British duo Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha, erstwhile points leaders of the GT4 European Series, head into the category finale a fortnight from now provisionally just two points shy of the top of the championship after a challenging visit to Hungary over the weekend, 1st/2nd September.
Rounds nine and 10 of the season at the Hungaroring proved to be the most frustrating races of the year for the HHC Motorsport pairing, despite excellent pace in qualifying on their maiden visit to the track. Contact in the opening encounter resulted in their first non-finish of 2018 and wet weather in the second contest limited the points scoring potential of the duo.
As a result, Ashington-based racer Middleton and Milton Keynes driver Tregurtha – the reigning British GT4 Champions – witnessed an 18 point championship lead evaporate. However, the Ginetta Driver Development Programme racers still go into the last two races of the year at the Nurburgring in Germany within touching distance of the top of the standings.
“The weekend wasn’t the worst it could have been, it was tough for us but we’re all happy with how we performed in the circumstances. We were really lacking in a straight line compared to the others, especially the BMWs, and where we could try and make our strengths count we’d be blocked off and then they’d pull away on the straights. We’re determined to come back strong for Nurburgring, it’s all to play for and we’re well up for the challenge.”
“We knew it could be tricky this weekend with the weather as it was, unfortunately things just didn’t go to plan. In race one a BMW gave us a whack when we were battling side-by-side, which broke the rear suspension, so our race was over early. In race two it was tough going but when we swapped to slicks at the pit stop, we were fast when the track dried. I think we’re only a couple of points behind in the championship, so it could have been worse, and now we’re excited for the final round.”
Title hopes still alive for GT4 European Series duo and HHC
As expected in the dry, the HHC entry was rapid from the outset at the Hungaroring in practice and during the all-important qualifying sessions the BRDC Rising Stars were quick – Tregurtha securing third on the grid for race one with a time of 1m54.054 seconds and Middleton grabbing a front row start for race two with a near identical time of 1m54.034 seconds, which placed him second.
Saturday’s 60-minute encounter, though, proved to be the most frustrating race of the season so far for the reigning British GT4 Champions with their involvement lasting little more than a quarter of an hour after contact from the BMW M4 GT4 of Pavel Lefterov.
Tregurtha took the opening stint but a sluggish getaway resulted in the No.55 Ginetta G55 slipping down to 13th position by the time the field headed through the first corner. Striving to hit back as quickly as possible, the Enlighten and Spine Optics backed racer regained a couple of places at Turn Two and although shuffled back to 12th on the second lap, he moved back into 11th on lap four.
That position gain came by way of a collision between the very late braking McLaren of Nico Rindlisbacher, which shot past Tregurtha into the first corner braking zone and smashed into the Porsche of Dominik Schraml. Unsurprisingly, the incident triggered the deployment of the Safety Car.
Racing resumed on lap eight with around 15 minutes elapsed but just after the re-start, contact from Lefterov’s BMW ultimately forced retirement for the HHC Ginetta – Lefterov was deemed at fault and was duly given a drive-through penalty. Importantly too, Middleton and Tregurtha headed into Sunday’s action still leading the standings, albeit by a significantly reduced two points.
Overnight rain meant a wet track awaited the GT4 competitors on Sunday morning for round 10, which Middleton started in the No.55 Ginetta. Making a terrific launch at the rolling start, slicing through into the lead at Turn One in between two rivals, the North East Caravans, Steel & Jelly and Spine Optics backed driver judged the grip levels perfectly.
Thereafter, though, he started to come under pressure from the lighter KTM of Mads Siljehaug which grabbed the lead midway through lap three. With the wet conditions proving far from ideal, Middleton battled as hard as he could but did slip to 10th position by lap 10.
Remaining there until pitting at mid-distance as the track started to dry, in addition to the driver change the team also switched to slick tyres – the latter incurring an extra 35 seconds of stationary time in the pits.
When the race order settled Tregurtha held 15th place overall but, with around 20 minutes to go, more rain arrived. Even so, the Milton Keynes racer was able to make good progress and he climbed into the top 12, ninth in the Silver Cup, before the Safety Car was deployed after a Mercedes made contact with the pit-wall following a spin out of the last corner.
Remaining on track into the closing minutes, with the allotted race time almost expired as the recovery process continued, the Safety Car led the field until officials chose to red flag the race fractionally early – Tregurtha and Middleton securing vital points in the title battle. Post-race, they were then elevated into the top 10, eighth in Silver, as a result of penalties for a couple of rivals.
Rounds 11 and 12 of the GT4 European Series, the finale to the 2018 season, will take place just a fortnight from now over the weekend 15th/16th September at the Nurburgring in Germany.
Provisional 2018 GT4 European Series ‘Silver Cup’ Driver Standings:
2nd Stuart Middleton & Will Tregurtha, 131pts
Source. Marc Orme/ Photo GT4 Europen Series