Multiple karting champion Ben Barnicoat (Chesterfield) made a colossal impact on his car racing debut at Rockingham in Northamptonshire today, Saturday, 16th November, with a famous Protyre Formula Renault Autumn Cup title victory on his first weekend in single-seaters.
Setting the standard from the outset, the Racing Steps Foundation-backed youngster dominated qualifying to seal pole position for all three races at the 1.94-mile International Super Sportscar Circuit before going on to win rounds one and three as well as finishing runner-up in round two.
Barnicoat also posted the fastest lap in the opening two encounters – getting to within 0.1 seconds of Scott Malvern’s lap record in race two – and concluded the event 17 points clear of experienced Fortec Motorsport team-mate Hongwei ‘Martin’ Cao (Stoke-on-Trent).
“I’m really happy”, said the Autumn Cup Champion, “The Racing Steps Foundation have given me everything I needed to make sure I was ready for this weekend. I’ve got great people around me and a very good car from Fortec, I was the end bit and I managed to string it all together.
“Fortec prepared me really well and I’ve had great driver coaches – Jack Harvey, Riki Christodoulou, Euan Hankey and Oliver Rowland have all taught me so much. I think I did a good job and the team did an amazing job, so a massive thank you to Fortec and to the Racing Steps Foundation.”
On a fantastic weekend for Fortec as a whole, the Daventry-based squad completed a clean sweep of the top three championship placings with Croatian rookie Martin Kodric ending the Autumn Cup just five points shy of Cao.
Improving throughout the event, the karting graduate starred in the final encounter with second position and the fastest lap of the race – the latter proving especially important as it enabled him to pip MGR Motorsport’s equally impressive Alex Gill (Doncaster) by a single point.
Barnicoat starts as he means to go on with triple pole position
Qualifying couldn’t have gone any better for Barnicoat with a superb hat-trick of pole positions and although not quite getting the start he wanted to the opening race, he still held the lead through Turn One. Front-row starter Gill wasn’t as fortunate as he slipped back, enabling Fittipaldi to grab second and a fast-starting Cao to move up to third from fifth on the grid.
Concluding lap one 0.8 seconds to the good, Barnicoat went on to utterly dominate his maiden car race with an exceptional performance. Reeling off a series of fastest laps, the 16-year-old belied his total lack of experience and ultimately won by 6.5 seconds.
Fittipaldi soaked up immense pressure from Cao, Gill and Kodric during the early running and on lap six the Chinese driver attempted a pass for second on the outside line at Tarzan. It only resulted in a delay for Cao, though, and enabled Gill to attack on the run to Brook Chicane where he took third.
Soon after, Fittipaldi’s race – and his Autumn Cup hopes – sustained a fatal blow when the top plane of his rear wing broke and led to a severe lack of downforce. Gill took second at Deene on lap eight, Cao then moved through to third at Gracelands and Kodric usurped Fittipaldi for fourth a lap later.
The Brazilian pitted for a new rear wing at the end of lap nine and although he was able to rejoin the race after good work by the Jamun Racing crew, he was unclassified in the results five laps down. Gill went on to take second place after a fantastic drive, his first podium in only his third Protyre Formula Renault race, Cao was third, Kodric fourth and Japanese racer Yosuke Yamazaki fifth.
“I had a bad start with too much wheelspin but, apart from that, it was pretty good”, said 2012 British KF3 Karting Champion Gill, “I had to overtake [Hongwei] Cao and [Pietro] Fittipaldi and after I passed them I was doing the same times as Ben [Barnicoat], he was already too far away though. I was pretty happy with my overtakes and our pace, just a shame about the start.”
Cao to the fore with superb race two performance
In round two, Barnicoat again converted pole into the race lead but Cao produced a sensational move into Deene around the outside. Holding fourth place going into the hairpin, Cao dived past Fittipaldi, Gill and, finally, Barnicoat to remarkably emerge from the turn at the head of the field.
Scorching away at the front, Cao built a mammoth lead of 1.7 seconds by the start of lap two with Barnicoat second ahead of Fittpaldi, Gill, Kodric and Yamazaki. Fittipaldi initially sat close behind Barnicoat but, from lap three, the former had to focus on his mirrors with Gill looming large and the MGR driver made his way past on the fourth tour at Deene.
As the race approached one third distance, Barnicoat began to get into his stride and started to edge closer to Cao but the race leader remained composed and still managed to maintain a gap of over one second. Third placed Gill pulled clear of Fittipaldi and the Brazilian was then edged back to fifth by the increasingly rapid Kodric on lap seven, after a great move around the outside at Deene.
While Barnicoat did close to within 0.4 seconds of Cao at the flag on lap 15, the Chinese racer sealed his second career Protyre Formula Renault win with a terrific performance. Gill finished third, two podiums from the first two races, with Kodric heading home Fittipaldi and Yamazaki.
“I got a really good start from P4”, said Cao, “I saw everyone at the inside for Turn Two, so I just took the outside line, braked really late, and got first place. I just gave it everything there, down-shifted really quick and braked really hard – it was now or never and it worked out.”
In the third and final round of the Autumn Cup, front-row starter Fittipaldi made a great getaway and ran side-by-side with Barnicoat through Turn One and into Deene for the first time. Still locked together on the run to Yentwood, Barnicoat managed to see off the Jamun driver but wasn’t able to completely shake off Fittipaldi’s attentions.
For the first three laps, the Fortec ace had Fittipaldi, Cao and Kodric right with him but on the fourth tour Barnicoat stamped his authority with a sensational lap – pulling out 0.9 seconds on his pursuers to increase his advantage to 1.3 seconds. Going on to win by 2.4 seconds, and sealing the Autumn Cup title in style, Barnicoat capped off a dream start to his car racing career.
Fittipaldi worked hard to fend off Cao and Kodric but after the Croatian grabbed third from his Fortec team-mate at Deene on lap 12, he passed Fittipaldi on the final lap at the same corner to take a richly deserved maiden podium. Fittipaldi was third, his first podium in Protyre Formula Renault, with Cao fourth, Gill – who had to battle back from a stall at the start – fifth and Yamazaki sixth.
Along with headline sponsor Protyre, Formula Renault is additionally supported by Michelin, The Lubricant Consultancy and Petronas Syntium.
2013 Protyre Formula Renault Autumn Cup Standings:
CHAMPION: Ben Barnicoat, 96pts; 2nd Hongwei ‘Martin’ Cao, 79pts; 3rd Martin Kodric, 74pts; 4th Alex Gill, 73pts; 5th Yosuke Yamazaki, 56pts; 6th Pietro Fittipaldi, 45pts