Abbie’s championship finale battle at Donington

The calm before the storm (Photo by Marc Waller)Just a week after the BTCC championship showdown between Turkington and Plato, Abbie Eaton headed to Donington Park for her Mazda Supercup championship showdown with Tom Roche.

Like Turkington, Abbie was looking in a strong position before the weekend, she only required a couple of fourth place finishes to take the title, however rival Roche finishes. Once the three required dropped scores were taken into account, Abbie had a small 17 point lead. Only a really bad weekend could rob Abbie of her title, but that wasn’t likely, was it?

Qualifying was close with the top ten separated by less than a second. Abbie held fourth for much of the session but later in the session she set a stunning lap to snatch pole. She looked all set to hold onto it when Liam Murphy snatched it with his final lap of the session. As Murphy wasn’t a rival for the championship, Abbie was content with second, especially as Roche was behind in fourth. Things were looking good for race one later that day.

Abbie got a good start as the race got underway but as she tried to go for the lead, she was forced to slow which let Roche sneak past. She was still in third though and with Roche in second, she was in a strong position for her championship challenge, especially as she was now challenging Roche for his second place.

Race 1 start (Photo by Marc Waller)Smoke shows all is not well (Photo by Marc Waller)The moment Abbie gets spun (Photo by Marc Waller)Work starts on the engine (Photo by Marc Waller)The new engine is in (Photo by Marc Waller)But something was wrong, there was smoke coming from one of the wheels and Abbie knew all was not well. She pushed on but soon the car lost power. She slowed and pulled into the pits where her team had a look. It was not good news, an overheating problem had in turn damaged the engine. Not only was she out of the race but the car would need an engine change to be able to compete in Sunday’s race. Roche went onto finish second, with Murphy denying him maximum points. Abbie also gained the points from her best dropped score back, a fifth place meaning she at least increased her points total, even if Roche had gained on her. But her and her team’s attention was now on the car and fixing it for Sunday.

Abbie summed up the situation;

“The drive of my life is needed tomorrow to win the championship. What will be will be. Let’s go have some fun eh…the only way is forward!!”

A new engine was obtained from a scrap Mx5 purchased from a local breakers yard. A late night was now in store for the team as they worked to remove the engines from both machines and install the replacement engine in Abbie’s car. They had help from some other people in the paddock, as is usual in this championship, people wanted to help. Luckily the second race wasn’t until nearly halfway through Sunday afternoon, giving the team a decent amount of time to sort the car.

Race two and Abbie has already made up several places before she even reaches the first corner (Photo by Marc Waller)Abbie catches the front pack within a few laps in race 2 (Photo by Marc Waller)Abbie fights through the field (Photo by Marc Waller)The team worked for most of the night and part of Sunday morning but by around 11am, the car was finished. So now, it all came down to the final race, Abbie was starting from nearly the very back of the field. If she could pull off a miracle and somehow win from the back, she would be guaranteed the title and in fact anywhere in the top six would do the job, no matter what Roche did in the race. Roche needed to win to have a chance at the title in those circumstances or if Abbie failed to score he could take second place with fastest lap and that would secure the title. The point for fastest lap could prove crucial with the possible points combinations being so close so this would be an important thing for Abbie to try and secure.

As the lights changed, Tom Roche slotted into second as Abbie made a great start towards the back. Her first lap was stunning, making up ten places and as she went into lap two the overtaking continued and on lap six she set a lap time nearly a second faster than anyone in the field. She was now up with the top six pack who were having a fierce fight between them. Roche and matt Davies were pushing each other down the pit straight with Davies ending up on the grass at one point. Abbie could see this happening and tried to keep out the way of any incidents. She had already avoided a spinning car going through the Craners, managing to miss it by inches.

As she started lap eight, she was now right on Roche’s tail when suddenly there was a big bang going out of Redgate and her car was spun round. She had been hit by Clint Bardwell and the two made secondary contact as she spun. Abbie dropped back down to nearly last as she rejoined the track but it soon became clear that something had been broken on the rear of the car as it would barely drive in a straight line, never mind corner at speed. Abbie was almost overcome with both anger and emotion at having been taken out of the battle after driving such a stunning first half of the race.

Champions! (Photo by Marc Waller)Abbie Eaton 2014 Mazda Mx5 Supercup champion (Photo by Marc Waller)She pulled into the pit lane where her dad and the rest of the team consoled her but it was now out of her hands and with Tom still racing at the front it looked like her hard fought championship challenge was slipping away.
Abbie found a quiet corner away from everyone to collect her thoughts as the race raged on. Murphy was still leading and with a big lead, it was looking like he could be the saviour of Abbie’s championship. But Roche was still pushing on, he was in second and if he could take fastest lap he would steal the championship. Abbie’s championship now hung on a thread after a nightmare couple of races.
The chequered flag fell with Roche finishing second. But who had the fastest lap? Who had the championship? There was a nervous wait on the slowing down lap with no one in the team really sure who had won. The championship co-ordinator came over; Roche had finished second, The dnf meant she got back a sixth place dropped score with the points that go with it and the fastest lap was; Abbie’s! She had taken the championship by a single point!

A huge smile appeared on Abbie’s face as the team congratulated her and she then ran to tell all her supporters the good news.

Ironically Abbie had won the championship whilst having by far her worst weekend of the year through no fault of her own. But the work of her team to replace her engine had been vital, despite the non-finish, her blistering fastest lap on lap six of the race had prevented Roche from getting the vital point for fastest lap

After a year of ups and downs and an incredibly tense and emotional finale weekend at Donington park, Abbie Eaton is the 2014 BRSCC Mazda Mx5 Supercup champion!

The celebrations started once Abbie and the team returned to the awning and no doubt continued once she headed home. She’s also now been nominated for the Hull Daily Mail’s 2014 Amateur Sportsperson of the year award. The last words have to go to Abbie herself;

“Never have I been through emotions like that before, from driving the race of my life and against all the odds making it up to the front pack, to then have that all taken away from me through being punted off, thinking the championship was gone, to then finding out I’ve won all in a few minutes. Wow. I’m absolutely drained! The biggest thank you in the world goes to my Mum and Dad, Chris Phelps Snr and Matt Anderson, Emily Butler for putting up with my grumpy self on race weekends, my sponsors Mike at Oughtred & Harrison, Martin at Mx5 City and Raymond Worley at RS Computers. It meant a lot that my friends and family came to support me on Sunday, definitely made it all the more special for me.” By Marc Waller

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