Talented British youngster Alex Gill took away a best finish of seventh place from a tough Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup outing at the Nurburgring in Germany over the weekend, 17th/18th September, to still keep his chances of a top five championship finish alive.
During the penultimate event of the 2016 season, Gill produced excellent pace in the first race on Saturday and managed to improve on his top eight starting slot but spent the majority of the contest frustratingly bottled up just behind the top six.
In race two on Sunday morning, which was delayed due to very thick fog, the Doncaster driver had to battle from the back after being tagged and pitched into a spin at the first corner on lap one. He eventually finished in the top 15 after an impressive recovery.
Team-mate Finlay Hutchison missed out on the points-paying top 20 in the opening encounter as a result of an unfortunate pit stop on lap one to obtain a replacement nose cone following early contact. In the second contest, though, the Scottish teenager secured his ninth outright points score from 12 races with a top 20 finish and eighth in the Rookie class.
“It could have been a better weekend for us, unfortunately the lap times just didn’t hook-up in qualifying and that left a lot of work to do in the races – we had top four pace in testing”, said team principal Mark Burdett, “Alex did a good job in Saturday’s race and was just unlucky at the start of race two, he’d made a good start but was taken out at the first corner – nothing he could do.
“We were pleased to see Finlay finish the second race without any dramas and get another point on the board, race one was unfortunate with the pit-stop and that meant it was really a test session for him in the end. Now we’re looking to end the season strongly at Hockenheim in a couple of weeks.”
Gill made an excellent start to the opening contest on Saturday morning, round 11, and immediately moved up into seventh from eighth on the grid. Put onto the outside line into Turn Two, though, the British driver was edged back to eighth behind two battling Tech 1 Racing cars.
Instantly applying pressure to Hugo de Sadeleer, racing then fell under Safety Car conditions at the start of lap two with the action resuming two laps later. Gill duly moved back into seventh place on the first lap after the re-start, getting ahead of de Sadeleer, and the Mark Burdett driver then spent the remainder of the 13 lap race bottled up just outside the top six.
Frustratingly for Hutchison, his hopes went awry on the first lap as a result of contact and the pit visit for a new nose cone and front wing assembly. Thanks to swift work by the team, he was able to rejoin the race without losing too much time but at the re-start after the Safety Car he was still 25 seconds shy of the pack.
Forced to utilise the rest of the encounter largely as a test session, Hutchison – who had started in 22nd position on the grid originally – went on to finish in 21st overall and eighth in the Rookie class, closing to within less than three seconds of the next target car at the chequered flag.
Thick fog delayed track proceedings on Sunday morning, with the headline Blancpain Endurance Cup qualifying session postponed for almost an hour and a half before it could begin. At the end of that session, though, low hanging fog returned at the top of the circuit and the visibility was far too poor to enable single-seater cars to race.
Organisers attempted to get round 12 underway 40 minutes after its allotted time, but after the sighting lap a further five minute delay was called. When the action did finally get underway, with conditions still very challenging, Gill – who started a lower than expected 15th on the grid – was tipped into a spin at the first corner, dropping him to stone last in 23rd place.
Following an early Safety Car period, racing resumed on lap three and Gill made stunning progress to scythe his way through into 16th with some terrific driving. No sooner had the action resumed, though, the Safety Car was required again due to a multi-car incident. At the second resumption, he held 16th initially before breaking into the top 15 on the next tour where he stayed to the flag.
Hutchison started the shortened race in 21st overall and moved into the top 20 prior to the first of the two Safety Car periods. Moving up two more places as a result of the incident which triggered the reappearance of the Safety Car, he held 18th and seventh in the Rookie class. Despite being nudged back to 20th in the overall order before the finish he maintained eighth in class to the flag.
The grand finale of the 2016 Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup season, an eagerly awaited triple-header race meeting, will take place at Hockenheim in Germany over the weekend 1st/2nd October.
2016 Formula Renault 2.0 NEC Driver Standings (after Rd12):
7th Alex Gill, 145pts; 22nd Finlay Hutchison, 27pts
2016 Formula Renault 2.0 NEC Team Standings (after Rd12):
5th Mark Burdett Motorsport, 147pts