In a race he described as 'the biggest of my career', Matt Mason defied the odds to take a superb first ever car racing victory during the final weekend of the 2011 Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship.
Mason's weekend started in positive fashion, the MGR Motorsport driver running comfortably in the top four throughout Friday practice. He continued this pace into Saturday qualifying, but missed out on a strong starting position for the opening race after not hooking a great lap together, but he made amends in the second session by storming to pole position, setting the fastest time of the whole day.
Mason explained: “First qualifying I messed up a little bit, my traffic management wasn't good and I let a few cars get in my way when I should have backed off. So when the tyres were at their full potential, I didn't get it out of them, which was my fault. For the second qualifying I did get the most out of my tyres through and went four tenths faster on used tyres than when they were brand new and went faster than anyone did in the first one on new tyres, which was brilliant.”
The first race was to start disastrously for Mason though. As he went to start the green flag lap before the start, he stalled the car, which then failed to restart. After getting pushed into the pitlane, he started the race from there, leaving him way behind the pack when he finally got on track.
After chasing down those ahead, 19 year old Mason produced a sensational recovery drive, overtaking eleven cars on his way to eleventh on the road. Post-race, Mason was promoted to ninth after penalties for two rivals, a good end result to a race that seemed ruined.
Mason reflected: “For the green flag lap, I stalled the car, which shouldn't have been a problem as I should've been able to restart the car. It wouldn't restart though, because one of the battery terminals snapped, something ridiculous like a 50p piece on such an expensive work of art, so I couldn't start. Half the marshals were trying to bump start me, half were trying to push me into the pitlane, which was a shambles, but eventually I got into the pitlane and started from there. I got out with about a five second gap to those ahead, but stormed back through to finish ninth, which was really good from 22nd.”
Starting from pole for the televised second race, Mason briefly lost the lead at the start, before retaking it further round the opening lap with a superb move down the inside of Josh Webster. Mason put his head down and set about pulling a gap from Webster behind.
Webster put him under a mountain of pressure, but Mason soaked it all up and held the lead with smart defensive driving, before edging clear as the race reached its conclusion. Crossing the line with his arms aloft, Mason was ecstatic with his first Formula Renault win, also his MGR Motorsport team's first ever success.
A delighted Mason said: “I arrived at the track, I've never had such a big race in my life, this was the biggest race of my career so far, and I just felt so focused from the word go. I can't really describe it, I just knew what I needed to do and at the start I guess I was a little bit cautious after the earlier race. This allowed Josh [Webster] ahead of me into the first corner, but into the second corner Becketts I did a really good move. I held on from then and it just felt amazing, I just couldn't believe it. To do so well at this round is just brilliant, the cars been getting better throughout the year, as have I, and it's all pieced together so nicely right at the time when we needed it and in all fairness we deserved it.”
The victory means Mason has finished the season sixth in the championship standings, just fourteen points off a top four finish, a remarkable achievement in his first season of car racing. Mason also finishes the year as comfortably the leading rookie in the standings, lying 57 points clear of the next first year racer.
Mason concluded: “It was really the dream weekend. We started this championship having very little time in the car, we've worked our way through the season and we've finished it on such a high at the most prestigious meeting of the year. I couldn't have asked for a better race really, live on ITV4, with so many people watching me. I'd like to thank my sponsors, Nottingham Urology Group, Care Fertility and the Co-Operative Motor Group Mansfield for all their support this year.”