Seb Morris (Marford, Wrexham) took his second and third victories of the 2012 Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship at Rockingham today, Sunday, 20th May, to leap to the top of the driver standings some 12 points clear of double podium finisher Scott Malvern (Barkingside, Ilford).
For erstwhile series leader Josh Webster (Stowmarket, Suffolk), the visit to Northamptonshire was nothing short of a nightmare as he picked-up just 11 points across the two races. First taken-out of the round four qualifying session on Saturday, 19th May, through no fault of his own – which caused huge damage to his FR 2.0 car – more contact in each encounter resulted in a torrid weekend.
Webster’s MGR Motorsport team-mate James Fletcher (Windlesham, Surrey) though enjoyed his best event of the season so far, a brace of third place finishes enabling him to move into equal fifth in the standings. Meanwhile, eleventh hour championship returnee Kieran Vernon (West Chiltington, West Sussex) starred with fourth and fifth place results from ninth and 17th on the grid respectively.
“It’s good to get the championship lead, that’s what I’m always aiming for”, said Fortec Motorsports racer Morris, “We focused on our consistency a lot today. I made a small mistake in race one but in the second race all my lap times were within four tenths of each other, apart from when I missed a gear at the last corner on one lap. The car was handling perfectly thanks to the guys at Fortec.”
Qualifying on Saturday, particularly the first session, took place in very slippery, wet conditions but with a performance not dissimilar to the one delivered at Snetterton last month Morris maintained his unbroken run of pole positions – five in as many attempts.
Round four qualifying was interrupted by four stoppages, the final one bringing an early conclusion to the session with around four minutes remaining. The most dramatic moment came at the third red flag, Webster having been collected at high-speed by the spinning car of series newcomer Ovie Iroro when he lost control at Turn One of the oval banking.
Causing huge damage to both cars, resulting in Nigerian driver Iroro failing to start either race and leaving Webster’s MGR team with a mammoth task to repair his near-write off in time for Sunday’s action, the good news came as both drivers were declared unscathed. The impact on Webster’s title bid was massive though, especially as he was unable to take part in the round five qualifying run.
Malvern sets new Rockingham lap record…but has to settle for second twice
In the first of today’s races, Malvern was the only driver to take the fight to pole-sitter Morris and was only 0.5 seconds shy at the flag. The Cliff Dempsey Racing driver also posted a new Protyre Formula Renault BARC lap record for the 1.94-mile circuit of 1m18.015 seconds (89.52mph).
Holding on to his advantage at the start, Morris built a lead of around four seconds by the end of lap six but the emergence of the Safety Car – due to some stray bodywork on the oval – eradicated his lead. At the re-start though, the 16-year-old made no mistakes and pulled away before Malvern closed the gap down to nothing during the closing stages.
Fletcher held third throughout the race and ended up over six seconds clear of the rest at the finish, the chasing pack headed at the chequered flag by Hillspeed’s Vernon who delivered a superbly impressive account of himself on his return to the series – climbing up from ninth on the grid.
Fifth placed Scorpio Motorsport driver Macaulay Walsh (Northampton) was another to make good gains in the race, moving up from eighth – having had his qualifying hopes badly affected by the red flags – to finish just 0.6 seconds clear of MGR’s David Wagner (Glasgow). The latter endured a dire first qualifying session with recurring alternator problems but he raced brilliantly from 11th to sixth.
There was disappointment for Chris Middlehurst (St. Helens, Lancashire) when a season-best fifth place qualifying performance came to nothing due to retirement on lap five. Jake Dalton (Stoke-on-Trent), meanwhile, dropped back from third on the grid to seventh and Martin Cao – now reverting to his Chinese name, Hong Wei Cao – slipped from fourth to eighth.
Webster raced through from 16th on the grid to 11th prior to the Safety Car, but damage to his front wing led to serious understeer during the second half and he slipped to 13th at the finish, losing the championship lead in the process to Morris.
Morris had greater control over round five but off the start he was put under pressure by Malvern, until the latter’s hopes of trying to stay with the pole-sitter were hit, quite literally, at Deene Hairpin when contact from Fletcher enabled Morris to pull clear. Malvern did edge to within 0.9 seconds of the leader by the end of lap seven but after that Morris set fastest lap and pulled away.
While the top three was set, although Fletcher did struggle with damaged suspension, front row starter Cao took by far his best Protyre Formula Renault BARC finish with fourth place after a coming together between Walsh and Antel’s Ivan Taranov. An inspired Vernon scythed his way into fifth from 17th on the grid while American Trent Hindman, who isn’t eligible to score, took sixth.
“I thought I might put Seb [Morris] on the ropes a little bit in the second race but I got a knock from behind so that ruined my plans”, said Malvern, “I’m not sure we had the pace here, I know we got fastest lap in the first race but we were really losing out on the straights. It’s been a pretty good weekend though, there’s a long way to go and I know we’re capable of winning.”
Fletcher added: “Unfortunately I hit into the side of Scott [Malvern] when we were battling and it bent my front wishbone, that’s why our pace dropped. After that, the car was understeering badly around left-handers so it was great to get another solid third place. We just need to keep this going, hopefully avoid any DNFs, and we stand a chance of being top three in the championship.”
Webster’s horrendous luck continued in the second race. Although lining-up at the back of the grid, he put together a sensational opening lap to gain an incredible 12 places but on the fourth tour he was tagged into a spin at Tarzan Hairpin. Forced to wait for the rest of the field to pass before he could recover, the MGR racer climbed back into the top 20 to at least salvage a couple of points.
There is now a four-week break in Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship action with rounds six and seven of the 2012 season taking place at Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire, the headquarters of the British Automobile Racing Club, on Sunday, 17th June.
Along with headline sponsor Protyre, Formula Renault BARC is additionally supported by Michelin, The Lubricant Consultancy, Petronas Syntium and NGK Spark Plugs.
Provisional 2012 Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship Driver Standings (after Rd5):
1st Seb Morris, 140pts; 2nd Scott Malvern, 128pts; 3rd Josh Webster, 99pts; 4th Macaulay Walsh, 95pts; =5th David Wagner & James Fletcher, 86pts