Northumberland racer Stuart Middleton made a welcome and richly deserved return to the top step of the Ginetta Junior Championship podium at Rockingham in Northamptonshire at the weekend.
He secured his sixth victory of the 2016 season in a rain affected round 18 of the campaign.
From fourth on the grid in the first of the event’s three contests, the Ashington 16-year-old served up an outstanding performance, and after moving into the lead on lap two, he controlled the action at the front despite immense pressure and the arrival of heavy rain during the final couple of laps.
Going on to add his 12th podium of the season with second place in round 19 on Sunday morning, the Douglas Motorsport driver’s hopes of a rostrum hat-trick went awry on the first lap of the third and final race after an unfortunate excursion into the tyre barrier.
Recovering well, he managed to battle through from the back of the field into the top ten with some sensational driving along the way – not least a final lap move at Tarzan Hairpin where he passed four cars in one remarkable move around the outside.
“That was a good move at the end in the last race, I had to give it a go”, he said.
“There wasn’t much I could do about the first lap though, I tried a bit of a late lunge around the outside, but my front brakes locked straight away and there wasn’t anything I could do after that. It was a bit of a heavy impact with the tyre stack and we definitely lost some performance from the car after that.
“Winning the first race on Saturday was obviously good, but it’s been a bit of a mixed weekend really.
“We seem to go one step forward and then three back, we just don’t seem to have the luck at all.
“Little mistakes here and there are really costing us, we just need to try and stay consistent at Silverstone and Brands and see what happens there.”
Middleton had to settle for fourth on the grid for race one of the weekend, round 18, and despite a good start from the second row he was held out wide at turn one and slipped to fifth place as the field motored towards Deene Hairpin.
Remaining on the outside line into the tight left-hander, the 16-year-old braked later than his rivals and served up a sensational, and bold, pass to go from fifth into the corner to second on the exit.
Fending off any challenges into Yentwood, Middleton then set his sights on getting into the lead of the race and he did just that on lap two with another great move at Deene, this time on the inside line to get ahead of Lewis Brown.
Although never having more than a few tenths of a second in hand, Middleton didn’t put a wheel wrong under huge pressure from championship leader William Tregurtha, but with a couple of laps to go the task got harder as rain started to fall.
As the first driver to gauge grip levels and braking zones, Middleton did a fantastic job to maintain the lead and took the flag at the end of lap eight, 0.2 seconds clear to return to winning ways for the first time since the Croft race meeting in late June.
“I chose to go all out in that race”, he acknowledged. “Conditions were very, very different at the end when the rain came down – it was like driving on ice really, so I had to be a bit cautious, but great to win again.”
As a result of torrential rain later on Saturday afternoon, and more notably increasingly dark skies, round 19 was rescheduled to Sunday morning.
From pole position, Middleton managed to maintain the lead despite significant pressure, but on lap two at Deene, as he defended from the attacking Brown, Tregurtha nipped up the inside of both cars to steal the lead away.
Elbowed back to second place, Middleton stayed close behind the leader for a couple of laps before having to focus more and more on the challenge from behind.
Fending off Seb Perez, the north east racer did a superb job of repelling his challenges and maintained position to the flag on lap eight.
For round 20, Middleton started fifth on the grid but was edged to sixth as the cars exited turn one of the oval banking.
Under braking for Deene, he went for a bold move around the outside but his front wheels locked which resulted in his Ginetta G40 running straight on and into the tyre barrier.
Despite the contact he was able to continue, albeit at the tail of the field a country mile down on the pack ahead, but Middleton mounted a spirited recovery to salvage crucial points.
Into the top 15 as the race entered its seventh and penultimate lap, Middleton grabbed 14th position soon after and then served up one of the overtaking manoeuvres of the weekend at Tarzan Hairpin on the last lap.
As a train of cars bunched up on the inside line under braking, Middleton seized his opportunity to run around the outside of no less than four cars to leap into the top ten with a very well judged, and well worked, move.
Silverstone on the opposite side of Northamptonshire is the next destination for the Ginetta Junior Championship over the weekend of September 17 and 18.
After round 20, Middleton is currently second in the standings on 488 points.