead group throughout. Star Rookie Higgins grabbed the lead on the outside into Riches at the start, before Rudman – starting ninth – made his way to the front at the end of lap two. Needham was a podium contender early on too, but he was forced to retire with a slowing car on lap three.
Isherwood sliced through superbly from the lower end of the grid and took the lead over the line into lap four, but Rudman hit back straight away into Riches. Running together, with Higgins close behind, a great finish was in prospect but Rudman managed to pull 0.4 seconds clear to win on lap six from Isherwood, with Higgins third, Pett fourth, Gibson fifth – from 23rd – and Budd sixth.
Five-time champion Mickel saved the best for last in the round 13 Final on Sunday evening, beating Gibson on the drag to the line by just 0.1 seconds after a great last lap battle. Mickel took over the lead on lap four at Palmer from the rapid Needham, who had opened a cushion of two seconds on the opening tour, but Needham’s hopes ended with retirement again on lap five while second.
Gibson moved up into second, albeit almost 2.5 seconds adrift of Mickel into lap six, and had Pett right with him too but fastest lap on the penultimate tour – 2m13.595 seconds – enabled Gibson to close to within 0.8 seconds of the leader into the seventh and final lap, and break away from Pett.
Closing on Mickel down the Bentley Straight, Gibson went around the outside into Brundle to take the lead but Mickel was able to get the drive out of the final chicane to win. Pett secured another podium in third, Rudman was fourth and Isherwood just pipped top Rookie racer Higgins on the line.
Will Gibson – Rd12 Heat One and Rd12 Heat Two Winner:
“Snetterton has been everything we were hoping for, we picked up some wins, closed the gap to Miles [Rudman] and overtook John [Mickel] in the championship. The pressure is all on Miles now going into Brands, we just need to keep doing what we are. We’re absolutely over the moon with what we’ve done, now we just need to repeat what we did at Brands earlier in the season!”
Miles Rudman – Rd13 Heat One and Rd13 Heat Two Winner:
“That’s how we like it! I wasn’t going to let Will [Gibson] get away with another in the first race. It was really tough to be honest, I had to work really hard for that one – it was a fantastic race and it’s how we should’ve started Saturday. Heat Two was tough as well but it was good, and great to win again. The car is fantastic, working really well. I’m really pleased.”
Matt Isherwood – Rd12 Final Winner:
“I just had to get my head down, I knew they [Mickel, Pett, Gibson] were going to be closing in. So, going down the two straights, I tried to break the draft and keep it clean, not make any mistakes, and it paid off with the win.”
John Mickel – Rd13 Final Winner:
“I could see the 57 car [Gibson] coming and there wasn’t a lot I could do. He got me on the back straight but I knew I had one last shot, I got the grunt out of the last corner and got the win. It’s good to end the weekend on top with a win, we’ll look forward now to Brands.”
Brands Hatch Indy Circuit, the traditional venue for the championship-concluding Legends Cars event each season, will host the final six races of the 2022 campaign over the weekend 5th/6th November during the annual ‘Fireworks Spectacular’ race meeting.
Provisional 2022 Legends Cars National Championship Points (after Rd13):
1st Miles Rudman, 6375pts; 2nd Will Gibson, 5995pts; 3rd John Mickel, 5870pts; 4th Marcus Pett, 4855pts; 5th Steve Whitelegg, 4815pts; 6th Jack Parker, 3775pts