THOMAS HYLKEMA -- 2009 YEAR REVIEW
Dutch single-seater star Thomas Hylkema enjoyed, by far, his most successful year to date in 2009 during his second season in one of the toughest and most competitive categories in the world -- the Michelin Formula Renault UK Championship.
Racing with the legendary Manor Competition team for the first time, the 21-year-old from Delft in The Netherlands truly came of age as a Formula Renault UK driver. Concluding the year with a double podium performance in the season-ending Winter Championship, Thomas underlined his burgeoning potential as a front-running contender should he return to the series in 2010.
"It was a rollercoaster season this year for me but I learned a lot and it was great to be able to drive for Manor", said Thomas, "I want to take this chance to thank the team as they helped me develop so much. In testing we were strong and our prospects looked good for the season but we did have a lot of bad luck. It all came good in the winter series though, taking two podiums was fantastic."
Backed by long-time sponsors TORO and ClubCar, the Aerospace Engineering student started the Formula Renault UK Championship pre-season very well during testing and looked well placed to improve markedly on his 2008 campaign.
Taking a solid points haul from the opening two races at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in April, bad luck befell Thomas during the following event at Thruxton when he had the misfortune of being forced to retire from both races -- seriously denting his ambitions.
Donington Park came next on the calendar where the Dutchman recorded his best finish of the year so far with a top 10 result in the second of the weekend's races. Rounds seven and eight at Oulton Park Island Circuit -- renowned as a true driver's track -- were where Thomas produced a standout performance with an excellent seventh place in race one and 11th position finish in race two.
The first half of the main championship season concluded with more solid points finishes at Croft and then it was on to Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit for the biggest event of the year, the World Series by Renault-supporting festival which was attended by well over 100,000 spectators.
Unfortunately for Thomas, more bad luck reared its head during the second of the Silverstone races but the most severe blow of the year came with four retirements from the next six outings at Snetterton, Silverstone National Circuit and Rockingham which cost a serious amount of points.
The second of the Rockingham encounters though gave the Formula Renault UK paddock another glimpse of Thomas' true pace and ability with an outstanding top six finish -- his career best result to that point. Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit was the venue for the series finale in early October and he rounded off the campaign with another brace of points finishes.
Thomas added: "After the Friday test sessions each weekend we were generally very happy but qualifying was the main problem throughout the year and that did cost us. There were weekends which were strong though, Oulton Park and Croft were real highlights and Rockingham later in the year was probably my best performance of the main season, our pace was very good."
His final championship position of 16th place was most certainly not indicative of either his pace or ever-improving racecraft, more a reminder of the misfortune which blighted his season. Thomas' true potential came to the fore though in the 2009 Winter Championship.
Successful Winter Series delivers maiden podiums Remaining with Manor Competition for November's four-round Formula Renault UK Winter Championship, Thomas made an instant impact during the series-opening race at Snetterton in Norfolk by claiming his debut category podium with a stunning third place.
Backing the result up with another deserved podium in round two later in the day, he concluded the first weekend of the championship a highly creditable third overall in the driver standings.
Rockingham's International Super Sports Car Circuit staged the third and fourth rounds of the winter series and while disappointed with seventh position from the first encounter, fifth place in the final race of the campaign enabled the Manor ace to secure a career-best fourth in the championship.
Thomas commented: "The winter series was great for us, to be on the podium in both races at Snetterton was fantastic and showed what we're capable of. Rockingham wasn't quite as strong for us but overall the championship went very well and we only just missed out on a top three finish in the points table."
For 2010, Thomas has confirmed his desire to return to Formula Renault UK -- which will feature a brand new car next season -- and to do so with the Manor Competition squad. No deals have yet been signed but both driver and team are keen to work together once more.
"Nothing has been agreed or signed yet but I think we can say it's 99 per cent certain I'll be back in Formula Renault UK next year with Manor", he said, "We all want to work together again so I hope we can sort something out soon.
"I think we should be in a good position with the new car arriving for 2010, I've built up some good experience now and with the brand new Formula Renault coming quite late, testing should be more equal. Manor is an extremely strong team at getting the most out of cars, set-ups and drivers and I'll do all I can to be as consistent and as fast as possible."