Ashington racer Stuart Middleton encountered his most challenging event of the 2016 Ginetta Junior Championship season at Snetterton 300 Circuit in Norfolk over the weekend when he had to settle for a best result of seventh in round 14 of the campaign.
Beginning the second half of the season on top of the championship standings, the 16-year-old hoped to try and put some daylight between himself and his chief rivals in the title battle, but after a difficult qualifying session – where he was eighth fastest – the Douglas Motorsport driver faced an uphill challenge.
Adding to the difficulties was an apparent top-end speed issue which meant any potential attacks on the straights, and defence come to that, were largely ineffective, Middleton believing he was vitally losing a couple of tenths of a second to his rivals in a head-to-head fight.
In round 13 on Saturday afternoon, Middleton was initially edged back to ninth place on the opening lap but tried his best to move back up the order and on the second tour he was able to climb back inside the top eight.
On the very next lap, though, he was shuffled back to tenth during some robust exchanges, but he again managed to regain some ground by taking ninth soon after, following a spin for Enzo Fittipaldi, and he almost took eighth on the line at the chequered flag on lap seven – missing out by a mere 0.005 seconds.
From ninth on the grid in round 14 on Sunday, which was screened live on ITV4, the Northumberland racer held station initially before climbing into the top eight through the infield section and then smartly moving up into seventh before the end of the lap.
Under pressure into lap two, he maintained his placing but hopes of working his way further up the order seemed unlikely with the top six some 1.5 seconds up the road.
Even so, Middleton soaked up the pressure from behind well and did begin to chip away at the group ahead as they battled.
At the chequered flag on lap seven he took seventh place, less than a second shy of sixth position, but departed Snetterton frustrated and disappointed to slip to second in the driver standings, having brilliantly reclaimed the championship lead prior to the summer break during the previous event.
“We couldn’t really identify what the problem was,” he said.
“I was losing out on the straights to the others, we didn’t really have the pace all weekend to be honest. I don’t know if there’s a problem we need to find, or if it’s just been one of those weekends – the team will have a look into it though before Knockhill.
“It was pretty much the same in both races but we just have to cope with it and move on.
“It could’ve been worse, we still got a few points on the board, and if we can take a couple of wins at Knockhill in two weeks all of a sudden we’ll be right back in it.”
Middleton will be back on track over the weekend of August 13 and 14, when Ginetta Junior makes its annual visit north of the border to Knockhill Circuit in Scotland where the category will enjoy its third ‘triple-header’ event of 2016.