IN:MINI Panda Racing’s Hamish Brandon claimed a hat-trick of podium finishes in as many races en route to an emphatic class victory in the Power Maxed MINI Challenge’s John Cooper Works (JCW) category at Donington Park (25-26 April).
There was a relaxed air surrounding Brandon’s camp all weekend as family and close friends came to the East Midlands in support of the Scotsman, who transferred that calmness to the track by quickly setting the third fastest time with his IN:MINI-run turbocharged R56 JCW MINI in Saturday’s (25 April) qualifying.
Off the line in Round 1, Brandon became entangled in a close duel with Neil Newstead, with never more than two seconds separating the pair during the opening five tours, before catching up to the class-leading Kevin O’Connor.
The three ran nose-to-tail before Newstead found his way past and into the lead, leaving Brandon to use his years’ of experience in MINIs to negotiate his way through and onto the second step of the podium.
Light rain began to fall over the East Midlands circuit, as O’Connor tried to fend off Brandon, but the Scotsman got the better of his rival on lap ten to slip by and move up into second position, where he switched his focus to reducing the deficit to Newstead with little under six minutes of the session remaining.
Brandon continued to lap a full second quicker than Newstead and several of the faster F56 third-generation MINIs, but, with time running out, Brandon brought his car home in second place after an inspired drive to open his 2015 account with silverware.
Lining up on the second row for the weekend’s second race on Sunday (26 April), Brandon was once again quick off the line and had disposed of Erkka Lindstedt by the time the field reached Redgate, where he latched onto the rear of Newstead.
Brandon continued to run nose-to-tail with Newstead for several laps, putting his rival under intense pressure while attempting to build a gap to O’Connor.
An unfortunate error for Brandon midway through the race saw O’Connor snatch second position, demoting the IN:MINI Panda Racing driver to third.
Determined to reclaim the position, Brandon engaged in an enthralling battle for the runner-up spot with O’Connor, but was unable to find a way past and would cross the line in third to collect his second piece of silverware in as many races.
With a reversed grid for the weekend’s third and final race, Brandon once again lined up on the second row with main protagonists, Newstead and O’Connor, one row behind.
Brandon used a strong launch to split the two front row sitters, Lindstedt and Steve Ruxton-Cocker, as the field charged towards Redgate, where the Scotsman emerged in the lead.
The experienced MINI Challenge racer would suffer a scare during the early stages of the race when Lindstedt reclaimed his lead on lap four, but Brandon would negotiate his way back past the Swedish driver to head the JCW field a handful of laps later.
Once in clean air, Brandon was able to set competitive lap times while his rivals tussled for position behind, which in turn allowed him to stretch his lead all the way to the chequered flag to take a career first MINI Challenge JCW race victory.
Beaming a smile that stretched from ear-to-ear, Brandon said: “It has been a dream start to the season this weekend. I know we got a podium here last year in the wet, but this weekend we wanted to come in and be as strong as possible with no testing over the winter. We stuck to our programme and looked over our data, and it set us up for a really good weekend. I had a slight issue in qualifying, being stuck in fifth gear, but the IN:MINI guys were quick to fix that and we haven’t had a problem since.
“My friend Chris Smiley, who won the MINI Challenge last season, came to visit me this weekend and went through my data and helped put a plan together, which has helped massively. There has been a great amount of support behind me all weekend. To get a first, second and a third, I could not have asked for more. We didn’t know how we were going to fare this weekend. I’m really chuffed.”
The 2015 MINI Challenge will resume at Kent’s globally renowned Brands Hatch Indy circuit as part of the Blancpain Sprint Series’ illustrious support package (9-10 May).