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13 May 2013

Matt Rao No 10 in action at Snetterton

Hillspeed’s Jake Cook and Matt Rao secured their maiden Protyre Formula Renault podium finishes at Snetterton 200 Circuit over the weekend, 11th/12th May, elevating the team-mates into second and seventh in the driver standings respectively.

By claiming a hat-trick of podiums in the three races at the Norfolk track, all the more impressive coming from lower than anticipated grid positions, Cook has rocketed into the runner-up position in the championship, 12 points clear of his closest rival, having been seventh prior to the event.

Rao, meanwhile, saved the best until last at Snetterton on Sunday afternoon with a remarkable drive on a very slippery surface in round five to slice his way through from 17th place on the grid into the top three – easily one of the best performances of the youngster’s single-seater career.

Added to an outstanding second place for Cook in the final encounter, round five was the undoubted highlight of the season so far for Hillspeed and, with 11 Protyre Formula Renault races still to go this year, the Hathersage team has increasingly realistic hopes of reclaiming the title it won in 2010.

“Second and third from eighth and 17th on the grid in race three was incredible – it’s been a mega weekend”, said elated team principal Richard Ollerenshaw, “Everyone has worked really hard, all the guys in the team have put in some long hours recently to make sure we could come to Snetterton and have some strong results.

“Matt is a very clean and tidy driver, he always races with his head and, on that basis, came through fantastically well in race three. He’s thoroughly deserved his podium this weekend and hopefully that will be a big turning point in his season. What can you say about Jake’s performances – three podiums from three races, up to second in the championship – absolutely exceptional weekend.”

Although Rotherham racer Cook was disappointed with the eighth fastest time in qualifying for Saturday’s rain-hit third round of the season, he made an outstanding start and climbed into fourth on the opening lap before moving into third on lap three. Following a Safety Car period on lap six, Cook remained in third place before taking second at the Esses on lap 11 to cap a superb drive.

Oxford’s Rao battled through from the last row of the grid after a troublesome qualifying run to smartly fight his way into 14th place. Bottled up behind Hong Kong’s Wei Fung Thong during the closing stages, just 0.2 seconds split the pair at the chequered flag.

In Sunday morning’s dry fourth round, Cook – starting seventh on the grid – again launched well from the line and quickly steered his way into the top five before reeling off a series of early fastest laps. Taking fourth position on lap three, the Hillspeed driver closed in on third placed Ivan Taranov and his relentless pressure paid off on lap nine when Taranov had a spin at the Bomb Hole.

For Rao, round four wasn’t as fruitful unfortunately when contact on lap eight, while running at the cusp of the top 10, resulted in a broken rear wing. Following a pit stop to remove the remainder of the damage from his car, he rejoined to secure some important championship points in 17th position.

Just prior to the start of round five, spots of rain returned to Snetterton but the precipitation wasn’t enough to require a change to treaded Michelin tyres. With all competitors beginning the race on slicks, Cook made a clean getaway from eighth on the grid – avoiding the stalled pole position car of Weiron Tan – and was sixth into lap two.

As the rain got slightly heavier, Cook revelled in the conditions and was up into fourth on lap five before taking third on the next tour. With several drivers coming to grief, officials deployed the Safety Car on two occasions leaving a two lap sprint at the end. Cook held third to the finish but was elevated into second post-race following the exclusion of race winner Taranov.

Facing another mountain to climb from 17th on the grid, Rao produced a stunning performance and by the start of lap three he had brilliantly sliced his way through to 13th position. Maintaining great composure as the track got more and more slippery, Rao’s smooth style sensationally enabled him to rise into the top six prior to the first of the Safety Car periods.

Into the top four following the re-start, he held his position following the second cautionary period and pressured team-mate Cook all the way to the flag. With Taranov’s exclusion, Rao moved into third post-race to claim his outstanding and thoroughly deserved debut podium.

Protyre Formula Renault will be back in action just three weeks from now on 1st/2nd June at Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire. In the meantime, Hillspeed’s BRDC Formula 4 Championship team will be on track next weekend, 18th/19th May, at Brands Hatch in Kent for rounds four, five and six of its season.

Provisional 2013 Protyre Formula Renault Championship Standings (after Rd5)

2nd Jake Cook, 112pts; 7th Matt Rao, 64pts