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15 Apr 2013

Matt Rao - Donington Park

Protyre Formula Renault newcomer Jake Cook and Hillspeed team-mate Matt Rao each delivered consistently strong performances during the opening event of the 2013 season at Donington Park on Sunday, 14th April, to end the weekend seventh and eighth in the championship respectively.

Cook, embarking on his first race meeting in a ‘slicks and wings’ single-seater, posted a best result of fourth place during round two and was squarely in the fight for the podium until the very last corner of the race. Notably, his fastest lap was little more than 0.1 seconds shy of the quickest of all.

Rao, meanwhile, was eighth in each of the weekend’s encounters and only a couple of seconds shy of his target top six in race two. In terms of his pace, Rao’s lap times were incredibly consistent in both races and certainly deserving of two strong results.

“All in all it’s not been a bad weekend”, said Richard Ollerenshaw, team principal of the Hathersage squad, “Matt did a very good job all weekend and Jake was very unlucky not to have finished on the podium in at least one race.”

During qualifying on Sunday morning, which took place in bright and breezy conditions, Cook was in the fight for pole position and into the final five minutes he was 0.5 seconds clear of anyone. On his last lap of the session though, which was set to be his quickest, the Rotherham racer was baulked.

Resulting in sixth on the grid for round one, Cook was seventh for race two with his second quickest lap time of the session while Rao was 11th on the grid for the opener and a much improved eighth for round two.

Unfortunately for Cook, round one didn’t begin as hoped when he was sandwiched between two rivals on the run towards Redgate and sustained front wing damage. After a visit to the pits on lap seven, he rejoined and eventually finished in 12th position.

The 19-year-old more than made amends in round two though, immediately moving into the top six and quickly setting about posting a series of fastest laps early on. Moving into fifth and then fourth in rapid succession, Cook then grabbed third place at the end of lap three but unfortunately went wide at the Old Hairpin to slip back to fourth again.

During the second half of the race, he remained in the thick of the battle for a spot on the podium and almost made third his at the Fogarty Esses on the last lap. The Hillspeed racer did momentarily take the place with a bold late braking move on the inside, but his exit was compromised and he had to settle for fourth at the line – just 0.2 seconds shy of the rostrum.

Lining up on the sixth row of the grid for round one, Rao moved into ninth on the first lap and after a brief Safety Car period he made further progress into seventh. Although shuffled back to ninth on lap five at Redgate and then 10th, the Oxford driver battled back into the top eight before the finish.

In round two, the 2012 British Formula Ford ‘Scholarship Class’ Champion was able to again fight his way up the order and into the second half of the race he was into the top six. Although slipping to eighth a few laps from the finish, Rao was able to take seventh place on the penultimate tour but had to settle for eighth on the final lap.

“It’s clear to us Matt has made huge steps forward over the winter”, added Ollerenshaw, “He’s really come on very impressively and is showing good signs of being a top six regular. We targeted the top six for mid-season, so for him to have been so close to that this weekend is fantastic.

“Jake was unlucky in qualifying, he had his last lap spoiled by a backmarker and that affected his race two grid position as well – without that he’d have been third on the grid. He was unlucky again at the start of the first race but in the second one he did a great job.

“He only had a problem at the Old Hairpin because he was so close behind the car in front, he just wasn’t used to the impact the aero has when you’re racing in such a close pack and so slid wide. He would have been in a position to challenge for the win without that, we know we have the pace to win.”

Rounds three, four and five of the Protyre Formula Renault Championship will take place on 11th/12th May at Snetterton in Norfolk. Before then, Hillspeed will be back in action at Donington Park for the latest instalment of the Michelin Ginetta GT Supercup and Ginetta Junior Championship this coming weekend, 20th/21st April.

Provisional 2013 Protyre Formula Renault Championship Standings (after Rd2):

7th Jake Cook, 31pts; 8th Matt Rao, 28pts