Ginetta Driver Development Programme racers Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha moved back to the top of the GT4 European Series championship standings in Italy over the weekend, 23rd/24th June, after yet another successful outing in the prestigious endurance racing category.
Racing to their fourth podium finish of 2018 during the opening 60-minute encounter on Saturday with a second place result, from seventh on the grid, the 18-year-old HHC Motorsport pairing were on course to add another runner-up spot to their tally in Sunday’s race.
On the penultimate lap, though, Middleton mistakenly caught the pit-lane speed limiter button on the steering wheel as he rounded the double-right hander at Turns Five and Six on the penultimate lap, dropping him to fifth place.
Even so, the important points haul for fifth position enabled Ashington driver Middleton and Milton Keynes team-mate Tregurtha to open an advantage of 13 points at the top of the driver standings at World Circuit Marco Simoncelli as the season reaches the halfway point for the BRDC Rising Stars.
“It was pretty disappointing to lose P2 right at the end in the second race, I just caught the limiter by mistake with the edge of my hand which was really unfortunate, but on the whole it’s been a really good weekend for us – I’m delighted to jump back to the top of the championship.
“To be fair our car has struggled a bit this weekend compared to some of the others, but the team did a great job and they did two fantastic pit-stops in the races. If someone had said after qualifying we’d be leading the championship by 13 points we’d have taken that. We can’t complain with P2 and P5 from the weekend.”
“It was a difficult weekend, we hadn’t driven the track in the dry before qualifying and I had loads of issues in my qualy session with traffic. Race one, though, went really well and we were bang on with the pit-stop and in race two Stuart was just unlucky with the limiter.
“We were a long way off the straight-line pace of some cars, so it was tricky to keep people behind on the straights, but we’re still happy. We go to Spa next which is a track we know and where we did well last year in British GT. We’re in a good position going there.”
Middleton, who is backed by North East Caravans, Steel & Jelly and Spine Optics, took the first stint of race one on Saturday afternoon, having qualified the No.55 HHC Ginetta seventh fastest – third in the Silver Cup battle.
The opening lap proved less than straightforward with a very busy first few corners resulting in Middleton being edged back to 13th position, but it wasn’t long before the Northumberland racer began to make progress.
As the first quarter of an hour neared its conclusion, Middleton had broken into the top 10 and he remained there when the Safety Car made the first of two appearances. Racing resumed with around 35 minutes left on the clock and Middleton picked off several cars to climb into seventh.
Then moving into the top six before pitting to hand over to Enlighten and Spine Optics sponsored racer Tregurtha with 25 minutes remaining, an impressive stop from HHC enabled the Milton Keynes driver to run in an elevated fourth place when the race order settled.
Following a second Safety Car period, which did have a hand in the eventual outcome of the race, Tregurtha maintained fourth overall and circulated close behind the third placed BMW. Then, with just a few laps to go, Milan Dontje spun out from the lead which enabled Tregurtha to take third.
More drama then followed on the final lap when the new race leader, the No.10 McLaren, was handed a 40 second penalty linked to a Safety Car infringement and so the HHC Ginetta was credited with second place, second in the Silver Cup and a very healthy haul of championship points, just 1.4 seconds shy of the newly victorious BMW.
For Sunday’s 60-minute contest Tregurtha took the opening stint, having qualified seventh fastest to mirror the performance of team-mate Middleton, and although shuffled back to ninth on the first lap he climbed back into eighth position and ran close behind the next group.
Taking seventh on lap four, Tregurtha began to pick up his pace impressively and on the sixth tour he set the fastest lap to notify his intent. Right on the tail of the lead six cars, he looked to try and make inroads as the trio immediately ahead battled but he wasn’t quite able to find the gap he needed.
Remaining seventh to the driver change pit-stop at the end of lap 16, Tregurtha pitted before their chief rivals and, with a great turnaround by the team, Middleton headed into the race and held an elevated third place when all stops had been served.
With around 20 minutes to go, Middleton was comfortably clear of the chasing BMW and he also closed on the second placed Audi which he caught into the final quarter of an hour and then passed, with ease, on lap 25 at Turn Four. With another podium within reach, the unfortunate error with the pit limiter meant a loss of time and therefore the eventual finish of fifth place.
Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium will be the venue for the fourth event of the GT4 European Series season a month from now, over the weekend 21st/22nd July.
2018 GT4 European Series ‘Silver Cup’ Driver Standings:
1st Stuart Middleton & Will Tregurtha, 97pts
Source.Marc Orme/Photo. GT4 European Series