GIVE REIGNING CHAMP POINTS LEAD FOR FIRST TIME
• Supreme Croft outing for John Mickel earns championship lead
• Five wins from six races mark resurgence for reigning champ
• Steve Whitelegg also tastes victory during third event of year
• Maiden podium for Croft local Lee Bourner in Sunday’s Final
Rounds four and five of the Legends Cars National Championship with MRF Tyres at Croft Circuit over the weekend, 21st/22nd April, were all about one man – reigning champion, and new points leader, John Mickel (Horsham) who bagged no fewer than five wins from six races.
On a sparkling weekend for the three-time title winner, after missing out to Steve Whitelegg (Bury) in the opening Heat on Saturday morning Mickel was then undefeated for the remainder of the race meeting with two wins on day one and a clean sweep during Sunday’s action in North Yorkshire.
Erstwhile championship leaders Miles Rudman (Sutton Coldfield) and Jack Parker (Wolverhampton) both scored well with multiple podiums across the two days, while Croft local Lee Bourner (Bishop Middleham) claimed his first ever rostrum result with a richly deserved third place in Sunday’s Final.
One notable absentee from the third race weekend of the Legends Cars season was championship front-runner Ben Power (Guilsfield, Powys), who very unfortunately had to forego the visit to Croft for family reasons.
Whitelegg doubles 2018 victory tally while Mickel returns to form
Mickel certainly laid down a marker in qualifying on Saturday at a sunny Croft with the fastest time, but in the opening Heat it was Whitelegg who stole a march as he scorched to his second win of the year. After keeping Paul Simmons (Lingfield) at bay early on, he then fended off Mickel who edged team-mate Simmons back to third ahead of series rookie Sy Harraway (Weston-Super-Mare).
In Heat Two, Mickel was at his dominant best and from a lead of 2.7 seconds on the opening tour he opened an advantage of well over six seconds mid-race before cruising to the chequered flag on lap eight some five seconds clear of Rudman.
Sean Smith (High Wycombe) and Nathan Anthony (Horley) initially battled it out over the remaining podium places, before Rudman made his way into third on lap four – having been seventh on lap one – and he then passed Smith for second place on the sixth tour. Ever consistent Simmons finished fourth, just half a second shy of the podium, with Whitelegg fifth and Miikka Riihimaa taking a best-yet sixth.
Saturday’s Final was a much closer contest at the sharp end, although Mickel again came out on top to chalk-up his second win of the day. An unfortunate incident on lap one involving Rob King (York) and Jonty Norman (Wakefield) resulted in the Safety Car appearing but, on lap six, action resumed.
Parker headed the field from Rudman, Will Gibson (Camberley), Anthony and Mickel, but Rudman wasted no time in hitting the front. Parker smartly retook the lead on lap eight before Rudman returned the favour and then, on lap 10, Mickel surged to the front of the pack.
Going into the final tour, lap 12, Mickel was 0.7 seconds ahead of Parker but Rudman again managed to get through to snatch second by just 0.3 seconds. Gibson was a superb fourth, a real fillip after serious dramas with a sticking throttle in Heats One and Two, from Whitelegg and Anthony.
Clean sweep for Mickel on Sunday
Croft was a very different place on Sunday, much colder temperatures and dark clouds bringing light rain ahead of day two qualifying and conditions local driver Bourner reveled in, lapping fastest in the damp more than two seconds clear.
The threat of rain abated for Heat One and Harraway took the lead from Rudman before the latter moved to the front. Getting away from the pack, opening an advantage of 2.1 seconds by the end of lap two, Rudman looked in control but as the race moved past the halfway point Simmons, Parker and Mickel closed in.
Resulting in a tremendous four-way scrap for the lead, Parker moved through to second on lap five at Tower and smartly took the lead at the same corner the next time around. Mickel followed him through into second before then grabbing the lead soon after, which he held to the flag on lap eight. Whitelegg, meanwhile, pinched third on the final lap with a great pass on the brakes at Tower.
Dark clouds continued to linger for Heat Two and Whitelegg wasted no time in deposing pole-starter Riihimaa, taking the lead on the run to Tower. Mickel also got ahead of the Finn on lap one and while Whitelegg built a healthy lead initially, by the end of lap four Mickel was right there.
Running side-by-side out of the chicane on lap five, Mickel grabbed the lead and started to edge away but Whitelegg wouldn’t be dropped and pushed all the way to the flag – Mickel taking his fourth win of the weekend by just 0.2 seconds. Parker was a distant and lonely third.
While the day two Final came down to Mickel and Whitelegg once again, the star of the show was undoubtedly Bourner who was elated with a tremendous maiden podium in third. After taking the lead from Paul Simkiss (Ripponden) on lap two, Bourner was edged back to second by Rudman on lap three but remained a podium threat throughout.
As Mickel and Whitelegg moved closer to the front, the lead battle became a six-car train and on lap seven Mickel hit the front. Whitelegg climbed into second on the final lap and just missed out on the win by 0.5 seconds. Bourner took a fantastic third (dramatically, moments before his engine expired!) with Parker fourth, Smith fifth and Gibson sixth. Rudman was seventh after a lap nine spin.
“To be fair, we were kicking ourselves after the first race on Saturday as we felt we should have had that too. The car seems to be really hooked up around Croft, I like the track and we were getting quicker all weekend, we seemed to have the legs. We didn’t have much luck at Oulton or Brands, so it’s nice to have a good weekend."
“Saturday started great with the win and Sunday was superb as well with two more second places. I can only put it down to the work the lads do on the car, they’ve got it on rails and that makes my life a lot easier – especially at a track like Croft. This field is very competitive, it’s difficult to get through everyone, but I’m very happy with our weekend overall and more consistent finishes.”
“It’s fantastic to get the podium in only my third time out in the car, it’s a respectable result. The car felt a bit ropey on the ninth lap, the exhaust came off and so it sounded like a bag of hammers! It held off and held off, Steve and John were battling and so I bided my time, but then the engine let go on the back straight. I managed to coast it in and then found out I got third, so I’m really happy.”
There is now a break of five weeks in the Legends Cars National Championship with MRF Tyres calendar with the fourth event of the 2018 season taking place over the weekend 26th/27th May at Anglesey Circuit – the first of two visits to Wales for the category this year.
Legends Cars National Championship with MRF Tyres Points (after Rd5):
1st John Mickel, 2590pts; 2nd Steve Whitelegg, 2385pts;
3rd Miles Rudman, 2305pts; 4th Jack Parker, 2050pts;
5th Sean Smith, 1830pts; 6th Will Gibson, 1820pts
Legends Cars National Championship with MRF Tyres Masters Leader:
1st John Mickel, 2590pts
Legends Cars National Championship with MRF Tyres Rookie Leader:
1st Sy Harraway, 1180pts