Lincolnshire’s Mark Burdett Motorsport came tantalisingly close to ending the 2016 Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup season on the podium during the final event of the year at Hockenheim in Germany on Sunday, 2nd October, with Alex Gill only just missing out on deserved silverware.
Running in contention for the podium during the early stages of the last of the weekend’s three races, the British driver ultimately ended round 15 of the championship – which effectively finished under the Safety Car – a highly competitive fifth to wrap-up eighth in the driver standings.
Team-mate Finlay Hutchison concluded his first full season in single-seater car racing 23rd in the overall championship battle and with three more competitive race results under his belt, earning seventh in the Rookie class in rounds 13 and 15 and finishing eighth best Rookie in round 14.
“It’s such a shame not to have come away from Hockenheim with a podium”, said team principal Mark Burdett, “Alex proved he had the pace to do it and everything looked good during the first third of the final race. It wasn’t to be in the end, but it’s been a competitive season for the team and Alex has delivered some great performances.
“Finlay has learnt a huge amount in his first season and really has developed massively as the year has gone on. Formula Renault 2.0 NEC isn’t an easy championship for any driver, but for someone of Finlay’s limited experience it’s very tough indeed. He did a great job all year and it was important for him to end the season with three more good finishes under his belt.”
Gill qualified sixth fastest for the first of the weekend’s three races during a wet session on Saturday, 1st October, lapping less than 0.3 seconds shy of top three pace, while Hutchison posted the 18th fastest time – seventh quickest of the Rookies.
Conditions improved in time for the afternoon’s contest, round 13, and Gill made a good start from the third row to hold position and challenge for fifth at Turn Two. Banging wheels at the exit, after being edged slightly wide over the kerbs, he continued to battle over fifth on the drag to the hairpin.
As he braked into the tight right-hander, though, the front-right tyre popped off the wheel rim – a legacy of the contact at the previous turn – which resulted in the Briton running too deep and also sustaining further contact. Rejoining at the back of the pack, Gill pitted to enable the team to check over the car.
Hutchison, meanwhile, held his starting position of 18th place on the opening lap prior to the race falling under caution. As the field circulated behind the Safety Car, though, rain started to fall and officials took the decision to red flag proceedings and declare a wet race for the re-start.
Affording teams and drivers an opportunity to switch to wet-weather tyres, Hutchison did so ahead of the resumption which took place in worsening conditions with only five minutes of the allotted time left on the clock.
As the track became ever more wet, officials then declared a red flag stoppage once again, and a race result, with Hutchison taking 18th place and seventh in class. Gill did return to the grid for the second start, but his car was wheeled into the pitlane by the team before the resumption due to damage from the earlier incident and he sat out the remainder of the contest.
Round 14 on Sunday morning was largely a processional affair for Gill who, from sixth on the grid, remained in position for the entirety of the 16 lapper. Making a good start, he maintained his placing close behind the top five and after initially challenging Lando Norris he ran quite a lonely race for the most part to secure another strong clutch of points.
Hutchison, from 20th on the grid, gained one position on the opening lap and then climbed into 18th spot the next time around after a spin for Henrique Chaves. Although edged back a place on lap three, then slipping to 20th behind a resurgent Chaves on the eighth tour, the Scot was able to move back up into 18th during the closing stages, taking eighth in class, after issues for a couple of rivals.
Gill sensed a great opportunity to try and make a deserved visit to the podium in the final race on Sunday afternoon from fourth on the grid and he moved up into third on the first lap as Hutchison moved up a place from 18th.
Holding onto third place during the first five laps, Gill was then edged back to fourth and slipped to fifth at the halfway point where he remained to the chequered flag. The final few laps were spent behind the Safety Car, due to an excursion for Will Palmer, with the cars unleashed at the last corner of the final lap to take the chequered flag.
Hutchison did climb as high as 16th position overall on lap four but he was edged back to 17th again as the race reached mid-distance and ended the contest there to also post seventh place in the Rookie classification.
Mark Burdett Motorsport now heads into a very busy winter of testing for Formula Renault 2.0 NEC, beginning at Monza in Italy this week.
Final 2016 Formula Renault 2.0 NEC Driver Standings:
8th Alex Gill, 176pts; 23rd Finlay Hutchison, 37pts