Home Featured 2013 Protyre Formula Renault season review

2013 Protyre Formula Renault season review

by Gruz David
Protyre Formula Renault

Photos: Jakob Ebrey Photography

With the inaguaral season of the rebranded Protyre Formula Renault, formerly known as Formula Renault BARC, having come to an end, PaddockScout takes a look back at the season and rates the drivers.

Although the series celebrated its nineteenth British champion in its nineteenth season, the field has never been more international. Drivers from Malaysia, Mexico, China, Lebanon or Finland have raced in the championship round after round, many of them achieving impressive results.

The six-round-long season can easily be separated to two different parts. In the first half, MGR Motorsport, led by Chris Middlehurst, won all the races but one, yet the second half saw a similarly dominant performance from Fortec Motorsports and Weiron Tan, save for the last round where it was Ivan Taranov who took over at the front. In the end, the key to Middlehurst’s championship was definitely consistency, something that most others seemed to lack.

Chris Middlehurst1. Chris Middlehurst

United Kingdom, MGR Motorsport, age 18

408 points, 6 wins, 13 podiums, 4 pole positions, 5 fastest laps

Sophomore racer Middlehurst made the fate of the title clear relatively early on, almost putting it beyond doubt in the eight races of the three first rounds. He won six of them and was second in the remaining two, which gained him an advantage so big that even a five-race winning streak from Tan didn’t provide a sufficient challenge. Although Middlehurst didn’t win after the first three rounds, he did well in minimising the points losses, only allowing one retirement after he was already crowned champion.

Considering previous series champions like Alice Powell or Scott Malvern, winning the title is not necessarily enough to pave the way up the single-seater ladder. However, early signs have been good for Middlehurst, who is planning to step up to a continental Formula Renault championship. Wherever he goes, he will surely be hoping for another eye-catching start to the season. Season rating: 8/10

Weiron Tan 2. Weiron Tan

Malaysia, Fortec Motorsports, age 18

331 points, 5 wins, 9 podiums, 6 pole positions, 6 fastest laps

Following his graduation from JK Asia Racing Series in 2012, Tan can add the title of the best rookie of the 2013 Protyre Formula Renault season to his CV. Apart from a podium finish in his debut race, the beginning of Tan?s season was rather rocky, and two early retirements didn’t help matters. The weekend at Thruxton however, saw the Caterham-backed Malaysian on the podium twice and, from that point on, he would replace Middlehurst as the ever-present frontrunner, winning the next five races.

Despite his best efforts, he was unable to catch up to Middlehurst, having lost too many points to retirements. He still showed his talent though, and given his membership in the Caterham Academy, he should not have a problem moving up the ladder next year. The smart money would have him following Leafield stable-mate Matt Parry into the NEC. Season rating: 8

Jorge Cevallos3. Jorge Cevallos

Mexico, MGR Motorsport, age 19

307 points, 1 win, 5 podiums

After a debut season in the series in 2012 that was as promising as Middlehurst’s, Cevallos subsequently also joined MGR Motorsport and topped the pre-season tests. Everything was set for a title challenge and, while Cevallos won on the opening weekend at Donington, that was the only race victory he’d claim throughout the year.

The Mexican finished between third and seventh in thirteen races out of the next fourteen. He scored podiums at Thruxton, Croft and Rockingham, but he couldn?t challenge Middlehurst or Tan for wins or poles. Still, the impressive consistency allowed him to end his year in third. Considering his Telmex connections, it shouldn’t bee too hard for him to find a drive for 2014 with a move to mainland Europe the sensible next step. Season rating: 7

Martin Cao4. Hong Wei Cao

China, Fortec Motorsports, age 20

296 points, 1 win, 5 podiums, 2 pole positions

Cao is another driver who entered the season with a year of prior experience in the series. His early races didn?t show much improvement from 2012, but soon enough he achieved his first podium of the year in round three. Next time out at Croft he upped his game once again, taking two pole positions. However, he remained winless as he had to settle for second behind a charging Tan in race one, before being taken out in a collision in the other race.

He didn’t have to wait much longer though, as at Rockingham he inherited his maiden win after Tan’s retirement. Although Cao hasn?t shown as much promise as his Malaysian teammate, the Chinese driver has looked quite confident, adding an impressive string of single-seater performances to his CV. Season rating: 7

Jake Cook5. Jake Cook

United Kingdom, Hillspeed, age 20

292 points, 6 podiums, 1 fastest lap

The son of 1996 Formula Renault UK champion David Cook graduated from British Formula Ford, having finished as runner-up in that series in 2012 after three seasons. The Formula Renault rookie collected a hat-trick of podiums in round two at Snetterton, which was followed by two more top-three finishes at Thruxton. He finished just off the podium at Croft and Rockingham, only to return to the top three in the season finale at Silverstone.

