HYLKEMA & IDAFAR SECURE MAIDEN PODIUMS DURING WINTER OPENER

Nottinghamshire-based Formula Renault UK team Manor Competition enjoyed a hugely successful start to its 2009 Winter Championship campaign at Snetterton Circuit on Saturday, 31st October, with Thomas Hylkema and Menasheh Idafar each securing their maiden category podiums.

Dutchman Hylkema visited the rostrum in both of the day's rain-affected encounters after bagging a brace of richly deserved third places off the back of two outstanding starts from lower than expected grid positions. Producing tremendous speed in each race, the 21-year-old aerospace student proved just what he is capable of in Formula Renault UK with two career-best performances.

"I'm extremely happy", said Hylkema, "The team has kept confidence in me all the time and they've pushed me to improve. I'm absolutely delighted to be on the podium and I want to thank Tony (Shaw) and Sarah (Shaw) for all their help, Manor is the best team in Formula Renault."

British-born Bahraini Idafar, racing with Manor Competition for the first time this weekend, was equally impressive. Qualifying fastest of the team's four drivers to seal a pair of front-row starts, the 18-year-old went on to finish a fighting fourth in round one and a best-ever second place in round two to take his first Formula Renault UK podium. In addition, he posted the fastest lap in race two.

Like much of his main championship bid this year, Surrey 19-year-old David McDonald had to endure some bad luck during the Winter Championship opener. Determined as ever though, he secured a fine sixth place in the first outing, along with the second best lap of 1m15.828 seconds, and pushed Hylkema hard for the final podium spot in round two -- finishing just 0.8 seconds adrift at the flag.

Car racing rookie Robert Foster-Jones, the reigning B4/Renault MSA KF1 British Karting Champion, took a brace of solid top 10 results on his competitive Formula Renault UK debut in conditions which couldn't, realistically, have been much trickier for a category newcomer. Posting a best finish of ninth in round two, the 19-year-old from Southend-on-Sea will surely be a future front-runner.

Following rounds one and two, Idafar is second in the championship on 52 points with Hylkema just a couple of points adrift in third place. McDonald is a further 10 points back in fifth position while Foster-Jones is 10th on 23 points.

Commenting on the season-opening event, team co-owner Sarah Shaw said: "It's been a very good day for us as a whole, all four drivers finished in the top 10 in both races and to have taken three podiums in total -- two with Thomas and another with Menasheh -- was great to see. We've been quick throughout testing so it's pleasing to confirm that pace in race conditions.

"David and Robert deserved more today, they both had some bad luck, but David proved his speed with the second fastest lap in round one and was within touching distance of the podium in race two. In dry testing on Friday, Robert was fifth behind David and Menasheh. Unfortunately the rain made his debut qualifying and races that much more difficult but he still did a very good job."

Manor proves championship credentials once more During officially timed pre-event testing on Friday, 30th October, Manor Competition's quartet were all among the quickest six drivers with McDonald leading the way with the third fastest time of 1m04.522 seconds (108.91mph) ahead of Idafar in fourth, Foster-Jones in fifth and Hylkema sixth.

Overnight rain and continued precipitation throughout Saturday morning resulted in extremely difficult conditions for qualifying but Idafar came through to set the second fastest time for both grids. McDonald was sixth fastest for the round one starting order but an improved fourth for round two while Hylkema was seventh and sixth and Foster-Jones 10th for both encounters.

Round one was abandoned a third of the way through the initial running following a couple of incidents, one under Safety Car conditions, and rescheduled for the end of the day. Having made a good start to the original race, Idafar didn't get away as well during the re-run and slipped to fifth on the opening lap before fighting back into fourth on the second tour at the Esses.

Hylkema rocketed away from sixth on the grid and was third by the time the cars reached the Bomb Hole on lap one. Remaining in the podium placing all the way to the flag, he was reeled-in by Idafar during the closing stages but maintained his position for a terrific rostrum.

McDonald was pushed back to eighth place early on but started to work his way back through just before half distance. Glued to the tail of Dino Zamparelli's car on lap 10, the Manor ace made his move to climb back into sixth and as he closed down Marlon Stockinger towards the finish he also posted the second fastest race lap -- less than 0.3 seconds shy of the best of all.

Rookie Foster-Jones battled hard with fellow ex-karter Joseph Reilly and emerged on top by taking 10th place. As the track dried towards the finish, the change in conditions meant yet another variable for the debutant to become accustomed to but he handled it well.

At the start of round two Idafar held second position nicely and although pole-sitter Harry Tincknell managed to breakaway early on, his advantage was reduced during the final five laps. Idafar showed excellent pace and on his way to a career-best finish he set the fastest lap of 1m15.946 seconds.

Hylkema earned his second ever Formula Renault UK podium with third place after another lightning getaway while team-mate McDonald did pressurise his fellow Manor racer towards the end while also doing a great job to keep Zamparelli at bay. Foster-Jones claimed his best result of the day in ninth, finishing well clear of the much more experienced Marlon Stockinger.

Manor Competition now travels to Rockingham International Super Sports Car Circuit near Corby in preparation for the decisive third and fourth rounds of the winter series at the Northamptonshire track next Saturday, 7th November. The team will be in test action on Thursday, 5th November, with the official pre-event session taking place on Friday, 6th November.

Provisional 2009 Michelin Formula Renault UK Winter Championship Standings: 2nd Menasheh Idafar, 52pts; 3rd Thomas Hylkema, 50pts; 5th David McDonald, 40pts; 10th Robert Foster-Jones, 23pts

-credit: manorcompetition.com