Seb Morris (Marford, Wrexham) is the 2012 Protyre Formula Renault BARC Winter Series with Michelin Champion following a tense finale at Rockingham on Saturday, 10th November – the Fortec Motorsports racer shading team-mate Jack Aitken (Kensington) by just a single point.
Victory during a wet round three on Saturday morning enabled 16-year-old Morris to take a 10 point advantage into the last race, but a win there for Aitken on a drying track – only the newcomer’s fourth race in Formula Renault BARC – meant a nail-biting conclusion.
Finishing fourth on the road in round four, having had to work incredibly hard to keep team-mate Hongwei Cao and Middlehurst Motorsport’s Chris Middlehurst (St. Helens) at bay during the closing stages, Morris actually earned the points for third with second place finisher Matthew Brabham ineligible to score due to his international racing licence.
Brabham, who made an inspired call along with his Cliff Dempsey Racing crew to run with slick tyres on the rapidly drying track while the main opposition all went with treaded Michelins, also posted the fastest lap of the race by a significant margin. Due to the young category rookie’s non-scoring status, Aitken picked up the fastest lap bonus points but they weren’t quite enough.
As well as securing a title victory in his maiden season of single-seater racing, the Protyre Formula Renault BARC Winter Series with Michelin crown also marks Morris’ third car racing championship win in as many years – a remarkable tally.
“I honestly didn’t think I’d be champion after Brands but we’ve turned it around this weekend”, said Morris, “The team has done an absolutely fantastic job in getting the car to where it is, we found a perfect set-up here, the car has been absolutely spot-on.
“I’m really happy to win a championship in my first year of single-seaters, the whole weekend has been mega and the championship has been fantastic. I really think there have been some seriously talented drivers in this Winter Series – it’s been very strong and a hard championship to win.”
Double pole for Morris sets scene for championship triumph
Morris, one of the true stars of the main season with five wins across the campaign, made the best start of anyone to the Winter Series finale by claiming pole position for rounds three and four with a dominant performance in the wet, mirroring his exploits at Rockingham from earlier in the year.
Impressive team-mate Aitken joined Morris on the front-row for each encounter with Jamun’s Luke Williams (Sowerby, Thirsk) producing an outstanding showing to grab third on the grid for both races, more than a second clear of MGR’s Matt Mason (Nottingham) – the points leader heading into Rockingham.
With track conditions still particularly slippery from overnight rain, all competitors ran treaded rubber for round three and Morris made a good getaway although quickly came under attack from Aitken and Williams through Turn One, before Aitken was bundled back to fifth at Deene Hairpin.
After some swapping of positions behind Morris on lap two, the Safety Car was deployed in time for the beginning of lap three in order to enable the recovery of the stranded FR 2.0 of Michael Epps (Hemel Hempstead) which slid into the gravel at Tarzan on the opening tour.
At the re-start, Morris led away well from the highly impressive Cao with Aitken third ahead of Williams, Mason and Brabham. Mason’s weekend went from bad to worse as he struggled with the set-up of his car and this was compounded when he dropped to eighth after going wide at Deene.
Morris immediately started to build a healthy advantage once more and by lap seven his lead was roughly two seconds. At that point, Williams had battled through to second ahead of Aitken with Cao fourth but Aitken ran wide out of Deene while pressuring Williams and lost ground.
Hitting back straight away, Aitken posted the fastest lap on the eighth tour but once again came to grief on lap nine, as did Williams, with the latter ending his race off the track at Deene. The Safety Car therefore made another appearance so Morris’ handsome lead was eroded for the second time.
After the re-start on lap 12, Morris ran untroubled to a 5.7 second winning margin over Cao as the Chinese driver celebrated his maiden podium in Formula Renault BARC. Aitken recovered to third, overturning a defensive Middlehurst on the penultimate lap at Tarzan, with Mason finishing fifth.
“It was an extremely good race, fairly hair-raising at times though as the track could easily catch you out”, explained winner Morris, who also took fastest lap at the end, “It wasn’t an easy race by any means, it was very slippery in places and greasy almost everywhere.”
Reflecting on his second place, Cao said: “I’m really, really happy to be on the podium. I was expecting maybe fourth or fifth, but not second place so it’s a fantastic result – great to get my first podium in the championship. This is great progress for me.”
While Aitken won his first Formula Renault BARC race in the fourth and final round, and Morris clinched the title, the headline-grabbing performance came from Brabham and CDR who made the perfect decision to go with slick tyres on the rapidly drying track. Starting ninth on the grid, Brabham had to play things cautiously early on but after a handful of laps the dry tyres came into their own.
Lapping at up to two seconds quicker than his rivals as the race wore on, Brabham picked them off one by one and by lap nine he was all over the back of third placed champion-elect Morris. Taking the final podium place at Tarzan, with Morris sensibly not choosing to fight the move, Brabham then closed down Mason for second and sliced past at Gracelands with much more grip available to him.
Reeling off a string of fastest laps, the grandson of Formula One legend Sir Jack Brabham posted the best of the race on lap 12 as he zeroed in on the back of leader Aitken’s car. The Fortec driver mustered a very stern defence though which resulted in more than one tangle between the pair.
Brabham’s last chance to try and claim a famous win was at the final corner on the last lap but as Aitken slammed the door shut, Brabham was pitched into a spin. He recovered though to take a series-best second place with Mason third, Morris fourth and Cao fifth.
“I managed to hold my pace the same all the way through, which not many of the other wet tyre runners managed to do”, said Aitken, “Suddenly Matt [Brabham] appeared very quickly and it all came down to the last lap, we had a big old fight. It’s good to win a race and, at the end of the day, we didn’t come here to win the championship so to finish just one point behind is great.”
Brabham commented: “It was a tough decision to go with slicks but we had nothing to lose. There were a few wet patches offline which made it hard to pass on slicks early on but when they dried out, I started to really pick up the pace. It was a bit disappointing not to get the win but this has been a great experience, I’ve really loved it. They race a lot tougher over here than in the States!”
Along with headline sponsor Protyre, Formula Renault BARC is additionally supported by Michelin, The Lubricant Consultancy, Petronas Syntium and NGK Spark Plugs.
Provisional 2012 Protyre Formula Renault BARC Winter Series with Michelin Standings:
CHAMPION: Seb Morris, 113pts; 2nd Jack Aitken, 112pts; 3rd Matt Mason, 104pts; 4th Chris Middlehurst, 95pts; 5th Hongwei Cao, 82pts; 6th Cameron Twynham, 54pts