Having occupied third in the standings coming into the last race, he tumbled down to fifth as a result of a DNF. Should he decide to stay for a sophomore season next year, he could have a great chance to take the title. He has tested BRDC F4 machinery though, and will contest the rival category’s Winter Championship with the same Hillspeed team. Season rating: 7

Sam MacLeod6. Sam MacLeod

United Kingdom, Fortec Motorsports, age 18

169 points, 1 win, 5 podiums, 2 pole positions, 1 fastest lap

Karting graduate MacLeod got his single-seater career off to a great start as he topped both of the qualifying sessions for the opening round, albeit he couldn’t convert either poles into a victory. The next round at Snetterton saw him successfully holding off Middlehurst for the lead in the first race, which made him the only non-MGR Motorsport driver to win in the first half of the year.

After such a promising start, the Edinburgh-born racer had a somewhat challenging remainder of the season. Pace was never an issue but he only managed to make the chequered flag in four of the next twelve races, preventing him from fighting for the runner-up spot and eventually seeing him tumble down to sixth in the standings. Considering it was his first full year in single-seaters, MacLeod will have some unfinished business in Formula Renault in 2014, but guest appearances in NEC suggest that’s where he might be heading to. Season rating: 7

Joe Ghanem7. Joe Ghanem

Lebanon, MTECH Lite, age 23

166 points, 1 podium (14/16 races)

The more experienced of the two Lebanese drivers in Protyre Formula Renault completed a decent second season in the championship.?Significant improvement was shown right away in this year’s campaign as Ghanem took a fourth and a fifth place in the opening round – his two best results in the series up to that point. He kept up this level of performance throughout the year, fighting the regular frontrunners and getting a top five finish every weekend, yet his progress was held up by constant DNFs.

In the highlight of his year, Ghanem scored his maiden podium at Croft, where he took third behind the usual suspects Tan and Middlehurst. After winning different GT and Formula championships in the Middle East, Ghanem has now proved his abilities in Europe. Season rating: 6

Pietro Fittipaldi8. Pietro Fittipaldi

Brazil, Jamun Racing Services, age 17

163 points

Grandson of Formula One legend Emerson Fittipaldi, Pietro embarked on his debut season in single-seaters after two years of NASCAR racing and a championship title under his belt. The Jamun driver did not have the experience to challenge for wins or podiums, with his best result being a fifth place from Snetterton. He finished in the top ten every weekend, but like so many others, Fittipaldi wasn?t able to find consistency ? apart from the final weekend, he always had an off race in every round, finishing outside the top ten or retiring.

Having also done BRDC F4 this year, Fittipaldi could be able to find some continuity in at least two British championships. If the choice is indeed between the two, he should be able to consistently challenge for podiums and victories next year. Season rating: 6

Henrique Baptista9. Henrique Baptista

Brazil, Scorpio Motorsport, age 21

158 points (14/16 races)

After only one year of racing, Baptista took a lengthy hiatus from motorsports between 2009 and 2011 in order to concentrate on his studies. He returned in 2012 with a quiet first campaign in Formula Renault BARC, but didn’t take long to show improvement right away in his sophomore season.

Having missed the opening round, he came within half a second of a podium at Snetterton. Baptista then continued his great form with five finishes within the top six at Thruxton and Croft. The end of the season didn’t go so well, as he retired in all of the final three races. Judging by early-season form, Baptista clearly deserved more than ninth and he will certainly be in contention next year should he opt for another year in in the series. Season rating: 6

Shahan Sarkissian10. Shahan Sarkissian

Lebanon, MTECH Lite, age 25

146 points

Despite his above-average age for a Formula Renault racer, Sarkissian only made his car debut one year ago in the BARC series, racing alongside his more experienced countryman Ghanem.

Having very much lacked consistency in his rookie year, he improved in his second campaign. With only two retirements, Sarkissian reliably finished near the top ten. His best finish – eighth place – was achieved in the first race of the finale, only to be repeated in the second one. Given his age, Sarkissian is probably not planning to have an extensive single-seater career, but his efforts in this field have been more than adequate. Season rating: 5

Matias Galetto11. Matias Galetto

Argentina, MTECH Lite, age 20

141 points, 1 podium (14/16 races)

Galetto was the man with probably the most experience of Formula Renault on the grid, having spent the last three years in Formula Renault 2.0 Argentina. This definitely paid off at the beginning of the year, as he took a third-place finish in the first race at Snetterton.

