CIRCUMSTANCE DEFIES MANOR DURING BRANDS SEASON OPENER Championship challenger Manor Competition saw its 2008 Formula Renault UK season get off to a lukewarm start at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit over the weekend, 29th/30th March, but the team...
CIRCUMSTANCE DEFIES MANOR DURING BRANDS SEASON OPENER
Championship challenger Manor Competition saw its 2008 Formula Renault UK season get off to a lukewarm start at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit over the weekend, 29th/30th March, but the team battled strongly in the face of a number of unfortunate problems.
Having seen Alexander Sims scorch to a terrific pole position during round one qualifying on Saturday, his lap a time of 46.666 seconds (96.60mph) in drying conditions, the New Ollerton squad was confident of fighting hard for victory in the first of the year's races.
However, the rare problem of a broken neutral cable on the formation lap ensured Sims would have to sit on his brakes on the grid to prevent a jump-start, totally ruining his chances of beginning his year in winning style. Nonetheless, the 20-year-old mounted a superb fightback.
Slipping to 14th position at the start, Sims scythed his way through into the top nine before the finish with some excellent passing moves on a circuit which is renowned for being near impossible to overtake on in a Formula Renault UK single-seater.
For fellow team-mates Kris Loane and Henry Surtees, the race was one of contrasting fortunes. Northern Irishman Loane raced well to a top five finish as the highest placed Manor driver, having risen from seventh on the grid, and early on he was tailed by Surtees who climbed from ninth position with a great start to shadow his team-mate.
As the race progressed, Loane just managed to hold on to a deserved top five by a mere nine 1,000ths of a second at the chequered flag -- during the closing stages he definitely looked to be struggling for grip but he was the quickest of the Manor drivers.
After a strong early run, Surtees fell away from mid-distance and came home in 15th position. All three drivers, however, were victims of circumstance due to the damp track drying up quicker than expected and their cars being set-up to favour wetter conditions.
Round two looked to be an even trickier prospect for Manor after the second qualifying session was affected by rain midway through. With all three drivers yet to produce their ultimate pace at that point, the skies opened and resulted in a swift conclusion to qualifying with no-one able to improve times.
With Sims lining up sixth on the grid, Surtees and Loane faced a greater challenge in 11th and 13th positions respectively. At the start, Sims leapt into the top five immediately while Surtees remained ahead of Loane.
Following a Safety Car period which began on lap seven, the race re-started on lap 10 and saw Sims mount a strong challenge on fourth-placed Jordan Oakes. Five laps later, at Clearways, Sims finally found a way past and seized fourth place where he would remain to the chequered flag.
Surtees and Loane finished line astern in the end in 12th and 13th positions respectively and although both drivers were disappointed, the race proved yet again how it is almost impossible to overtake on the short Indy Circuit when all of the drivers are so evenly matched on lap times.
While Sims lapped with a personal best time of 44.791 seconds up near the front, Loane actually produced a quicker race lap of 44.727 seconds yet he was stuck down in the midfield. Once more, the race underlined the importance of qualifying strongly at Brands Hatch Indy and how the weather on Saturday had a major bearing on the outcome.
Commenting on the weekend, Manor Competition team owner Tony Shaw said: "After Alexander's neutral cable came away on the green flag lap his race was effectively over but he raced brilliantly to fight back. It was all about damage limitation and to rescue a ninth place was good, added to the fourth in race two.
"Kris did a great job to hold on to fifth place in the first race and he was actually our quickest driver in both races but his grid positions meant he couldn't convert that pace into a top result which he deserved. It was a shame Henry drifted back in race one but in the second he lapped well and there was little else he could do to gain ground."
Shaw added: "Basically, the weather worked against us. In race one, we had the cars set-up more for wet conditions, I don't think anyone thought the track would dry as quickly as it did. Had Alexander not had the cable problem he would have been in the box seat without doubt.
"We're not making any excuses though. Our aim was to leave Brands with multiple podium finishes and had circumstances been a little different, we certainly had the pace to achieve much better results with all three drivers."
Rounds three and four of the Formula Renault UK season will be held at Rockingham International Super Sports Car Circuit on 12th/13th April. Before then, the team will take part in official championship testing at Oulton Park Island Circuit in Cheshire tomorrow, Tuesday, 1st April, and then at Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire on Monday, 7th April.