Brazil’s Pietro Fittipaldi (Camberley) claimed his maiden Protyre Formula Renault Championship race win during the opening round of the season at Rockingham in Northamptonshire this afternoon, Saturday, 5th April, to get his title bid off to a fantastic start for reigning champions MGR Motorsport.
Bardon-based MGR, which won the 2013 crown with McLaren Autosport BRDC Award finalist Chris Middlehurst, also led the way in qualifying at the 1.94-mile International Super Sportscar Circuit with Italian driver Matteo Ferrer (Colchester) securing pole position for all three of the weekend’s races.
Although making a clean start to today’s 16-lap encounter, leading the field through Turn One and into Deene Hairpin, Ferrer’s focus on defending the line from fellow front-row starter Fittipaldi ultimately resulted in him being elbowed down to fifth position as he missed his braking point.
Fittipaldi duly grabbed the lead ahead of Fortec Motorsport team-mates Alex Gill (Doncaster) and Ben Barnicoat (Chesterfield) with a fast-starting Piers Hickin (Knaphill), up from seventh on the grid, into fourth. Although Gill got to within 0.8 seconds of Fittipaldi during the early running, the South American was able to control the race thereafter and eventually took the flag 5.2 seconds clear.
“I’m really happy, the team worked really well throughout all of the pre-season testing and I think we’ve got the car down pretty good”, said Fittipaldi, “We were able to get the lead on the first lap, got a good gap to the guy in second and just stayed there. It’s kind of hard to pass here so once you get the lead, you have to stay consistent – it’s great to get the win.”
With Fittipaldi and Gill out front, reigning Autumn Cup Champion Barnicoat began to come under immense pressure for third from Scorpio Motorsport’s Hickin who sliced past on lap two into Deene after getting a good run on the Racing Steps Foundation driver through Turn One.
As Hickin pulled away, setting fastest lap pace early on, Barnicoat’s top four spot came under threat from the recovering Ferrer who was determined to battle his way back onto the podium. Soaking up the pressure for a few laps, Barnicoat succumbed to Ferrer’s attack on the seventh tour at Turn One with the move completed into the first hairpin.
Some 3.5 seconds shy of the podium on lap eight, Ferrer mounted an impressive charge and with three laps to go he was almost within one second of the podium placings. Then, on lap 15, second placed Gill was dealt a viciously cruel blow when debris on the circuit led to a rear puncture which resulted in retirement when the runner-up spot appeared to be in the bag.
Elevating Hickin and Ferrer into career-best second and third places respectively, the latter got to within just 0.3 seconds of the Scorpio car at the finish and also claimed two bonus points for setting the fastest lap on the 12th tour with a time of 1m19.161 seconds (88.22 mph). Scorpio’s Hickin, meanwhile, was the only non-MGR or Fortec driver in the top seven.
“We’ve got some good points for the championship today”, said Hickin on his maiden Protyre Formula Renault podium, “It was a tricky race, the car started to go off towards the end so it was all about maintaining position. It’s a fantastic result for the team considering qualifying didn’t go too well, I think we have to be very happy with second place.”
Ferrer added: “To come here and get pole position is completely new territory for me, I was just focused on getting off the line well and doing everything step by step but I focused too hard on Pietro [Fittipaldi] into the first corner and missed my braking. I was very determined to make up for that and at least finish on the podium, which I did. We have two more opportunities tomorrow.”
The closest battle during the second half of the encounter was between Barnicoat and MGR rookie Colin Noble Jnr (Penicuik, Midlothian), the latter just pipping the Fortec racer on the run to the finish line by 0.1 seconds to grab fourth place on his category debut.
Indian newcomer Tarun Reddy delivered a strong account of himself with sixth for MGR ahead of Fortec’s Belgian debutant Wolfgang Reip. Canadian racer Patrick Dussault placed eighth on his UK race debut with Corby-based Cliff Dempsey Racing while Finnish duo Atte Lehtonen and Niklas Tiihonen rounded out the top 10 for SWB Motorsport and Circulation Motorsport respectively.
Round two of the Protyre Formula Renault season will start at 13.25 tomorrow, Sunday, 6th April, with round three beginning at approximately 16.20 and Ferrer will begin both from pole. Noble Jnr originally secured pole position for race three but was adjudged, along with six other drivers, to have exceeded track limits in the second qualifying session.
Along with headline sponsor Protyre, Formula Renault is additionally supported by Michelin.
Provisional 2014 Protyre Formula Renault Championship Driver Standings (after Rd1):
1st Pietro Fittipaldi, 32pts; 2nd Piers Hickin, 28pts; 3rd Matteo Ferrer, 27pts; 4th Colin Noble, 22pts; 5th Ben Barnicoat, 20pts; 6th Tarun Reddy, 18pts