Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship racer Raoul Owens secured a career-best top 10 result during the first race of the 2012 season at Snetterton in Norfolk over the weekend, 7th/8th April, to get his second season in cars off to a highly encouraging start.Driving for reigning champion team Antel Motorsport, 17-year-old Raoul endured a difficult run in the damp qualifying sessions on Saturday morning - his first outing in the wet - but served up some tremendous racecraft to conclude the weekend 12th in the championship standings.With no wet-weather experience prior to the weekend, the British-born Cape Town resident faced a steep learning curve in the rain-affected qualifying and this was compounded in the second session with an unfortunate clutch problem. Hampering his efforts, Raoul was 18th fastest in the round one period before setting the 16th quickest time for round two and 15th fastest for the race three grid.Making an excellent start to the damp opening encounter on Saturday, the Bright Spark Ventures supported driver made good early progress and quickly moved into the top 15. By lap five he had climbed into 12th position and gained two further places during the closing stages to secure a very well deserved top 10 finish.Impressively, Raoul's pace was just half a second shy of the fastest lap of the race set by two-time McLaren Autosport BRDC Award finalist Scott Malvern and on a par with the four cars immediately ahead of him on track.Dry conditions greeted drivers on Sunday morning for round two and Raoul once more made a strong getaway and put together an excellent first lap, rising into 14th place on lap one. Following a Safety Car period between laps five and 10, racing resumed and the second-year competitor swiftly moved into the top 12.Running in a tightly packed bunch of four cars, the Antel driver passed Martin Cao for 11th position into lap 16 and repelled a counter-attack by the former Asian Formula Renault Champion despite having his pace compromised by a lack of rear grip."I'm fairly happy with the weekend, qualifying was tough as it was my first experience of the car in the wet and we had a problem with the clutch as well which made it difficult", said Raoul, "From where we had to start, race one went pretty well and I was happier with that one than the second race. We just didn't have enough grip in race two but I'm still pleased we scored good points."Unfortunately, three back-to-back scores didn't materialise due to a robust final race on Sunday afternoon. Initially bundled back to the tail of the field as a result of a challenging opening lap, which resulted in a damaged front wing, Raoul managed to make his way into the points positions by lap five and again had good pace. On lap 12 though, he had to pit for a new front wing - as ruled by officials - which relegated him to the back of the field once more.
Despite a tough and less than straightforward weekend at Snetterton, Raoul managed to score almost half as many points in the season-opening event as he managed to chalk-up in his entire debut season in 2011. Hopes are high, therefore, for a stronger run next time out and a string of top 10 results.There are just six weeks to wait until the fourth and fifth rounds of the Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship season take place at Rockingham in Northamptonshire on 19th/20th May.Provisional 2012 Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship Driver Standings (after Rd3):12th Raoul Owens, 21ptsClick here for the Official Renaultsport web site - designed and built by Racecar