Seven races down and the 2012 Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship is shaping up to be a classic, with a fantastic three way title battle taking the headlines in a year which has seen grid numbers in the high twenties, confirming the BARC series as the top single-seater championship in the UK.
The seven race wins on offer so far this campaign have been shared by the three main title protagonists, 2011 series vice-champion Josh Webster, reigning Formula Ford champion Scott Malvern and reigning Ginetta Juniors champion Seb Morris, the latter two getting right in the thick of the front-line action in their debut seasons in the championship.
The season began with a triple header at a cold and wet Snetterton, with Morris cementing his status as one to watch for the season with a stunning triple pole position in qualifying. The Fortec Motorsport star could only covert them into one win though, with the three title protagonists sharing one win apiece on the opening weekend.
Rockingham saw Morris continue his qualifying domination by making it five in five, with the Ginetta Ambassador able to convert both into wins to take the championship lead. While Malvern took a pair of second places, Webster had a nightmare weekend, a hefty qualifying shunt leading to tough 13th and 20th place finishes.
The series moved on to Thruxton, where it was Morris' turn to have a disastrous meeting, a tough qualifying session setting the tone for two tough races, finishing tenth in the opener after a penalty, before crashing out of race two. Malvern took the opening win and looked set for the race two win as well until contact with Webster, who went on to take the victory, with Malvern recovering to fifth. Malvern sits at the top of the standings at the halfway stage, 21 points ahead of Webster, who sits a further 10 points ahead of Morris.
The best of the rest so far has been Scorpio Motorsport's Macaulay Walsh, who's been quietly putting an impressive run together in his first full season in the championship. The 17 year old sits just eleven points behind Morris in the championship after a superb seven consecutive top ten finishes, including podiums at Snetterton and Thruxton.
The star team so far this season has been MGR Motorsport, who as well as having Webster second in the points, have Jake Dalton, David Wagner and James Fletcher all sitting in the top seven of the championship. All three have enjoyed podium success, Wagner and Dalton taking one apiece at Snetterton before Fletcher secured a superb double at Rockingham, with Dalton and Fletcher in particular impressing in their maiden seasons.
Making an immediate impression on his return to the championship is 2011 race-winner Kieran Vernon. After missing the opening weekend, Vernon returned with a great couple of drives at Rockingham, going from 9th to 4th and 17th to 5th in the two races, before taking a pair of podiums at Thruxton with Hillspeed to move up to a great eighth in the championship.
Reigning champs Antel Motorsport have had a mixed start to the year. While one second year driver Raoul Owens has been running well, regularly challenging for the top ten, the other, Russian Ivan Taranov, has not able to challenge for the podiums and regular top six's he'd hoped for. For the rookies, Tom Oliphant has had a consistent start and is improving, while a lot of bad luck for Henry Chart means he's only collected one points finish to date.
While Morris has been leading the way for Fortec Motorsport, it's been a mixed start to the year for his team-mates. Mexican Diego Menchaca has enjoyed a strong start, regularly challenging in the top ten, while Martin Cao has showed flashes of talent, including a fourth at Rockingham, mixed with some questionable driving. Laura Tillett meanwhile has been one of the rookies finding it a tough induction, culminating in a scary qualifying accident at Thruxton.
As well as having Malvern winning races, Cliff Dempsey Racing have also been having some impressive results with Chris Middlehurst and Trent Hindman on the team's return to Formula Renault, with Middlehurst taking a best finish of eleventh and Hindman taking two top six finishes, though the American is ineligible for points in the championship.
TCF's Three To Watch:
- Kieran Vernon – Had Vernon started the season, I have no doubts that he'd be right in the thick of the title battle. Has been a revelation since returning and if he can hook up qualifying consistently, he'll be a regular race winner in the second half of the season.
- Macaulay Walsh – Walsh has been very impressive so far this season, being the only driver to have finished in the top ten in every race so far. The Scorpio man is determined for more though and wants to add to his two podiums in the second half of the year and take a maiden win.
- Jake Dalton – Came into the championship hoping to turn a successful karting background into a strong start to his car racing career and he has done just that. Took a debut podium on the opening weekend and has been impressing regularly in qualifying, a definite potential race winner by the end of the campaign.
TCF's Champion Prediction:
Scott Malvern – I can't see past the reigning Formula Ford champion adding to his already large trophy cabinet this season. After testing GP3 and F2 over the winter, Malvern was probably slightly disappointed he ended up in BARC this season, but his determination to win has shined through.
Despite a late deal to enter the series and the lack of testing caused by that, Malvern has managed to be at the top from the off and was unlucky not to take more than the one win on the opening weekend. Another win at Thruxton since has given him a 21 point championship lead and with just one disappointing result after mechanical problems in Round One, consistency and staying out of trouble could prove the key to giving Malvern success.
2012 Formula Renault BARC Championship Standings (After Rd.7):
- Scott Malvern – 182pts
- Josh Webster – 161pts
- Seb Morris – 151pts
- Macaulay Walsh – 140pts
- Jake Dalton – 117pts
- David Wagner – 104pts
- James Fletcher – 104pts
- Kieran Vernon – 95pts
- Ivan Taranov – 84pts
- Martin Cao – 72pts
- Jorge Cevallos – 67pts
- Diego Menchaca – 67pts
- Raoul Owens – 58pts
- Tom Oliphant – 44pts
- Jacob Nortoft – 43pts
- Jack Dex – 42pts
- Sean Walkinshaw – 37pts
- Chris Middlehurst – 36pts
- Oliver Sirrell – 32pts
- Marcus Allen – 31pts
- Henrique Baptista – 29pts
- Michael Epps – 27pts
- Matt Tiffin – 26pts
- Laura Tillett – 12pts
- Joe Ghanem – 10pts
- Henry Chart – 6pts
- Shahan Sakissian – 2pts
- Ovie Iroro – 0pts