Bradley Gravett showed why he is amongst the favourites for honours in the 2023 Vertu Motors MINI CHALLENGE with his most competitive showing in the series to date at Donington Park.
Heading into his third season in the headline JCW category and his first full year with multiple champions EXCELR8 Motorsport, Bradley made the trip to the East Midlands eager to impress at a circuit where he had scored his best result in the series to date twelve months earlier.
Sporting a stunning new livery on his car as a result of a major new sponsorship deal with ThinkingitBetter and GERKO, Bradley hit the track for free practice ahead of the weekend, with the opening session being used to bed in brakes before chasing a quick time in FP2.
Immediately on the pace, Bradley was quicker than he had ever been before around the Donington Park National layout in the early stages of a longer run, with the work completed during the session leaving him confident of both one-lap pace and having a consistent car across a full race distance.
Saturday's qualifying session would prove to be a chaotic affair with no fewer than three red flag stoppages making it difficult for Bradley to get into a real rhythm on track. However, despite that, he was able to find enough clear space on track to set a time good enough for sixth on the grid - matching his time from practice and securing his best qualifying result to date.
Showing his pace, Bradley dipped below the previous qualifying lap record and could have gone even quicker had it not been for a small error on what would have been his quickest lap, which cost him two-tenths of a second.
With confidence high going into the opening race, Bradley made a fine start to jump up into fourth spot on the run to turn one before becoming embroiled in a titanic battle for third place with Joe Tanner - lapping quicker than he had done in qualifying and once again going under the lap record as he set a new Donington PB.
Putting huge pressure on his rival in a bid to force him into an error, it seemed to be only a matter of time before Bradley moved into the podium positions before an unfortunate differential failure with only a handful of minutes left on the clock snapped a driveshaft and saw him lose the front left tyre - seeing him go off into the gravel and retirement.
Forced to start back in 21st place for race two, which was held in heavy rain, Bradley made an astonishing start to rocket up into 13th place on the opening lap despite limited visibility. Although a small mistake cost him places heading out of the final corner mid-way through the race, Bradley battled back well and showed his pace to fight his way back to 13th by the chequered flag.
The weekend's final race on a damp but drying track would see Bradley make his way up to twelfth place after an early safety car period before multiple incidents saw the race go under caution for a second time.
Well placed to make up ground on the restart and fight into the top ten, Bradley instead saw the action halted early when Sam Smith and Dan Zelos clashed ahead to bring out the red flags, with the end result being a tenth-place finish.
Whilst the unfortunate race one DNF means Bradley has ground to make up in the points standings after round one, he will now head for Brands Hatch for round two, keen to make the most of his front-running pace to challenge at the sharp end of the field.
"Although I was disappointed with the results on paper for the weekend, there are a huge amount of positives to take away from Donington Park - which I feel was the most competitive weekend I've had in the JCWs," he said. "From testing on Thursday, we were right on the pace, which was hugely encouraging when I'd been out of the car for a while, and we carried that into qualifying despite the various red flags that messed up our planned programme.
"The car felt absolutely mega in that session, and we carried that into race one, which was by far my best in the series. I knew the start was key and got away well to climb into fourth and then had a fantastic battle with Joe for P3. There was no doubting the fact that I was quicker than him, and I knew that it was just a matter of time before I could make my move until the differential failed and put me into retirement.
"That made it hard for races two and three, particularly with the weather conditions, but we were able to come back through to finish the weekend inside the top ten and bag some solid points.
"Previously, I'd have been happy to score a top ten finish, and I think it's a mark of how my expectations have risen that I come away disappointed - but I know that is for reasons outside my control in race one, Without that, I'm certain I would have scored my first podium finish, and we would have been at the front for races two and three rather than having to try and come through the field.
"I feel I really proved a point at Donington Park and showed that I have the pace to race at the front and to fight for victories, which is my ultimate goal this season. There is a long way still to go, and if we can maintain the pace we showed during round one and avoid the misfortune, I know I can be right in contention for the title when we get to the final round."
Bradley Gravett is supported by GERKO, ThinkingitBetter, Ultimate Car Control, My Custom Workwear, Scalextric, Elite Vehicle Chargers, Flying TV, PolyChrome Studios, DriverAssist.ME, Bradbury Racing and Alexander James Interiors.