Round one of the MRF Legends Cars Championship provided a barnstorming beginning to the new season at a bright and breezy Brands Hatch Indy Circuit over the weekend, 25th/26th March, with reigning champion John Mickel (Horsham) getting his title defence off to a great start.

Following a terrific weekend of action, with three different winners from the six races, Mickel holds a 40-point lead at the top of the driver standings after claiming three victories. Steve Whitelegg (Bury) starred throughout the event and took two wins, while series returnee Ben Power (Guilsfield, Powys) was the other racer to taste the winner’s champagne.

In the class championship battles, Paul Simmons (Lingfield) departed Brands Hatch leading the Masters division while newcomer and former Oval champion Miles Rudman (Sutton Coldfield) heads the Rookie standings.

Reflecting on the weekend, Mickel said: “I’ve got to thank all of the crew, they have been working very hard. It seemed like we were behind the game when we unloaded [at the start of the weekend], but now it looks like we’re back on par – we just need to go away now and find a bit more. You’ve got to know when to go, when to hold back in Legends and this weekend has worked out well.”

Power, Whitelegg and Mickel get season off to winning start
Belgium’s Guy Fastres set the pace in the season-opening qualifying session on Saturday morning but with grid positions determined by ballot in Legends Cars, it was Power who started Saturday’s opening Heat from pole position.

Unfortunately, the season-opening race had to be red flagged early on when Nathan Anthony’s (Horley) Se-Van sustained heavy damage after making contact with the pit-wall. Running in a tight battle at the time, as he latched on to the car ahead through Clark Curve the Se-Van snapped away.

At the re-start, Power and Jack Parker (Wolverhampton) battled intensely for the win but a late Safety Car period enabled Mickel to close in. Power ultimately took the victory from Parker, despite Mickel taking the chequered flag in second. Post-race, the reigning champion was demoted to third after being adjudged to have gained an unfair advantage in the heat of battle.

Mickel began Heat Two from pole but he couldn’t prevent Steve Whitelegg from stealing the win by just 0.067 seconds on the dash to the line at the end of 10 pulsating laps. Power completed the podium, shading Heat One sparring partner Parker, with Fastres next up in fifth.

For Saturday’s Final, Robert King (York) lined-up on pole with Bill Read (Oldham) alongside, while Tom Grainger (Sidcup) and Anthony completed row two. Mickel had a challenge on his hands from 16th on the grid but duly carved his way through, going on to win by 1.2 seconds from King.

Whitelegg capped an excellent day in third, a fraction clear of Power, while Parker claimed fifth place and Anthony, after tremendous work from his team earlier in the day repairing his Se-Van, pipped Grainger and Will Gibson (Farnborough) for sixth.

Whitelegg and Mickel continue terrific form on day two
On Sunday morning Whitelegg was fastest in day two’s qualifying session, the only driver to produce a sub 56 second lap, but after the grid draw for Heat One Rick Leggatt (Worthing) started on pole. He held the lead initially before Whitelegg made his way to the front from sixth on the grid.

Gibson and Parker traded second place during the early laps but both missed out as Power and Mickel, from 14th and 15th on the grid respectively, fought through to second and third. Power moved into the runner-up spot on the penultimate lap, with Mickel in fifth, but on the run to the line on lap 10 Mickel was able to sneak into third – pipping Parker and Fastres by a fraction.

Pole for Heat Two went to Anthony with Mickel alongside and the pair ran side-by-side through the first couple of turns, Paddock Hill Bend and Druids. Importantly for Mickel, being able to hold the outside line at Druids gave him the inside at Graham Hill Bend where he duly took the lead.

Anthony did edge back ahead momentarily, before being deposed by Power, but it wasn’t long before Mickel returned to the front, taking the lead on lap six. He couldn’t shake off Power but just had enough in hand to win by 0.080 seconds. Third went to Whitelegg, great stuff from 11th on the grid, with Brands local Grainger fourth ahead of Fastres, Simmons and Anthony.

With nothing between Mickel, Power and Whitelegg in terms of points going into Sunday’s Final, the last race was set to be a classic – the trio starting 14th, 15th and 16th respectively. King, who was hampered by car issues all weekend, started on pole and he enjoyed a good early battle with Gibson.

Mickel, Power and Whitelegg all carved their way through the field from the start but Power’s hopes of a podium bid were dashed on lap two after running wide through the gravel at the exit of Paddock Hill. Parker managed to move up from third to second ahead of Gibson and set about pressuring King at the midway point, before moving into the lead on lap seven out of Surtees.

On the subsequent tour, though, Mickel had moved into a position to challenge for the lead and he went through before seeing off the pursuing Whitelegg, Parker and Simmons. Fastres finished fifth with Anthony rounding out the top six.

Steve Whitelegg – second overall in the championship:
“I’m very satisfied with the weekend. I’ve had 10 years to learn in Legends, it’s all coming to fruition this year – hopefully this will continue at Anglesey. The team has worked really hard, we stripped the cars and rebuilt them before the season and it’s made all the difference.”

Ben Power – third overall in the championship:
“We didn’t have quite enough wins, but it’s my first weekend back in the championship and I’m pretty happy. The car is going well, we’ve got Lawrence Davey Racing helping us this year, and it’s started well. I’ve done quite a few seasons in Legends and you can’t predict it. As the saying goes, prepare for the worst but hope for the best!”

Next on the MRF Legends Cars National Championship schedule is a visit to Anglesey in Wales for the second event of 2017, over the weekend 22nd/23rd April.

For full results from the opening weekend of the season, visit www.tsl-timing.com

Provisional MRF Legends Cars National Championship Points:
1st John Mickel, 1125pts; 2nd Steve Whitelegg, 1085pts; 3rd Ben Power, 1040pts; 4th Jack Parker, 885pts; 5th Paul Simmons, 870pts; 6th Miles Rudman, 680pts

Provisional MRF Legends Cars National Championship Masters Leader:
Paul Simmons

Provisional MRF Legends Cars National Championship Rookie Leader:
Miles Rudman