LOANE LEAVES DONINGTON WITH JOINT WINTER SERIES LEAD
Northern Ireland single-seater star Kris Loane truly came of age at Donington Park National Circuit yesterday, Saturday, 3rd November, during the opening two rounds of the 2007 Formula Renault UK Winter Championship, a stunning maiden podium result and first ever pole position start helping the Manor Competition ace assume the joint-lead in the driver standings.
While much was expected from the outset of both Loane and his Manor team-mate Alexander Sims, nobody could have quite foreseen the impact the former would have on the opening weekend of the four-round Winter Championship and it's now most certainly game on as far as a title push goes for the 19-year-old from Kesh in Co. Fermanagh.
Qualifying went particularly well for Loane and having posted the second fastest time with three minutes remaining, he then took pole position with just under a minute left on the clock. Although even quicker on his final lap with a time of 1m 05.931 seconds (106.87mph), he was bumped down to third place albeit just 0.030 seconds off pole.
Loane's consistency shone through during the session though and for round two he achieved his maiden category pole position with an excellent second lap of 1m 05.940 seconds -- the only driver in the 32 car field to post a brace of times under the 1m 06 second barrier.
Maintaining third position even though forced wide through Hollywood on the opening lap of the first race, Loane looked comfortable until lap 10 when he started to come under pressure from Riki Christodoulou. The latter then found a way past at Goddards Chicane on lap 12.
Loane wasn't about to let him get away though and stayed glued to the rear wing of the Fortec driver -- just four 10ths of a second the difference between the pair as they crossed the line on lap 20.
In round two, a less than spectacular start from pole meant Loane was forced down to third place at Redgate behind 2007 Formula Renault BARC Champion Hywel Lloyd but the Manor star fought back and moved into second on the exit of the turn.
Pressurising leader Valtteri Bottas, the race was then brought under Safety Car conditions for a couple of laps while three stranded cars were removed from the gravel trap at the first turn. At the re-start on lap six, Loane maintained second place well and at the end of the 21 laps he took the chequered flag less than a second shy of victory.
Although Finnish driver Bottas won both of the Donington races, he is unable to score points in the Winter Championship due to the fact he doesn't have a UK race licence. To that end, Loane takes an increased haul of points from the weekend which means he and Christodoulou are tied on 58 points at the head of the driver standings.
Bitter disappointment for title contender Sims Although Loane's start to the winter series has been exceptional, New Ollerton-based Manor saw its mood tempered somewhat due to the horrendous luck experienced by Alexander Sims at every juncture of the race meeting.
Having been unceremoniously forced out of qualifying at McLeans Corner while attempting to pass the slower Formula Renault BARC-specification car of newcomer Damien Charveriat, he was left with a mountain to climb in the races.
Lining up a highly uncharacteristic 26th on the grid for the first of the day's encounters, the Peterborough ace produced a couple of stunning laps at the start of the race to gain an incredible 12 positions but on entry to Goddards at the end of the third tour, contact from two rivals forced Sims into a bitterly disappointing retirement.
All the more annoying was the fact Sims would almost certainly have set the fastest lap of the race to take the extra point away from Riki Christodoulou due to the fact the Manor star's tyres were in better shape having completed less qualifying laps. Had this been the case, team-mate Loane would now be in the outright lead of the championship.
Still, more bad luck was to follow though. Beginning round two from the final row on the grid due to the earlier qualifying incident, hopes were still high for a stellar performance from such a quality racer but before he had chance to prove his undoubted ability, the driveshaft failed on the green flag lap resulting in an immediate retirement.
Although the title is realistically beyond Sims' reach now, the 19-year-old will be going all-out to secure a double victory at Croft next Saturday to end the four-round series on a real high.
Commenting on rounds one and two, Manor team boss Tony Shaw said: "This weekend has been absolutely fantastic for Kris, he had good pace in the test and he and Sarah (Shaw -- Manor co-owner and race engineer) have worked really well together to get the car just how he wants it.
"We made a few little changes for the second race and that seemed to give him even more pace. It's just brilliant for him. It was shame about the start but he'll get that sorted out and we fully expect him to be well on the pace at Croft. Just being up at the front has given Kris huge confidence and put a smile on his face which is what we want to see."
Shaw added: "It's been such an unfortunate weekend for Alexander, when you have one qualifying session you have to make it count and that wasn't something he was able to do after being collected by one of the BARC cars in qualifying. Without the collision in the first race I'm sure he would have finished well in the top 10 and set fastest lap which would also have helped Kris.
"The second race was just a real shame. When a driveshaft breaks that's it, there's nothing you can do. Alexander would undoubtedly have been right up there in the title race without those problems but that's motor racing unfortunately. We know he'll respond with some good performances at Croft though."
Rounds three and four of the Formula Renault UK Winter Championship will take place six days from now, Saturday, 10th November, at Croft in North Yorkshire. Qualifying is expected to get underway at 09.45 with round three scheduled to begin at 12.30 and round four timetabled to follow at 15.00. Testing will take place on Friday, 9th November.