Malaysia’s Weiron Tan (London) raced to an outstanding maiden Protyre Formula Renault Championship victory at Croft in North Yorkshire over the weekend, 6th/7th July, during round nine of the season – before completing an incredible hat-trick with further wins in rounds 10 and 11.
Ending the recent run of dominance enjoyed by series leader Chris Middlehurst (St. Helens), who had won the last four races prior to the Croft event, Fortec Motorsports racer Tan was inspired throughout the weekend with a superlative performance in searing heat and bright sunshine.
Taking three wins and two fastest laps, Tan – who is part of the Caterham F1 Driver Development Programme – was only denied a maximum haul of points by team-mate Sam MacLeod (Cambridge) who snatched the fastest lap of race two away during the second half of the encounter.
Middlehurst did claim two podium finishes to actually increase his championship lead by a couple of points, his advantage now standing at 98 points, but it was an unusually testing weekend for the MGR Motorsport driver.
Qualifying was dominated by Fortec as Chinese racer Hongwei Cao (Stoke-on-Trent) secured his first pole positions, heading the grid for rounds 9 and 11, while Tan secured pole for round 10 courtesy of setting the second fastest lap in the opening session.
As the lights went out for the opening race on Saturday, Cao did enough to hold the lead from fellow front row starter Tan into Clervaux with Middlehurst just behind in third. Further around lap one, an unfortunate spin for MacLeod put him out of the race and triggered the release of the Safety Car.
Racing resumed on lap three with Tan right on the tail of the leader and as they headed into Tower he lunged down the inside. Cao defended vehemently and the pair touched wheels as they ran side by side towards the Jim Clark Esses. Cao had the inside line and so managed to maintain his lead.
Tan continued to apply the pressure and on lap 10 it finally paid off. The pair crossed the start/finish line almost nose-to-tail and Tan darted out of the slipstream to dive down the inside at Clervaux. At the last minute, though, he thought better of it and instead made his move successfully at Tower.
“First win of the season, I’m quite happy about that – the team has done a great job”, said Tan, “Martin [Cao] defended great, I tried a few times around Sunny In and Tower as well but I realised I had to be a bit more patient to make the move and it went well. I think it was a really good battle between team-mates.”
Cao ran a relatively lonely second for the remainder of the race, adding: “I got a good start but unfortunately my car’s setting was towards understeer to save more tyres. The tyre saving cost us a lot of time and I got caught by Tan and he overtook me at Tower. It was a good race with him.”
Middlehurst was third, just holding off Hillspeed’s Jake Cook (Rotherham) and Fortec’s Wei Fung Thong (Liverpool) who were both catching the championship leader during the closing stages. Jorge Cevallos (Northampton) was sixth for MGR but spent much of his race being held up by Jamun Racing’s Pietro Fittipaldi, until the Mexican slipped through at the hairpin on lap twelve.
Tan continues winning ways in rounds 10 and 11
In Sunday’s 10th round, Tan made a sluggish getaway from pole but was still able to hold the lead into Clervaux. Further behind chaos ensued when Matt Rao (Oxford) and Fittipaldi tangled at Hawthorn while, at the front, Tan continued to lead with MacLeod second ahead of Cevallos.
The Safety Car was deployed due to the Hawthorn tangle and racing got back underway on lap four, MacLeod remaining a constant shadow behind team-mate Tan although the gap stabilised at around 1.5 seconds and remained like that to the flag – MacLeod bagging the bonus points for fastest lap.
Third placed Cevallos resisted huge pressure from Cao and Cook to claim the final podium place while Scorpio Motorsport’s Henrique Baptista (Eastbourne) brilliantly passed Middlehurst for sixth on the penultimate lap – Middlehurst’s 100% podium record finally coming to an end.
Round 11 was the most eventful race of the three as Tan completed a stunning triple victory. Off the line, pole-sitter Cao made a good start but Tan did not, enabling team-mate Thong to jump into second place. The Hong Kong racer didn’t remain there for long, however, as Tan pulled a brave move around the outside at Tower before setting off in pursuit of Cao who had built a good gap.
Unlike race one, Cao seemed to have the edge in terms of pace but an incident on lap four at the complex involving Rao and MacLeod resulted in the Safety Car being deployed which threw Tan and the chasing pack a lifeline as it wiped out Cao’s two second lead.
When the action re-started on lap eight, Tan set about attacking Cao but everything got a bit too close for comfort on the ninth tour at Sunny In when third placed Thong attempted to also make gains. He only succeeded in making contact with Cao, forcing Thong’s retirement and resulting in Cao making a visit to the pits due to front-wing damage.
Tan avoided getting caught-up in the incident to inherit the lead and another huge beneficiary was Middlehurst, moving up from a distant fourth into second. The Safety Car was again required and at the resumption Tan built a lead of 2.2 seconds over Middlehurst to underline his Croft dominance.
“I think the team deserved this, we worked really hard”, said Tan, “It should have been a Fortec one-two-three, but it’s all part of racing. I was right behind Martin [Cao] going into Sunny In, I went for the move and he tried to close in when I was already right beside him. So we both had nowhere to go and I was on the edge of the track – I couldn’t see what happened behind.”
Middlehurst was second and mightily relieved not to have become tangled up in the incident. He said: “I’m pretty chuffed with second, it was an interesting race to say the least – I think Tan’s been pretty unmatchable all weekend. Two podiums out of three isn’t too bad, we’ve not been the strongest this weekend as well so I think that’s a good result in this situation.”
Joe Ghanem claimed his first Protyre Formula Renault podium in third and the MTECH Lite driver was extremely pleased with his performance, adding: “It’s nice to be on the podium I want to thank my team a lot. It was a long time waiting for this podium, I was up there during the season many times in the top three but never did it. It’s my father’s birthday, I’m really glad to give him this win.”
Cevallos finished in fourth ahead of Baptista, fifth place the Scorpio driver’s best result of the weekend, while Cook rounded out the top six ahead of MGR’s Tom Oliphant (Tarporley) and MTECH’s Argentinian racer Matias Galetto.
Rockingham in Northamptonshire will host the next three rounds of Protyre Formula Renault action, the penultimate event of the 2013 season, over the weekend 10th/11th August.
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 Rd11):
1st Chris Middlehurst, 327pts; 2nd Weiron Tan, 229pts; 3rd Jake Cook, 222pts; 4th Jorge Cevallos, 206pts; 5th Hongwei Cao, 170pts; 6th Henrique Baptista, 142pts