Photo credit: (Jakob Ebrey Photography) Alex Denning added another two wins at Brands Hatch this weekend meaning Graves Motorsport won more races than any other team in the 2022 MINI CHALLENGE UK JCW Championship
The final race weekend of the MINI CHALLENGE UK JCW season was hosted at Graves Motorsport home circuit, Brands Hatch, this time on the prestigious GP layout. Heading into the weekend Alex Denning had already provisionally won the Rookie Cup, for first-year drivers, but still had the opportunity to win the overall championship. Similarly, the Graves Motorsport team had opportunity to take teams honours.
Qualifying went the way of Alex Denning who topped the timesheets with a new circuit record in the MINI CHALLENGE JCW cars. Lewis Brown was the next of the Graves car’s in 6th, just two-tenths off the pole position time. Max Coates, running as car number 69 this weekend in tribute to his late friend Chrissy Rouse, qualified in 10th after a bolt worked itself loose in the suspension system causing excessive bouncing. Dominic Wheatley who was experiencing the GP circuit for the first time qualified in 25th after a spin early on caused too much damage for him to continue.
In the first race of the weekend Alex opened up a 2-second gap on the first lap and continued to build on that until mid-race distance. Both Lewis and max dropped places at the start with Dom gaining a place immediately. As the race settled down Alex was caught by second-place Jack Mitchell but held onto the lead until the race was red-flagged two laps early. Lewis Brown broke away from a battle between outgoing champion Dan Zelos and Max who was putting pressure on everywhere he could. Lewis finished 8th, Max 10th and Dom 22nd.
Race two didn’t go as well for Alex who lost the lead into Druids hairpin on lap one as he dropped a wheel in the gravel on the exit to turn one. He regained it with a spectacular double overtake into Hawthorn later in the lap and immediately build up a four-second lead as those behind battled. Max gained a place at the start to sit behind Lewis at the end of the first lap with Dom gaining four places too. The race then came under safety car control, as soon as it entered the pit lane Alex rocketed off at the front to build an 8 second lead at the finish. Lewis and max worked well together to gain places to finish in 5th and 7th respectively. Dom continued his charge through the field to put the number 14 car 14th at the finish.
The final race of the weekend is always set to be an exciting one with drivers operating on different tyre strategies. Following a good start Dom was taken out causing him to fall to the back of the order. Lewis Brown sat in the lead battle but before the end of the first lap he suffered another broken drive shaft, ending his race and season with the same bad luck that has plagued much of his campaign. Meanwhile, Max gained a place on Alex after the pair went side by side for much of the GP loop of the circuit. After the race went into a brief safety car period Max immediately gained a position at the restart with Alex losing out to Jack Davidson who he was then stuck behind for the remainder of the race. The safety car allows Dom to regain lost time on the field and he gained 7 places in the remaining 5 laps to finish 16th. Alex held onto 6th until the flag with Max pushing for the final podium spot, ultimately just missing out and ending his season with a 4th place finish.
The weekends’ results meant that Alex Denning finished 2nd in the championship overall as well as taking the rookie cup honours for drivers in their first season of MINI CHALLENGE competition. Dom Wheatley’s 16th-place championship position put him 4th in the rookie cup standings. With Max and Lewis finishing 7th and 10th respectively Graves Motorsport became teams vice-champions.
Team manager David Graves said, "Alex has had a really strong end to the season, to take another pole and double win was quite simply sensational. His race two win was particularly dominant which was very impressive. Lewis was unlucky to have another non-finish otherwise we are sure he would have been a major player in the podium positions in that final race, he’d been building up to that all weekend. In a similar vein, Max was on a mission in the final race and if had gone the distance we are sure he would have featured on the podium. Dom was always going to be on an uphill battle this weekend driving the GP circuit for the first time, it’s a daunting track and he coped with it very well. Whilst our aim is always winning the vice-champion team result is one we are proud of in only our second season of JCW competition Equally we’d like to congratulate Alex on his second position overall and also his rookie cup title.
As a team we would also like to congratulate Ross Marshall on a joint second place finish in the directors’ cup.”
The weekend brings to an end a memorable second season of MINI CHALLENGE UK JCW racing for the team who scored double the wins of any other throughout the 2022 season. Their focus now turns to the penultimate round of the MINI CHALLENGE UK Trophy season which takes place at the Donington Park GP circuit on the 22nd and 23rd October where Nelson King has the opportunity to claim the championship victory.