Jake Hill took two wins in Rounds 17 and 18 of the Ginetta Junior Championship at Donington Park to give himself a fighting chance of taking the title at the series finale in three weeks' time. With championship leader Tom Ingram coming into the weekend on a run of four consecutive wins, the pressure was on the Tollbar Racing to end the run and cut down his lead at the top. The youngster did so in dominant style, taking his eighth and ninth wins of the season to become Ingram's only realistic challenger for the 2010 crown.
It was Ingram and his Hillspeed team mate Seb Morris who dominated Saturday's qualifying session, with the pair locking out the front row for both races. For the first race of the weekend, they were followed by Eurotech Racing pair David and Sarah Moore, with Hill fifth, joined on row three by Adam Bonham.
Ingram led away as the lights went out, leading Morris into Redgate for the first time. They managed to avoid the chaos that developed behind, with Bonham tagged by David Moore, while contact from Tollbar Racing's Tom Howard sent Ryan Ratcliffe into a spin. With cars spinning across the track, others had to take the grass and gravel in avoidance, notably title contender coming into the weekend Louise Richardson, who had started an uncharacteristic 13th on the grid.
With cars stricken off track, the deployment of the safety car came as no surprise, picking up leader Ingram. An excellent opening lap had seen Hill move into second place, dropping Morris to third, followed by Sarah and David Moore, with William Foster sixth.
After a couple of laps behind the safety car, Ingram got a decent restart, but quickly came under serious pressure from Hill, who managed to take the lead at Schwantz Curve. With Ingram instantly putting Hill under pressure as he looked to regain the place, Morris and the Moores were able to latch on to his tail to make it a five way fight for the lead.
As the race reached its conclusion, the drama began. An electrical glitch for Ingram saw his fuel pump cut, almost grounding his G40 to a halt. With cars passing him left, right and centre, the problem managed to resolve itself, allowing Ingram to get back to full race pace, though by this time he was in a lowly ninth. He quickly set about regaining some of his lost places though.
Team mate Morris was in the wars a couple of laps later, a mistake under braking at the Old Hairpin seeing him run through the gravel, dropping him out of a maiden podium finish right down the order.
With his two main challengers faltering, Hill was able to stretch away to take victory by over six seconds, with reigning champion Sarah Moore making a much welcome return to the podium in second, ahead of brother David, who was recording his fifth podium of the season. A determined Ingram managed to fight his back into fourth, ahead of Howard, Bonham, who recorded the race's fastest lap and Richardson, a great recovery drive after her earlier excursion off track. Jody Fannin finished eighth, with Max Coates and a disappointed Morris rounding out the top ten.
As they lined up for the day's second race, Round 18, it was Ingram and Morris again on the front row, with Sarah Moore and Bonham making up row two, with a superb qualifying performance by Coates seeing him line up fifth, while an equally impressive drive saw Foster join him on row three.
Ingram once again had no problems from the start to lead the field into Redgate, with Morris second, a good start by Bonham seeing him leapfrog Sarah Moore into third, with good starts by David Moore and Hill from row four seeing them move into fifth and sixth.
Hill built on his good start over the opening couple of laps, swiftly moving into the top four, before a good move on Bonham at McLeans saw him move into third. As they moved onto lap three, Hill's storming drive continued, pouncing on Morris at Redgate to take second, before repeating the trick a lap later to steal the lead from Ingram.
The top four began to break away, with Ingram closely followed by Morris and Bonham. Ingram was to lose out at Redgate on lap six, with Morris making a move for second, pushing him wide in the process, allowing Bonham to make the jump too. He quickly regained the places though and was able to get right on the boot lid of Hill again with the introduction of the safety car, to aid the removal of Brad Bailey's stricken car from the Old Hairpin gravel trap.
As the race restarted, there were just two nail-biting laps to go, with the title contenders running nose to tail. Behind, Bonham lost his fourth place after running wide at Redgate, with Howard benefitting to take the position. He was quickly under pressure from TJ Motorsport's Richardson, who had produced another of her trademark recovery drives after starting 16th on the grid due to problems in qualifying. She made her move at McLeans, with contact sending Howard wide.
At the front, Hill was unable to shake off the attentions of Ingram, but defended well to cross the line for the win, just 0.3 seconds ahead of Ingram. Youngster Morris held off the advances of Richardson to take third place, putting his name in the history books as the youngest driver in the series history, and possibly on the whole Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship package, to secure a podium finish at just 14 years of age. Sarah Moore capped off her best weekend of the season in fifth, ahead of brother Dsvid, with Finla Ratcliffe a fine seventh for Team Parker Racing. Howard recovered to eighth, ahead of an impressive Patrick McClughan in ninth, with Foster rounding out the top ten.
The series heads to Brands Hatch in three weeks' time for its season finale, with the title race still rumbling on. Ingram holds a strong 42 points cushion over Hill, but a poor result or non-finish for the leader would blow their fight wide open. A tough weekend for Richardson sees her head into Brands needing a miracle to become the second consecutive female champion in the series, with her now 71 points adrift of Ingram.
Provisional 2010 Ginetta Junior Championship Positions (after Rd18):
1st Tom Ingram, 496pts
2nd Jake Hill, 454pts
3rd Louise Richardson, 425pts
4th Tom Howard, 323pts
5th Jody Fannin, 312pts
6th David Moore, 298pts