Protyre_BARC_Renault_logoFortec Motorsports’ Sam MacLeod (Cambridge) took a richly deserved maiden single-seater victory during the first of two action-packed Protyre Formula Renault Championship races at Snetterton 200 Circuit today, Sunday, 12th May, as Chris Middlehurst (St. Helens) further enhanced his points lead.

Having bagged his second victory of the season in round three on Saturday, 11th May, Middlehurst added second place to MacLeod in round four and the MGR Motorsport driver was then awarded the victory in a rain-affected fifth round. Original winner of the final encounter, Scorpio Motorsport’s Ivan Taranov (Oxford), was excluded post-race meaning Middlehurst’s points lead now stands at 46.

Hillspeed’s Jake Cook (Rotherham) enjoyed a fantastic weekend with a hat-trick of podiums, adding to Saturday’s runner-up spot with third in round four and second in round five to move into second in the championship. Team-mate Matt Rao (Oxford) also starred in the final encounter, scything his way through from 17th on the grid to fourth before being credited with his first podium post-race.

“It’s been a really good weekend for us”, said Middlehurst, “In the first race I had to be sensible really, Sam [MacLeod] made a few mistakes but he was quick through Coram so I wasn’t able to get past him. We’re all aiming to win, there’s no point being out there if you’re not, but it was important to take away good points with the second place.

“In the second one, Jake [Cook] was right behind me at the re-start and as more rain came down, the harder it got. There were a lot of drivers who came off but we kept it on the road and took more good points which is what we needed to do.”

MacLeod’s Fortec team-mate Weiron Tan lined-up on pole position for today’s opening race but an unfortunate stall for the Malaysian, after experiencing difficulty getting away on the green flag lap too, enabled the Briton to move into the lead on the run to Riches.

Thankfully, the entire field managed to avoid collecting Tan’s stricken car although his FR 2.0 was reported to have received a slight touch to the left-rear which resulted in an issue with his rear suspension. He eventually retired on lap five after an early pit-stop.

Middlehurst hounded MacLeod throughout but the leader was more than up to the challenge and soaked up immense pressure to win by 0.8 seconds. Middlehurst managed to get within a mere 0.3 seconds of MacLeod into lap 13, having reeled off a series of fantastic laps, including the fastest of the race on the ninth tour, but the rookie held on impressively to claim a superb victory.

“[Weiron] Tan got a bad start and then I got into the lead and just kept it there”, said MacLeod, “I was feeling the pressure up to the last lap but it’s great to take my first win in cars. I can’t complain at all with how the race went.”

Taranov initially ran in third ahead of MTECH Lite’s Joe Ghanem, up from eighth on the grid, and Cook, who started seventh, but the latter was the fastest driver on the track at that point. After taking fourth from Ghanem on lap three, he moved into third on the ninth tour when Taranov had a spin at the Bomb Hole – the Russian dropping down the order to an eventual finish of 14th place.

“If I’d been with them [MacLeod and Middlehurst] at the start I think I’d have been fine but we had to put more work in to come through”, explained Cook, “I grained the left front tyre, with starting seventh I had a lot of ground to make up and towards the end we got more understeer.”

Taranov’s team-mate Henrique Baptista (Eastbourne) enjoyed by far his best race of the season and secured his first points of the year with a tremendous fourth position. As third placed Cook started to suffer with tyre issues in the closing stages, Baptista and Jamun Racing’s Pietro Fittipaldi closed in and only one second covered the trio at the chequered flag.

Baptista’s drive was certainly noteworthy, not least the first lap as he scythed his way through from 11th on the grid into sixth. Behind the Cook, Baptista and Fittipaldi train, MGR’s Jorge Cevallos rounded out the top six with Ghanem seventh and Tom Oliphant (Tarporley) eighth for MGR.

Rain-affected fifth round delivers unpredictable action and third win for Middlehurst

Round five certainly proved to be the most frenetic and action-packed race of the Protyre Formula Renault season so far, impacted by two rain showers, a pair of Safety Car periods and plenty of incident as drivers in slick-shod cars battled an increasingly slippery track surface.

Light spots of rain just before the start threatened to make the opening laps a challenge but as the lights went out, there was no repeat of pole-sitter Tan’s round four issues as he made a perfect launch to surge into the lead. Mexican racer Cevallos, starting fourth, also made a great getaway to leap into second ahead of Taranov.

One of the major flashpoints of the race came on lap two when Ghanem, challenging Taranov for third, ended up on the grass at high speed along Senna Straight. Recovering to the track at the tail of the top 10, the Lebanese racer’s outing then came to an abrupt conclusion on lap four at the Esses when several cars tangled as worsening rain led to a reduction in grip.

At the front, Tan continued to lead from Cevallos, Taranov, Middlehurst, Fittipaldi and Cook but the leader was the next to hit trouble – a spin at the increasingly slippery Esses delaying Cevallos and enabling Taranov to move through into first place. Next to come to grief at the Esses was Fittipaldi on lap six with several others following suit, so officials chose to deploy the Safety Car.

When racing resumed after six laps under caution, Taranov held onto the lead from Middlehurst with Cook and Diego Menchaca fighting tooth and nail over third – the Mexican sustaining damage to his front wing in the process. Behind the lead quartet, Rao had stayed out of trouble and was by now into the top five from 17th on the grid thanks to a stunning drive.

Fittipaldi had another unfortunate moment at the Esses on lap 12, this time a result of contact which led to his car being stranded at the side of the track. Leading to the reappearance of the Safety Car, two final racing laps were possible from which Taranov emerged with his maiden victory ahead of Middlehurst, Cook, Rao, Cevallos and Tan – the latter having pitted for wet-weather tyres mid-race.

Taranov, though, was excluded for “driving in a manner incompatible with general safety” in relation to the battle with Ghanem on lap two meaning Middlehurst inherited his third win of 2013 ahead of Cook and Rao. MGR’s Matteo Ferrer (Colchester) was elevated into the top six while MTECH’s Ed Brand (Dagnall) claimed a career-best seventh ahead of Baptista.

Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire will host rounds six, seven and eight of the 2013 Protyre Formula Renault Championship season three weeks from now on 1st/2nd June.

Along with headline sponsor Protyre, Formula Renault is additionally supported by Michelin, The Lubricant Consultancy, Petronas Syntium and NGK Spark Plugs.

Provisional 2013 Protyre Formula Renault Championship Standings (after Rd5):

1st Chris Middlehurst, 158pts; 2nd Jake Cook, 112pts; 3rd Jorge Cevallos, 100pts; 4th Joe Ghanem, 78pts; =5th Sam MacLeod & Matteo Ferrer, 71pts