The Mini Challenge headed to Rockingham last weekend but unusually it was just the Cooper class competing on its own with the other cars having had their own race supporting Blancpain at Brands a couple of weeks before.
For this round there were three female drivers competing, Jo Polley, Grace Williams and Rebecca Ryder.
Rebecca is new to racing this year and still learning about the car, racing and herself so she would be still at the back of the field. Jo, however was aiming for points finishes as high as she could get up the top ten. Grace hadn’t been expecting to race and took over a car vacated by another driver after Friday testing. He’d left it with heavy frontal damage that couldn’t be fully repaired so Grace certainly had a difficult task ahead.
In qualifying Jo took ninth place but less than a second separated her from fourth place so just a small gain would give her a good result. Grace was down at the back with Rebecca with a car that wasn’t quite right still.
As race one got underway, Jo got an incredible start taking several places off the line. As the pack reached the Deene hairpin she passed several more cars to find herself running fourth as the cars entered the infield part of the circuit.
Sadly the cars behind fought back and as they passed they forced her offline meaning she dropped back down the order as she was slowed repeatedly. By the end she’d started to fight back but she crossed the line where she started in ninth place a points finish and a good start to the races.
Things hadn’t gone so well for Grace and she was spun into the gravel on the second lap with Rebecca, as expected trailing round to finish last but gaining more experience in the process.
The second and third races were on Sunday, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. For the second race, Jo did get quite as good a start but still managed to pass a couple of cars to run seventh. The front runners had broken away to make a pack of 4 cars with fifth a bit further behind and then a secondary pack lead by the sixth place car with Jo just behind in seventh. She got a great run around the banking on the next lap and dived past before the Deene Hairpin but her rival didn’t get his car slowed down in time and the resulting tap on the rear of Jo’s car spun her off dropping her almost to the rear of the field.
Meanwhile Grace was fighting her way through the pack and was soon in the position Jo had been a few laps earlier. She successfully passed but on a different corner to Jo and crossed the line in an excellent sixth place. Jo hadn’t given up and had a great battle with the pack to fight her way back up the order taking eighth passing six cars after her recovery from being spun off. This included a great battle with BTCC driver Matt Neal’s son Henry.
She was frustrated after the race but happy to have shown her pace;
“I got spun off which was really annoying but I’m glad I could fight back and get into the points.”
Hopefully race three would go better for Jo.
As they left the line for race three Jo found herself battling with Grace as they went round the first few corners together with Jo finally coming out on top. Jo continued to fight with the pack and was up to seventh place about to attack for sixth when incredibly she was yet again hit going into the Deene hairpin. This time it was a more violent spin and she slid into the tyre wall, hitting it with the rear of her car. The impact popped the boot open and she had to complete the rest of the race with it flapping behind her. This slowed the car on Rockingham’s fast sections but she still managed to take tenth overall. She was hugely disappointed as once again a great result had been spoilt by a rivals bad driving.
“It’s been a tough weekend, getting right up there and being spun out in both of today’s races. I still managed three top ten finishes so I’m bagging up the points but I’m most pleased with the pace, the top 5 is within reach now.”
Grace fought through to take seventh, considering she had jumped in a car with no running and hadn’t raced since the previous year, two top seven finishes was a great days work.
Rebecca as expected had circulated at the back in all three races but her pace improved throughout the weekend.
All three had certainly shown they could take the fight to the men in the Mini Challenge.
The next rounds are at Silverstone in the middle of June, where Jo will continue her fight. By Marc Waller