Outstanding wheel-to-wheel action of the highest order was the hallmark of the opening two rounds of the 2013 Protyre Formula Renault Championship at Donington Park, Sunday, 14th April, with Chris Middlehurst and Mexicos Jorge Cevallos both becoming first time winners.
Victory in race one and an unbelievably close second place in round twoa mere 0.069 seconds behind MGR Motorsport team-mate Cevallosconfirmed Middlehursts status as a true title contender, the Briton departing Leicestershire with a very healthy championship lead of 20 points.
We had a few podiums last year but Im delighted to take the first win, its a great feeling, said Middlehurst, I didnt get the best of starts but we came through, passed the others and the car was working really well. Race two was fantastic as wellan MGR Motorsport one-two, brilliant.
While both races at the 1.98-mile National Circuit delivered fantastic action, round two was the highlight and undoubtedly one of the best ever Formula Renault races to take place on UK soil with any one of five drivers in with a chance of the win during the final laps.
Protyre Formula Renault rookie Sam MacLeod (Cambridge) started on pole position after a superb performance during his maiden qualifying session earlier in the day, locking out the top spot on the grid for both races with laps of 1m08.842 seconds (103.49mph) and 1m08.978 seconds (103.28mph).
It was Cevallos though, rocketing through from third on the grid, who took the lead as MacLeod just fended off Fortec Motorsports team-mate Weiron Tan. Jake Cook (Rotherham), meanwhile, moved up from seventh into the battle for fourth place with MTECH Lites Joe Ghanem and Middlehurst.
MacLeod was elbowed back to the bottom of the top six, which elevated Ghanem into third, and the Lebanese driver then traded the position for a couple of laps with Hillspeeds Cook. Pressure from Middlehurst and the advancing Scorpio Motorsport car of Ivan Taranov (Oxford) meant Cook had to focus more on his mirrors and, on lap six, Middlehurst and Taranov both managed to move through.
Into lap eight, just 0.083 seconds split Cevallos from new second placed man Ghanem but the latter ran slightly wide at the exit of Redgate to allow Tan back through. At McLeans though, on the very same lap, the Malaysian ended his race in the gravel when he lost the rear of the car.
As Cevallos fended off the ever-present Ghanem, Middlehurst closed in and Taranov and Cook also began to reel in the lead group. As the top five closed up yet further, Cevallos and Ghanem delayed each other on lap 12 at the Fogarty Esses which gave Middlehurst the chance to attack.
Running three abreast into Redgate, the order remained unchanged until Middlehurst grabbed second at the Old Hairpin and Ghanem was shuffled back to fifth. As the lead pair broke away there was nothing to split them but Cevallos just held off his rival by a fraction on the line.
It was a really hard battle for me and it was a struggle at the end to keep it together, commented Cevallos, We damaged the tyres in the first race so it was a case of holding on at the end of the second one. Its such a relief to get this win and such a big weight off my back.
Taranov, who posted the fastest lap of the race, took his maiden podium in third, 0.2 seconds ahead of Cook with Ghanem fifth and Fortecs Hong Wei Cao rounding out the top sixthe latter superbly climbing through the order from the back of the grid after a spin in qualifying.
I had a good start and some good, clean laps and then some nice overtaking, reflected Taranov, I had the fastest lap too so we definitely have the pace, I hope we can score more points in the next races and challenge for the title.
In round one, MacLeod made a faultless start to lead while Cevallos sliced his way through from fifth to second by the time the leaders rounded Redgate. Just behind, though, a multi-car tangle in the mid-pack resulted in Taranov becoming stranded in the middle of the track.
Following the required Safety Car period racing resumed on lap four, just as light rain began to fall, with MacLeod leading the train but with Ghanem tucked right under his rear wingCevallos having fallen back following a moment before the re-start.
Ghanem grabbed the lead on the inside at Redgate and two laps later MacLeod slipped further back to third when Middlehurst shot past into Craner Curves after a great run through Hollywood. Soon enough, it was four for the lead with Tan having closed-up on the top three.
Middlehurst punched in the fastest lap of the race on lap 11 and was all over the back of Ghanem who soaked up the pressure superbly. On lap 15 though, Middlehurst produced a sensational pass up the inside into Redgate with just enough room to squeeze past for the lead.
Into the final lap, Middlehurst, Ghanem and MacLeod ran nose-to-tail and the pole-sitter managed to get excellent drive out of McLeans to challenge Ghanem for second. Able to grab the inside line for Coppice, MacLeod went through as the Lebanese driver unfortunately slid wide into the gravel which enabled Tan to steal third spot on the podium as Middlehurst wrapped-up his win.
The start was really good, said second place finisher MacLeod, I got away in the lead, but after the Safety Car re-start I didnt get away as well and lost a position. I think second was as good as we could hope for after that. Its great to be on the podium in my first race.
Team-mate Tan added: I could have done better but I made a mistake at the Old Hairpin. When I saw the rain come down, I put the brake-bias more to the back but when the rain stopped I forgot to put it backI wont do that again! For my first time here at Donington, Im happy.
Ghanem recovered in fourth ahead of MGRs Matteo Ferrer (Colchester) with MTECH Lites Matias Galetto rounding out the top six on his UK race debut. Cao, once again impressively fighting his way through from the back, took seventh.
Ive worked a lot on myself outside the car this year, said Ghanem, The team is better than ever and working really well. In race one I got a bit greedy, went wide at Coppice and finished fourth. In the second race, if I had been more patient I think I could have won.
Next on the calendar for Protyre Formula Renault will be the first of the seasons triple header race meetings, with rounds three, four and five of the campaign taking place at Snetterton 200 Circuit over the weekend 11th/12th May. Before then, the championship competitors will have an officially timed test at the Norfolk track on Wednesday, 24th April.
Along with headline sponsor Protyre, Formula Renault is additionally supported by Michelin, The Lubricant Consultancy, Petronas Syntium and NGK Spark Plugs.
Provisional 2013 Protyre Formula Renault Championship Standings (after Rd2):
1st Chris Middlehurst, 62pts; =2nd Jorge Cevallos & Joe Ghanem, 42pts; =4th Sam MacLeod & Matteo Ferrer, 36pts; 6th Hong Wei Cao, 34ptsClick here for the Official Renaultsport web site - designed and built by Racecar