Middleton takes season podium tally into double figures
Title challenging Ginetta Junior Championship racer Stuart Middleton retained second place in the driver standings at Knockhill Circuit in Fife over the weekend.
After three robust encounters the Ashington teenager took his season podium tally into double figures.
Beginning the event with his tenth podium of the year in round 15 on Saturday, the 16-year-old’s Douglas Motorsport car was then bashed from pillar to post in the subsequent pair of contests but he still retrieved ninth place in round 16, a race he led early on, and a battling fourth in round 17.
With eight races still to go in the 2016 season, Middleton comfortably holds second place in the championship and is 36 points shy of the series lead ahead of the next ‘triple header’ race meeting at Rockingham in Northamptonshire on August 27 and 28.
“Chaotic just about sums the race weekend up”, the Northumberland racer reflected.
“It was very difficult to try and push through with some of the driving out there, we definitely had the pace, we were quick enough, but the standards were some of the lowest I’ve seen, to be honest.
“I did what I could, though, and at least we had the podium in race one and got back to fourth in the last race.
“We seem to be having a bit of bad luck lately, we just need to come back strong for the next meeting and get some wins again.
“If we’re to stay in the championship fight we need to start making our pace count again.
“I very much enjoy Rockingham, I like the flow of the track with the technical parts and others where you’re on the edge.
“We did well there last year, so I’m looking forward to it.”
The build-up to the Knockhill weekend began earlier than usual on the Wednesday with a designated test day for the Ginetta championships, and Middleton was in outstanding form in both dry and wet conditions.
Beginning the day fastest in session one, he topped the timesheets in four of the day’s five track periods – lapping almost a second quicker than anyone in the wet fourth session.
Back on track for the official pre-event tests on Friday, Middleton was again the man to beat by ending the day fastest of all thanks to his best time in the afternoon run, having been second quickest in the morning.
Fast forward to qualifying on Saturday, he only just missed out on pole position for round 15 by a mere 0.1 seconds, which translated to third on the grid.
Holding station off the start, the erstwhile series leader swarmed all over the back of the car of Seb Priaulx who defended his position heavily.
Searching for a way past his rival, Middleton managed to make the breakthrough at the end of lap three to squeeze past into second place, but after running side-by-side over the line into the fourth tour, Priaulx was able to nose back ahead into the first corner.
Determined to get by once again, with Priaulx’s defence enabling the race leader to disappear, Middleton delivered the fastest lap pace and managed to reclaim second on lap seven.
Staying there to the finish, he also set the quickest lap of all with a time of 1m02.038 seconds.
Beginning round 16 from the front row, Middleton held second place off the start but was edged back to third mid-lap.
With the podium contenders all glued together, at the end of the second tour he produced a simply sensational move around the outside at the hairpin to surge into the lead on the run up the hill into lap three – although was edged back to second into Duffus Dip by Seb Perez.
Set to re-challenge for the lead on lap four, the title contender was then unceremoniously pushed off the track and, as a result, dropped to seventh place.
Around the same time, officials also hit Middleton and Perez with drive-through penalties for track limits indiscretions.
Climbing into fourth place before serving his penalty at the end of lap seven, Middleton eventually ended the contest in 11th position on the road. Post-race, though, he was elevated into ninth due to false start penalties for a couple of key rivals.
Lining-up ninth on the grid for round 17 on Sunday afternoon, the race was an incredibly robust and hard-fought affair, but Middleton managed to battle through a series of incidents to post a deserved top four finish.
Moving up into eighth place on lap one, the teenager’s Ginetta was assaulted on more than one occasion – leading to a broken and dislodged rear bumper.
Despite being edged back a place on lap two, Middleton fought back into eighth again the next time around and then started to punch in a series of fastest lap times as he closed on the cars ahead.
By the start of lap five he was into the top six and then claimed fifth on the eighth tour, before more drama occurred on lap nine. Glued to the rear of Tom Wood’s car through the chicane, as Wood got out of shape on the exit Middleton had nowhere to go and the resulting contact sent the Douglas car off the track onto the grass on the outside.
After a wild ride across the bumpy ground, Middleton was able to rejoin the track in sixth place but took fifth on lap ten and then moved into fourth at the start of lap 11 after a tight battle with Dave Wooder.
Maintaining the place to the finish a lap later, Middleton again set the fastest lap of the race with a time of 1m01.472 seconds.