Podium double as Middleton secures Ginetta vice-champion title
Ginetta Junior Championship racer Stuart Middleton sealed the vice-champion's crown in impressive style during the final event of a dramatic season at Brands Hatch on Sunday.
The Ashington racer secured a podium double and his seventh win of the year.
Becoming the winningest driver of the 2016 campaign in the process, the teenager ended the championship with a total tally of 14 podiums from 25 races and with points finishes in all but one encounter.
“We’ve shown this weekend we were more than capable of winning this championship but, of course, not everything goes your way at times and that’s the way it’s been for us this season,” said Middleton.
“We’ve had some unfortunate moments, but some really good highs as well. To win one race and finish on the podium in the other this weekend is a fantastic way to end the year.
“I can’t thank the Douglas Motorsport guys enough for all they’ve done this season, they’ve given 100% all year.
“I have to say a huge thank you to my family as well for their support and for giving me the opportunity to race in the first place – it wouldn’t be possible without them.”
Middleton qualified seventh fastest for the first of the weekend’s two Ginetta Junior races, but round 24 on Saturday afternoon was curtailed soon after it started as a result of a heavy excursion for pole position starter Dave Wooder.
Initially red flagged midway through the opening lap, any prospect of a re-start to the rain-affected contest was soon dashed when officials opted to instead move the race to the beginning of Sunday’s track schedule.
Starting the rescheduled race from sixth position, Middleton made a great launch from the line to move into fifth and then grabbed fourth at the exit of Paddock Hill Bend before swiftly taking third soon after – a sensational beginning to the penultimate race of the year.
Edged back to fourth prior to the appearance of the Safety Car for the start of lap two, when racing resumed the next time around the Douglas Motorsport driver pressured rival Harry King and then grabbed third place back at Westfield before slicing into second at Stirlings.
Pulling away from the challengers behind, and closing on race leader Lewis Brown, Middleton reeled off a series of fastest laps – including the best of the race on lap six, a time of 1m 47.686 seconds – to close onto the rear bumper of Brown’s car.
Swarming all over the leader, Middleton looked every which way to try and make the breakthrough and boldly tried to seize his chance on the outside through Clark Curve on the last lap. Keeping his foot planted on the accelerator, Middleton ran door handle-to-door handle and managed to pip Brown for a memorable, and richly deserved, win by a mere 0.062 seconds in a near photo finish.
Lining-up on pole position for round 25 later in the day, he converted the grid-topping start into the race lead and stayed at the front during the early running. After a brief Safety Car period on lap four, the action re-started the next time around and Middleton lost first place momentarily after running wide onto the grass on the Grand Prix loop.
Although hitting back instantly, a loss of momentum at the end of the lap compromised the North East racer into the fifth tour and he was shuffled back to second and then third in quick succession. With nothing to split the lead trio, Middleton pressured heavily and into the eighth and final lap he looked to the outside into Paddock Hill Bend but was edged back to fourth on the exit.
Determined to get his hands on one last 2016 trophy, the Douglas Motorsport driver tried everything in the book to break back into the top three and a late dive at Dingle Dell achieved his aim – although the momentum carried him out wide onto the grass. Recovering to the track without drama, Middleton was able to cling onto the last podium spot by a couple of tenths of a second.