Chris Middlehurst (St. Helens) further strengthened his seemingly cast-iron grip on the Protyre Formula Renault Championship at Thruxton today, Saturday, 1st June, with a sublime 11 second win in round six – having earlier locked-out pole position for all three of the weekend’s races.
While assisted to some degree by an almighty battle behind over second place, the MGR Motorsport driver was still at his dominant best. Even an early Safety Car period did little to impede his march to a huge winning margin, which included the fastest lap on the final tour, so Middlehurst now heads into rounds seven and eight tomorrow, Sunday, 2nd June, with an incredible 67 point series lead.
“Obviously, when the Safety Car came out, my lead came down but I luckily got a good re-start, pulled away and got the fastest lap along the way so it’s a great win for MGR Motorsport”, said a delighted Middlehurst, “It was important to keep pushing to the end, Thruxton is such a fast circuit and as soon as you back off you start to lose downforce. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow!”
Fortec Motorsports’ Hong Wei Cao (Stoke-on-Trent) produced, quite possibly, the race of his life to finish in second place, having started a lowly 17th on the grid after problems in qualifying. Slicing his way through the order into eighth place prior to the appearance of the Safety Car, the Chinese driver broke into second by the end of lap 12 to see off the challenge of MGR’s Mexican ace Jorge Cevallos.
“It’s definitely one of my best races in formula cars”, said Cao, “I was starting from 17th but I got a really good start, after lap two I was up into about P8. It was a fantastic race for me, especially after the Safety Car – that made the difference. Qualifying was a problem, we had an engine issue but in the race the car was great and we managed to make the podium, it’s really nice!”
In qualifying, Middlehurst was in outstanding form to secure all three pole positions, but he was pushed hard by Hillspeed’s equally impressive Jake Cook (Rotherham) who managed to seal front row starts for each encounter with a superbly consistent performance.
At the start of round six, in warm and sunny conditions, the pole-sitter made a great getaway to lead from Cook through Allard while Fortec’s Weiron Tan (London) held third before usurping Cook for second at the complex and then almost getting alongside Middlehurst.
Into the chicane at the end of the opening lap, Tan and Cook ran wheel-to-wheel with the latter on the outside line. With neither driver willing to cede second place though, contact was inevitable and both sustained damage.
While Tan continued, albeit some way down the order with front wing damage, Cook’s car bounced over the kerbs and he was forced to retire part way round the next corner. His Malaysian rival then pitted at the end of the second tour, requiring a new nose cone.
Through all of that came Scorpio Motorsport’s Ivan Taranov (Oxford) in second ahead of Lebanese driver Joe Ghanem in third for MTECH Lite, Hong Kong’s Wei Fung Thong (Liverpool) in fourth for Fortec and Cevallos in fifth – up from ninth on the grid.
Due to Cook’s stranded car, the Safety Car was deployed and so Middlehurst’s two second lead was eroded. But even though the race had been neutralised the drama didn’t cease when Thong slid into the barriers at the exit of the chicane on lap six.
When racing resumed on lap eight, Middlehurst led away from Taranov who had Ghanem close behind with Cevallos fourth, Henrique Baptista (Eastbourne) up to fifth for Scorpio and Hillspeed’s Matt Rao (Oxford) rounding out the top six.
As the fight for second place intensified with some classic slip-streaming battles up Woodham Hill, Middlehurst was able to focus on building his lead once again and he didn’t put a wheel wrong on his way to his fourth victory of 2013.
Taranov’s race came to an all-too-early conclusion on lap nine following a high-speed spin into retirement at Village. Therefore, Ghanem inherited second place but he lost that to the flying Baptista at the chicane on lap 10 – the Brazilian having taken third off Cevallos there the lap prior.
Ghanem hit back at the complex to re-pass Baptista but on the run to the chicane on lap 11, the MTECH driver lost out again when passed by both Cevallos and the rapidly progressing Cao as the trio ran three abreast. Ghanem ran wide under braking, sustaining damage which led to retirement.
Cao managed to see off Cevallos for second on lap 12, again at the chicane, and kept his Mexican rival at bay to the finish. Behind the podium placings, the pack continued to shuffle all the way to the chequered flag with Baptista equalling his career best in fourth, MTECH’s Matias Galetto taking fifth and Jamun Racing’s Pietro Fittipaldi seeing off team-mate Diego Menchaca (Bedford) for sixth.
Reflecting on third place, Cevallos said: “We’ve been struggling a lot this weekend, we expected to be up front but from the beginning we had problem after problem. The team did a great job for the race though and gave me a great car. Third place is OK, it’s good points.”
Fortec’s Sam MacLeod (Cambridge) didn’t have the best of starts to his weekend with power issues throughout qualifying limiting him to a row eight start for round six. Frustratingly for the Snetterton race winner, the problems resurfaced in the race leading to a lap 11 retirement.
One driver unable to begin this afternoon’s race, and who will be sitting out tomorrow’s action too, was Matteo Ferrer (Colchester) who suffered a frightening accident in qualifying at the notoriously quick Village corner. Destroying his MGR-run Tatuus, the car did its job in protecting the Italian from the severity of the impact meaning he was unscathed with the exception of some aches and bruises.
Round seven of the Protyre Formula Renault Championship will take place at 11.35 tomorrow, Sunday, 2nd June, with round eight following at 16.15.
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 Rd6):
1st Chris Middlehurst, 192pts; 2nd Jorge Cevallos, 125pts; 3rd Jake Cook, 112pts; 4th Hong Wei Cao, 80pts; 5th Joe Ghanem, 78pts; 6th Matt Rao, 76pts