Chris Middlehurst (St. Helens) was crowned 2013 Protyre Formula Renault Champion at Rockingham in Northamptonshire this afternoon, Sunday, 11th August, after securing his 13th podium finish of the season with second place in round 14 – enabling the MGR Motorsport driver to wrap-up the coveted title with two races to spare.
After a truly outstanding season, which has included six wins, four pole positions and five fastest race laps, the 18-year-old’s success also marks the first ever championship victory in any category for Mark Godwin’s Bardon-based MGR squad.
“What a great race today and a great way to win the championship with another podium”, said the elated title winner, “The car has been great everywhere really this year, the team has been fantastic, and it’s been down to me to seal the deal. To win championships you don’t necessarily have to win races, just score points and keep on the podium as much as you can and that’s what we’ve done.
“As a single-seater driver, obviously I’d like to go up to European Renault or somewhere like that but it’s all down to the budget. We’ll work hard over the coming months where that’s concerned but we do have one or two things in the pipeline which might be a surprise!”
Reflecting on the success from a team perspective, Godwin added: “It’s an amazing feeling and all the more sweet we’ve done it here, at Rockingham. Last year we were very close to winning the championship but we had an awful weekend at Rockingham, it really couldn’t have been any worse. We kind of wanted to do it here – it’s absolutely fantastic to have won the championship so early.”
Beginning the weekend with second place to main rival Weiron Tan (London) during round 12 on Saturday, 10th August, and adding third position in round 13 this morning, Middlehurst went into the final race of the event with one hand well and truly on the champion’s trophy.
His title victory was then assured when Fortec Motorsports racer Tan, who dominated the first two Rockingham outings, was forced to retire from the final race on the eighth lap with an engine issue – bitter disappointment for the Malaysian who was on course for a memorable winning hat-trick.
Tan’s misfortune, however, profited team-mate Hongwei Cao (Stoke-on-Trent) as he went on to take his first ever win in Protyre Formula Renault, just desserts after an incredibly strong weekend from the Chinese driver.
Running second to pole-starter Tan for the first half of round 14, having chopped past Middlehurst at the entry to Deene on lap one, Cao lapped strongly following an early Safety Car period – caused by a multi-car tangle at Yentwood – and then inherited the lead from Tan on the eighth tour when the latter’s car dramatically slowed on the Oval banking, before grinding to a halt out of Deene.
Resulting in another Safety Car period, at the re-start on lap 11 Cao maintained the lead ahead of Middlehurst and although never much more than 0.5 seconds clear the Fortec driver didn’t put a wheel wrong to claim a memorable win. The race actually ended a few laps earlier than scheduled when red flags appeared after another mid-pack collision at Yentwood on lap 14.
“My first win in Protyre Formula Renault, in the UK, is a great moment for me”, said Cao, “Before the start, my friend Sam [MacLeod] had a problem again with his car so I had third without question and then I got a good start and got up to second. I tried to protect Weiron [Tan] after the first Safety Car but unfortunately he had a problem, so I went up to first and just tried to drive as quick as possible.”
Third place, and a very welcome return to the podium, went to MGR’s Jorge Cevallos (Northampton) after an outstanding drive through the order from 11th on the grid. Threading his way through the third corner incident on lap one neatly, the Mexican climbed into fourth position before moving into the podium placings after Tan’s retirement.
“We struggled all weekend”, said Cevallos, “In the first two races we couldn’t stay out of trouble but finally, in the last race, I was able to keep my nose clean and take third place from 11th – I’m happy with that. We started this year so strong, then we had some problems which we didn’t really figure out until this weekend. Congratulations to the team on winning the championship!”
MTECH Lite’s Joe Ghanem, likewise, produced a scintillating first lap to incredibly scythe his way through into fifth from 16th on the grid and although losing the place to MGR’s Matteo Ferrer (Colchester) on lap seven, the Lebanese racer hit back on lap 11 after the second re-start. Ferrer, meanwhile, proved his pace by setting the fastest lap for the first time in his rookie season.
Fifth win of season for Tan with dominant Rd13 performance
Off the back of his fourth win on Saturday, Tan headed into the first of today’s races, round 13, aiming to continue his recent dominance and he did so with a faultless drive from pole position to head home team-mate Sam MacLeod (Cambridge) by 5.3 seconds.
“Mainly my goal was to get a good start off the line which we did”, explained Tan, “Then I just tried to maintain the pace, do every lap consistently and not make any mistakes. It turned out well and it was a great race.”
MacLeod ran second for the duration, holding off the close attentions of Middlehurst to make a thoroughly deserved podium return with his fourth rostrum of the season. After a campaign thus far dogged by mechanical gremlins and other issues, the British youngster was able to underline the ability which should, by rights, have made him a title contender.
He commented: “I had a good start but struggled with the car quite a lot, I didn’t really have the pace to go with Weiron. Between me and Chris [Middlehurst] it was a bit of a yo-yo, second is quite a good result. It’s been a frustrating year but hopefully I can get all of my bad luck out of the way in my rookie season!”
Middlehurst rounded out the podium in third after grabbing the place from Fortec’s Wei Fung Thong (Liverpool) around the outside at Deene on lap one. Cao impressed with fourth position, from ninth on the grid, although there was some contact along the way when dicing for fifth on lap two with Ferrer at Tarzan. The MGR driver unfortunately ended his race in the pits with damage.
Thong, who was elbowed back to fifth by Cao on lap nine, managed to cling onto the place ahead of Hillspeed’s Jake Cook (Rotherham) who fought through well from a lower than expected grid slot of 10th position.
Protyre Formula Renault now takes a seven week break from action with the final two races of the 2013 season, rounds 15 and 16, taking place at Silverstone National Circuit over the weekend 28th/29th September as support to the British Touring Car Championship. Live television coverage of the second encounter of the weekend is expected to be screened on ITV4 and ITV4 HD.
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 Rd14 – inc. drop score):
CHAMPION: Chris Middlehurst, 392pts; 2nd Weiron Tan, 297pts; 3rd Jorge Cevallos, 265pts; 4th Jake Cook, 262pts; 5th Hongwei Cao, 249pts; 6th Joe Ghanem, 166pts