LE CASTELLET, FRANCE, August 30, 2016 (Newswire.com) - Raoul Owens delivered one of his most competitive drives of the 2016 Renault Sport Trophy (RS01) this weekend, finishing P5 in the Sprint Race at Circuit Paul Ricard on the French Riviera, while a gearbox failure snatched a podium finish on the final lap of the Endurance Race.
After a lengthy summer break in which R-ace GP’s RS01 cars have undergone mechanical surgery to rectify engine and gearbox issues, Raoul arrived at Paul Ricard with news that he would be paired with Fredrik Blomstedt for the 70min Endurance Race on Saturday. Blomstedt being one of the fastest drivers in the Amateur category of the RS01 championship was a positive morale boost for Raoul who knew this pairing would enable the duo to fight for a podium finish.
On Friday, Raoul would not take part in the first practice session of the weekend due to a technical issue with the throttle of the #2 car. However, the 21 year old made the most of his afternoon session by setting a Top 5 time on new tyres around Paul Ricard – a circuit previously unventured by the Briton. Making light of this challenge, Raoul put in a good qualifying performance on Saturday morning.
“I thought qualifying was alright – we probably could have done a bit more with the car and my lap” said Raoul post-session, but a P5 grid slot was certainly commendable and his second best quali performance of the season. 40 degree track temperature meant that the tyres were coming into peak after just one rotation of the French circuit, therefore all competitors had to perform quickly over the space of just two or three laps in order to set a competitive lap time.
On Saturday afternoon, the weekend’s Endurance Race began with Blomstedt at the wheel of the #2 R-ace GP car from P3 on the grid. The Swede made a slow getaway during the rolling start of the race, dropping a few places on the opening lap. However, Blomstedt’s pace returned as he settled into the race and he quickly caught up to the two leading cars of Team Marc VDS. As Blomstedt began to close in on Fran Rueda, the leading car of Fabian Schiller experienced a puncture on the main straight, which ultimately ended his race for the day and promoted Blomstedt to P2.
As the race neared the half distance mark, Blomstedt closed his gap to Fran Rueda, who was running with a 50kg ballast surplus to the #2 R-ace GP car. Once the pit stop window opened, the leaders stayed out longer than the rest of the pack and Rueda pitted one lap before Blomstedt. The late pit stop by R-ace GP resulted in a +3s loss of calculable track time between the pit exit of Tanart Sathienthirakul on Lap 17 and Raoul on Lap 18.
With Raoul piloting the #2 car, he reeled in the gap to the Thai driver of Team Marc VDS by several tenths per lap until he was tailing the rear wing of Sathienthirakul in a thrilling battle for P1. However, unbeknown to Raoul, a gearbox issue was festering within the #2 car and with just 10 laps to go, Raoul’s pace began to drop off from the lead car.
“I was having a gearbox issue and the car was not downshifting, which led to lost time” commented Raoul post-race. “The problem stopped temporarily, but returned on the last lap when the gearbox seized up.” The mechanical failure ended Raoul’s race at the most bitter moment for a racing driver. Raoul concluded “it was almost a guaranteed podium” and one which should have even been a race win according to Raoul’s manager.
After experiencing the sometimes punishing outcomes of professional sport on Saturday, R-ace GP worked tirelessly to repair Raoul’s #2 car in time for Sunday’s Sprint Race. Starting on the clean side of the grid, Raoul made a great start looking for an inside move into Turn 1. Unfortunately, his line was boxed in by teammate Kevin Korjus and Raoul lost a position to Bruno Bonifacio who took a wider unhindered line around the outside. At the following corner, two cars in the midfield tangled, but Raoul was already out of harm’s way and making progress chasing Bonifacio.
As luck would have it, Sunday's gearbox failure victim was Korjus in the #3 car who retired from the race at the end of Lap 3. This promoted Raoul back to P5 as the Briton closed the gap to the Brazilian driver of the Oregon Team at a rate of three tenths per lap.
“As soon as I got close to Bruno, I then had understeer” said Raoul – a typical consequence when driving closely tucked up behind another RS01 car. Unable to force an error out of Bonifacio, Raoul finished the race in P5, adding “I was happy to get some points after the nightmare of the last couple of rounds.”
Sunday marked Raoul’s best Sprint Race result of the RS01 Pro category this season. There was a noticeable improvement in Raoul’s pace from Imola and Red Bull Ring where an under-performing engine made competition next to impossible. Therefore, while some events of this weekend were bittersweet for Raoul, there is certainly room for race wins in the final two rounds of the RS01 season at Spa-Francorchamps on 24-25 September and Estoril on 22-23 October.