Alice Powell (Chipping Norton) won the 2010 Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship in perfect style at Thruxton on Sunday, 17th October, after taking her second race victory of the season during the final round to clinch the coveted crown by just eight points.
On a memorable weekend for her Hillspeed team, which celebrated its 40th anniversary on Friday, the 17-year-old overturned a 16-point advantage held by title rival Mitchell Hale (Bristol) going into the championship finale. Closing the gap down to just four points on overall scores after the opener, Powell triumphed over Hale again in the finale in the best possible way – with race victory.
Along with the championship spoils, Powell’s success has also earned her a place in the record books as the first female driver to win a Formula Renault title; a grand accolade and one which she fully intends to use as a spring-board back into the Michelin Formula Renault UK Championship in 2011.
“I don’t know what to say!” said the 2010 champion, “It’s been a cracking year and I’m obviously so pleased to win the title the way we have this weekend. Mitch [Hale] did a great job all season, he’s been right there all year. Thanks to all of the guys at Hillspeed for doing such an amazing job all year and to my race engineer Sarah Shaw from Manor Competition, it’s been a real team effort.”
Theodore seals third win of season during round 11…
Powell’s team-mate James Theodore (Telford) played no small part in helping her title challenge at Thruxton and during the first of the weekend’s races he emerged as the dominant force, taking his third victory of the year with an outstanding drive.
Hale qualified his Fortec Motorsport run car on pole position for the first encounter after shading Theodore by just 0.065 seconds with championship returnee Dino Zamparelli (Bristol), who finished third overall in the 2009 title chase, third on the grid.
Powell lined up fourth – an excellent effort after a problem with the fuel injector seal on her car threatened her participation in the session – with Joseph Reilly (Camden, London) fifth and Luke Wright (Shaftesbury) rounding out the top six.
At the start, points leader Hale got away well from pole but part way through lap one Theodore had made his way to the front and then Reilly edged his Fortec team-mate back to third by passing for second at the chicane. Hale’s race then started to come seriously unstuck with a major lock-up at the chicane on lap two, dropping him to sixth position three places behind Powell.
Marking a very important twist in terms of the championship battle, Hale set about recovering the lost ground and on the fourth tour he had moved back into fifth ahead of Zamparelli. Theodore set the fastest lap of the race on the third tour – 1m12.882 seconds (116.37mph) – to increase his lead over Reilly with Powell third and Wright in fourth place.
Then, the Safety Car was deployed at the beginning of lap five due to the stranded MTech car of Jake Rattenbury (Vale of Glamorgan) which came to grief at the chicane. Racing resumed on lap seven with the top eight reading: Theodore, Reilly, Powell, Wright, Hale, Zamparelli, Josh Webster (Stowmarket) and Privateer Cup Champion James Birch (Rickmansworth).
Zamparelli anticipated the re-start well and ran glued to the rear wing of Hale’s car through Allard but the latter held on and instead the place change was for third with Wright getting ahead of Powell at the complex. Powell hit back though the next time around as the fight over third enabled Theodore and Reilly to pull clear at the front.
The race leader came under intense pressure with six laps to go and Reilly attempted to wrest first place away on the run through Brooklands and up Woodham Hill. Taking the inside, he attempted to get alongside Theodore but the latter defended and his rival had to put two wheels on the grass.
Yet more drama then followed on lap 11 when Hale, who was running in fifth at the time, was pitched into a spin at the mid-part of the complex following contact. Dropping Hale to 12th, the incident would end up playing a major role in the outcome of the title but he recovered well into eighth at the finish to maintain a slim points advantage into round 12.
Reilly’s race also came unstuck on the penultimate lap at the chicane following a spin while dicing with Zamparelli over third place, the Antel Motorsport driver having deposed Wright for fourth two laps previously. As it stood, Powell had already got ahead of Reilly at the complex and so she ended up 3.7 seconds behind winner Theodore to set-up a mouth-watering title decider.
Wright took his fifth podium of the season in third place ahead of Webster, Privateer runner Birch – equalling his season’s best in fifth position – and Zamparelli. Newcomer James Thorp (Worcester) enjoyed a fine debut in seventh place ahead of Hale.
Powell makes history as Hale suffers yet more misfortune…
With just two points separating Hale and Powell into the decider, four points with the category’s drop-score rule taken into account, there was everything to play for but Powell had the box seat with pole position thanks to her second fastest time in qualifying. Furthermore, Theodore made it a Hillspeed front-row lock-out to make Hale’s task twice as hard – he started fourth.
Powell got the launch she wanted and Theodore tucked in behind his team-mate immediately to fend off a fast-starting Reilly in third – up from fifth – Hale and Zamparelli, the latter slipping from third on the grid. As Theodore came under huge pressure for second from rapid Fortec team-mates Reilly and Hale, Powell was able to edge away and move ever closer to the title.
Hale produced a great move at Allard at the beginning of lap three to take third from Reilly and suddenly the complexion of the race looked poised to change. Shortly after though, an excursion dropped Hale totally out of the reckoning down in 15th place.
All he could hope for was a problem for Powell but she ran faultlessly to the flag on lap 17, despite the interruption of two Safety Car periods, to win by a second from Theodore. Zamparelli marked his return to Formula Renault with a top three finish but post-race he had a two second penalty applied to his race time by officials which meant Webster was credited with his fourth podium of 2010.
The Safety Car periods assisted Hale’s recovery and he did drive very impressively to carve his way through from 15th into the top five at the conclusion. Birch again enjoyed a strong run to take sixth ahead of Thorp, Reilly – who slipped back after some robust action – Kourosh Khani (Ealing, London) and Wright. Khani’s drive, in particular, was impressive as he started 18th on the grid.
Round 12 winner and new champion Powell said: “Taking the championship with a race win is the perfect way to end the season. I’m doing the Formula Renault UK Winter Series with Manor and I’m hoping we can try and win that and then look at UK again for 2011.”
Deserving Vice-Champion summed up his disappointment by adding: “At the start there was some good clean racing in race one, I was back in fifth but it wasn’t a problem as I had a good points lead even in that position so I wasn’t fussed by that at all.
“Obviously if there were any overtaking moves which weren’t risky I was going to take them but then I got a fairly large tap from behind from (Dino) Zamparelli – that move ruined my whole year really. Race two didn’t go much better, it’s really disappointing to miss out on the championship at the final round but I’ve had a good first year in single-seaters and I’ve shown what I can do.”
Third placed title finisher, and round 11 race winner, Theodore said: “It couldn’t have been a much better weekend. We did have a few issues with the car towards the end of the first race but by then I had a good lead. Alice and I both did a good job in the second race, congratulations to her for winning the championship. I’ve had two brilliant years in BARC, I couldn’t have asked for better.”
Final 2010 Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship drivers’ standings:
1st Alice Powell GBR Hillspeed 288
2nd Mitchell Hale GBR Fortec Motorsport 280
3rd James Theodore GBR Hillspeed 254
4th Josh Webster GBR Fortec Motorsport 251
5th Joseph Reilly GBR Fortec Motorsport 231
6th Luke Wright GBR SWB Motorsport 229
Final 2010 Privateer Cup standings:
1st James Birch GBR 180