Contrary to common belief, Russell Danzey proved that overtaking can be done in Formula Renault's around Brands Hatch, with a superb drive through the field in Round Three of the 2011 Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship, before picking up a second top ten finish of the season in Round Four.
At the opening rounds at Donington Park, Danzey picked up a top ten finish on his series debut, meaning the MGR Motorsport driver headed to Brands Hatch in an optimistic mood.
Sheffield-based Danzey said: “I felt quite confident. Of course, the second race at Donington hadn't gone too well, but we felt we had some pace. I had raced at Brands Hatch before and we'd tested there, as well, so I knew the track quite well. The first corner – Paddock Hill Bend – is just fantastic! The Indy Circuit is a short lap but it's good fun to drive, and whilst it's not the easiest track to overtake around, it is possible if you know how – it's all about knowing when to take your chances.”
A good start in Friday practice saw him running in the top ten, just fourth tenths of a second off the leading pace. However a coil issue was to restrict his running in the opening qualifying session, leaving him at the back of the grid for race one. The issue was fixed for the second session, allowing the 16 year old to qualify eleventh in the 22 car field.
Danzey commented: “We were pleased with that, especially given how much track time we had missed out on in relation to everybody else. It was incredibly tight, with just a second covering the top 18, and three tenths was all I needed to move up onto the front row!”
The MSA Academy member was looking for a quick start in race one, but starting on an incline, as he tried to avoid inching forward, he knocked his foot off the clutch and stalled. However a red flag for a start-line shunt meant there was a restart, allowing him to start again, however this time from the pitlane.
The end of the opening lap saw Danzey ten seconds away from the back of the pack, but he was soon to be working his way through the field, as he explains: “I thought I might just about latch onto the back of the pack by the end of the race. I could see I was closing on them, but I didn't think I was going to be able to get near enough to attack. It was mainly an exercise in damage limitation, to be honest, to just stay out there and perhaps make up some places if other drivers came off.
“The car felt really good, though – really nicely-balanced – and I was gaining time everywhere. With it being so difficult to overtake around Brands Hatch, that was bunching the field right up and they all started fighting each other. Three of them went off, and I managed to pass another three or four.
“I actually made one place around the outside of Paddock Hill Bend. One thing that's very easy to do around the Indy Circuit is to make your car very wide, and when I got onto the back of this particular driver, he immediately started defending everywhere. He went quite tight into the last corner, but that allowed me to go out wide and get a better run than him onto the pit straight.
“I was initially thinking about trying to get the cutback on him coming out of Paddock Hill and heading up to Druids, but as we went along the pit straight, I realised I was getting further-and-further alongside and I knew I was going to brake later than him – so I decided to go for it. Once I actually was alongside on the outside I was a bit less sure about it, but I kept my foot in and it paid off!
“To finish 13th from the pit-lane was certainly a lot more than I could have expected from the race – we were really pleased with that. I was just disappointed with my mistake at the start, which probably cost me more places; if I had been able to clear the second group I was coming up to by the end, we would have been looking at about eighth position, because I was quicker than them, too – we just ran out of time. Still, given that everyone says Formula Renault is just single-file around Brands Hatch, I think we proved them wrong.”
He ended the race with the seventh fastest time also, quickest of the MGR runners. He hoped to continue this pace into the second race, though it turned out to be more of a processional encounter. The Birkdale School student was able to take a top ten finish though, lapping within a tenth of the race winner, progress that shows real potential for the future.
Russ concluded: “We definitely need to look at getting higher up the grid in qualifying to improve our chances on race day, although the other tracks won't be as hard to overtake at as Brands Hatch was. Looking back at the weekend, of course there were things we could have done better, but that's all part of the learning process of moving into cars, and I'm really pleased with how we all performed as a team.
“We learned a lot about the car, and I feel we took another big step forward. There's plenty more still to come, too, and now I'm just looking forward to the next round at Oulton Park. I've tested there already and loved it – it's a brilliant track! We struggled a little bit pace-wise in the test, but we were still in the very early stages then – and I'm much more confident now.”