Unlike twelve months ago, when one driver had dominated the opening half of the season, this year's Ginetta Junior Championship has seen three drivers rise to the top and begin a fantastic championship fight that is sure to go down to the wire, with the series' young drivers once again producing their characteristic, action-packed racing.
The main talking point coming out of the first half of the campaign has been the rivalry brewing between championship contenders Niall Murray and Charlie Robertson. Both have been on top form in the opening ten races, meaning they've regularly been battling each other for the race wins.
The duo shared the wins on the opening weekend at Brands Hatch, before Murray led home Robertson in the opening race at Donington Park. Race two saw their first heated moment, with contact between the two at the final chicane and then the old hairpin a few laps later ending with Robertson in the gravel trap and Murray disqualified.
After a pair of wins for HHC Motorsport's Robertson at Thruxton and a double for Douglas Motorsport's Murray at Oulton Park, the duo had more contact at Croft, both during the race while fighting for third, and then after the chequered flag, with Murray haven taken the place before later getting put back to fourth behind Robertson by the stewards.
The battling between Murray and Robertson has allowed Sennan Fielding to sneak into the lead almost unnoticed. Despite unspectacular meetings at Brands Hatch and Thruxton, three wins, including a double at Croft, and three other podiums has put the JHR Developments man one point ahead in the standings at the halfway mark.
Reigning champions Hillspeed started the year with three cars, however a retched first half to the season has seen them lose two drivers over the opening five weekends. Reigning Winter Series champion George Gamble started the season with the team and secured a double podium on the opening weekend, however an accident-packed second meeting at Donington Park proved to be the end for the Nottingham-based racer, after his car was written off in the opening race. Rookie Nathan Harrison meanwhile had impressed early on, taking three top five finishes, but was forced to pull out after Thruxton due to budget problems.
The team's final driver Pepe Massot has upheld team honour though with a sensational start to his rookie season. Improving as the first five meetings progressed; the Spaniard took a maiden podium at Donington, before taking three podiums in four races at Oulton and Croft to move into fifth in the points.
Massot isn't the only rookie to have got on the podium though. Beacon Racing's Harry Woodhead took a double podium at Thruxton and has impressed with his pace so far this campaign, while reigning Scholarship winner Oliver Basey-Fisher picked up a third on the opening weekend at Brands Hatch and Irishman Andrew Watson avoided the carnage at Donington to take a third of his own.
TCF's Three To Watch:
- Pepe Massot – While the standings may say otherwise for now, the Spaniard has been the stand-out rookie in 2012 so far, regularly challenging the top three for wins and podiums. Has hit form heading into the summer break and will be hoping to take a win or two in the final ten races.
- Andrew Watson - Started his rookie year strongly with five consecutive top seven finishes including a maiden podium at Donington. Not had the results he's wanted in the last couple of meetings, but the potential is there for more podium finishes by the end of the season.
- Keith Donegan – The series' third Irishman has been incredibly consistent so far in his maiden season, being the other driver other than the championship leader to finish every race. Nine top ten finishes prove he's quick and he'll be hoping to build on his best finish of fifth and challenge for some podium finishes.
TCF's Prediction For The Championship:
Niall Murray – Murray is on a phenomenal run of form at the moment, having finished on the podium in fourteen of the last sixteen Ginetta Junior races, a run stretching into the back end of last season.
The Irishman is determined to turn that run of podiums into a championship title to add to his 2010 Ginetta Ireland crown and will be hoping his experience from that title winning campaign will help him come out on top in what's sure to be a closely fought second half to the season. Bar his disqualification, Murray hasn't finished outside the top four this season and that incredible consistency could be the key to his success.
2012 Ginetta Junior Championship Standings (After Rd. 10):
- Sennan Fielding – 262pts
- Niall Murray – 260pts
- Charlie Robertson – 241pts
- Harry Woodhead – 173pts
- Pepe Massot – 172pts
- Andrew Watson – 148pts
- Keith Donegan – 145pts
- Ollie Chadwick – 143pts
- Oliver Basey-Fisher – 127pts
- Tom Jackson – 119pts
- Nathan Harrison – 92pts
- Elliot Paterson – 67pts
- William Palmer – 62pts
- George Gamble – 50pts
- Finlay Ratcliffe – 12pts
- Ricky Collard – 10pts