He completed an even stronger weekend at Thruxton finishing fourth and fifth, but was then undermined by a difficult outing at Croft. His progress was noticeably hindered by consistent retirements. Which was highlighted by two DNFs at Rockingham. Given the length of his Formula Renault Argentina career, Galetto might spend at least one more season in the Protyre category and will surely add to his podium tally if he does. Season rating: 5

Ivan Taranov12. Ivan Taranov

Russia, Scorpio Motorsport, age 19

140 points, 2 wins, 3 podiums, 1 pole position, 1 fastest lap (10/16 races)

Taranov was another man with big hopes this year, thanks to two years of experience in the championship. The Russian lived up to the expectations in terms of speed as he kicked off the season with a podium at Donington Park before taking his maiden win at Snetterton. However, his victory was taken away as a result of a post-race decision by the stewards, who cited dangerous driving as the reason.

It all went downhill from there for the Russian. At Thruxton, Taranov suffered another post-race exclusion, caused by an incident after the chequered flag. He would wind up missing the next two rounds in the championship, only to triumphantly return to the season finale in impressive shape as he took two race victories. Following a season of ups and downs, Taranov faces some budget issues for 2014, but will have certainly attracted some sponsor attention with his Silverstone performance. Season rating: 5

Tom Oliphant13. Tom Oliphant

United Kingdom, MGR Motorsport, age 23

135 points (14/16 races)

Like many others on the grid, Oliphant came into a second year of Protyre, with his car racing debut coming in BARC in 2012. For this season, he committed himself to the MGR Motorsport squad to race alongside Chris Middlehurst and Jorge Cevallos. Although his team-mates were frontrunners, Oliphant couldn?t run with them for the most part. He often finished within the top ten with the best result of seventh at Croft and then Rockingham.

Having missed the Silverstone finale, Oliphant ended up in 13th in the standings. If the 23-year-old wants to continue with his single-seater training, another year in Protyre might be a good idea. Season rating: 5

Matteo Ferrer14. Matteo Ferrer

Italy, MGR Motorsport, age 18

133 points, 1 fastest lap (13/16 races)

Ferrer switched from the now-defunct Intersteps championship to Protyre Formula Renault for 2013. The Italian rookie started in an impressive way as he took fifth and seventh at Donington Park and added a sixth place at Snetterton. He was sitting in fifth in the standings at one point, but a nasty accident in the Thruxton qualifying stopped Ferrer from taking part in any of the Thruxton races.

The penultimate round saw Ferrer back in the front with a fifth place and a fastest lap. Despite some problems Ferrer showed potential and could do well in a sophomore year in 2014. Managed by former F1 team manager Peter Collins, he’s contesting both the Protyre Autumn Cup and BRDC F4 Winter Championship. Season rating: 6

Matt Rao15. Matt Rao

United Kingdon, Hillspeed, age 19

129 points, 1 podium

Rao joined the Hillspeed lineup alongside Cook, having also graduated from British Formula Ford where he took the title in the second division Duratec class.

The start of the season was promising for Rao, as he twice finished in eighth at Donington Park and then got to celebrate his first podium at Snetterton. Having impressively finished the first seven races, Rao struggled much more in the second half of the season, as the Briton only finished three times compared to six retirements. He might want another year in Protyre to iron out the inconsistencies and move up the order. Season rating: 5

Shaun Thong16. Wei Fung Thong

Hong Kong, Fortec Motorsports, age 17

117 points, 1 pole position, 1 fastest lap

The fourth and youngest addition to the Fortec team made the switch from the Asian-based AFR Series to the championship. Thong?s first half of the season was quite difficult, as he couldn?t finish any races in the first and third round, with a best finish of ninth at midway.

At Croft however, results started to come, as the Hong Kong racer took a fifth-place finish. He repeated that result at Rockingham and at Silverstone, having actually lined up on pole for the latter race. His inexperience and bad luck definitely downplayed on his performance, so staying for another season would make a lot of sense. Season rating: 5

The rest

Rotax Karting prodigy Ed Brand made his debut season in cars and, although he made the top ten most of the times, his campaign was hugely affected by retirements – finishing nine out of his 14 races. Telmex-backed Mexican Diego Menchaca had a tough sophomore year, seemingly focused on his parallel participation in BRDC F4.

16 year-old Piers Hickin?raced in three rounds, with a best finish of seventh. Finn Atte Lehtonen displayed some consistency in his 11 races with only one retirement throughout, but lacked individually outstanding results.?22-year-old?Leo Yee took part in the final two events, with a best finish of eighth. Finally, Finnish Formula Ford champion Jesse Anttila, Ashley Crossey and British Karting champion Alex Gill, who is mentored by Adrian Newey, all made guest appearences throughout the season, all achieving at least one top-ten finish.