Chris Middlehurst has been crowned the 2013 Protyre Formula Renault Champion with second place in the final race of the weekend at Rockingham, after erstwhile race-leader and chief championship rival Weiron Tan was forced into retirement.
A victory for Tan, who had won the last five races on the trot heading into the encounter, was going to take the title battle down to the final weekend at Silverstone.
However when the Fortec Motorsport driver was forced to pull off on lap eight, the title was Middlehurst’s, with the MGR Motorsport ace sitting second behind Hongwei Cao when a red flag brought the race to an early end.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” an elated Middlehurst told thecheckeredflag.co.uk. “I’m very proud to be champion of this series, representing MGR, the BRDC Rising Stars and the MSA Academy. The MGR team have put in an incredible effort all year, so thank you to them, and to my Dad, without him I wouldn’t be racing.”
With Middlehurst heading into the race knowing a win would confirm him as champion, the start was going to be all important in his efforts to beat pole-sitter Tan. A sluggish getaway for Middlehurst though gave Tan an unchallenged run around the turn one banking, with the champion-elect slipping to third behind Cao.
Tan’s chances of making an early break, like he had done in race’s one and two, were halted when the safety car came out following a big incident in the pack. Whilst battling for position in the melee around the first couple of corners, Matias Galetto made contact with Henrique Baptista, sending his car over the top of the Brazilian and into Jake Cook, ending all their races on the spot in the Yentwood gravel.
A great restart from Tan at the start of lap four saw him form a gap to a sleepy Cao behind, who had Middlehurst, Jorge Cevallos and Joe Ghanem for company, Cevallos and Ghanem having benefitted massively from the opening lap incident to impressively work their way up from eleventh and sixteenth on the grid respectively.
Tan quickly began to break away at the front, with his lead up to 3.4 seconds by the end of lap six. His dreams of a double hat-trick came to an end two laps later though, his car grounding to a halt between Deene and Yentwood with an engine issue, bringing out the safety car for the second time in the race.
His demise had promoted his Fortec team-mate Cao into the lead and after a slightly suspect restart from the Chinese racer, Cao maintained his advantage for the next five laps until the race was ended prematurely with the introduction of the red flag. Yentwood was the scene once again, with Hillspeed’s Matt Rao and Fortec pairing Wei Fung Thong and Leo Yee the trio in the wars this time.
“It was a great moment for me,” Cao enthused. “I got a good start from fourth, got up to second and had good pace. After passing my team-mate, I was able to avoid getting caught by Middlehurst till the red flag. I think I’ve deserved a win. I’ve always been close and I’m glad I’ve got this win.”
Middlehurst stayed within touching distance of Cao throughout the remainder of the race to record his thirteenth podium finish in fourteen races, with his team-mate Cevallos close behind to round off a memorable race for the team.
“It was a good race,” Middlehurst added. “I was quite close behind Cao the whole way and I was happy in third, as I knew with dropped scores and everything that it would be good. I was trying to go for the win at the end, but Cao didn’t make any mistakes.”
Ghanem passed Matteo Ferrer just after the second restart to take fourth, Ferrer showing signs of the qualifying pace that gave him two top six starts over the weekend to set the fastest lap of the race en-route to sixth.
Fittipaldi, who had slipped behind Thong and Rao prior to their incident, finished up sixth ahead of Tom Oliphant and Diego Menchaca, while rounded out the ten finishers in what proved to be a real race of attrition were Shahan Sarkissian and Atte Lehtonen.
Full race results can be found here: http://tsl-timing.com/barc/2013/133221bfr.pdf
Provisional 2013 Protyre Formula Renault Championship Standings (After Rd.14 of 16):
- Chris Middlehurst – 392pts
- Weiron Tan – 297pts
- Jorge Cevallos – 265pts
- Jake Cook – 262pts
- Hongwei Cao – 249pts
- Joe Ghanem – 166pts
- Henrique Baptista – 158pts
- Sam MacLeod & Matias Galetto – 141pts