Photo credit: (Jakob Ebrey Photography) Max Coates attacking the Knickerbrook chicane at Oulton Park
Max Coates took two fourth place finishes at Oulton Park as the MINI CHALLENGE resumed its season supporting the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). For the first time in two years the UK’s premier motorsport series took to the track with a full capacity crowd.
Prior to the race meeting at the Cheshire venue Coates and his Graves Motorsport team completed a pre-event test day allowing them to develop the cars set-up ahead of the round. It proved pivotal as testing on the official test day held on the Friday was limited due to a number of red flags and a mechanical issue on Max’s car. The second practice session proved useful with a strong race run setting the 7th fastest time of the day.
The Primex Plastics sponsored driver qualified in 5th position giving him a third row start for race one which took part on Saturday afternoon. Significantly, a tenth of a second would have put Coates 3rd on the grid, so a podium was firmly in sight.
The JiC Transport backed car consolidated his position at the start of the race but was set to gain a position as the third placed driver received a 10-second false start penalty. Coates was in the podium position battle throughout the race but dropped back towards the end crossing the finish line in 5th, but taking 4th after the penalty was applied.
Race two got underway on Sunday afternoon, albeit a little late following a number of race stoppages at the BTCC event. Coates would start 4th for the reverse grid race, to be shown live on ITV4, the top seven drivers swapping places. He dropped to 5th at turn one and started to apply pressure to Jim Loukes ahead. On lap two Loukes ran wide at turn one, bouncing along the grass and eventually hitting the armco barrier at turn three before barrel rolling six times. The race was red flagged to fix the barrier and restarted shortly after. Coates remained 4th at the start this time as the leaders clashed at turn one. The 2nd and 3rd place cars touched exiting turn two, one hitting the armco barrier and immediately being flung into the air. The car rolled into the oncoming pack, fortunately being missed by all the oncoming cars.
The race was red flagged again to allow medical access to the driver that rolled and also fix the damaged safety barriers. Whilst Coates then ran in second the result was declared as of the first red flag, when Coates was in 4th position.
After Coates said, “I’m pleased with the progress we are making this year, I feel like our pace is improving every weekend and we are closer to battling for the win. Saturday’s race was good fun and I pushed hard mid-race but couldn’t find space to pass for the podium. The atmosphere on Sunday was certainly mixed, it was great to have a crowd trackside but following the passing of volunteer marshal, Robert Foote, at Brands Hatch, it was a difficult day for the whole motorsport community. I’d hoped for a podium in race two but it wasn’t quite to be.”
The championship now heads north of the border to Knockhill in Scotland for the fourth event of the season on the 14th / 15th August. Coates showed strong pace there last season and will hope to take his second win in the 2021 MINI CHALLENGE UK.