Following the engine issues Matteo suffered at his last race at Snetterton, the Friday pre-weekend test at Croft for the penultimate round of the Protyre Formula Renault Championship gave Matteo essential track time to run-in a new engine and work on the balance of the car. After four half-hour sessions he was feeling happy with the car and positive ahead of Saturday’s two qualifying sessions.
As a double header round, the two qualifying sessions set the grid position for each of the two races. In the first fifteen minute qualifying session Matteo was instantly on the pace on a damp track and held the quickest time throughout the session, qualifying his MGR Formula Renault on the front spot of the grid for race one. Matteo topped the times with a lap of 1m20.696 seconds (94.80mph), resulting in his fifth pole position of the season, well under the lap record.
Confident of a good second qualifying session despite the wet conditions, Matteo immediately set the fastest time by far, before the engine cut and the car came to a standstill on his second flying lap. An electrical short had caused the engine to stop and could not be restarted. As the track began to dry his opponents continued to improve their times, meaning Matteo’s single lap time left him in eighth place for the race two start. Matteo had felt really confident with his car and securing another pole until he suffered the electrical problem.
As Matteo waited to leave the pit lane he found a problem with his brake bias adjuster which the team rushed to fix as quickly as possible. After the formation lap Matteo was lacking confidence in the brake balance setting, and to add to his woes as he waited for the start lights Matteo’s dashboard failed. With no rev counter lights, and relying on feel Matteo ended up with too much wheel spin as the lights went out and he lost the lead off the line to team-mate and Championship leader Pietro Fittipaldi.
The uncertainty about the right brake bias setting throughout the first lap caused a few wild moments leaving Matteo prone to attack, and as a result ended his first lap fourth behind Alex Gill, Colin Noble and Fittipaldi respectively.
The race was red flagged on lap two due to an accident between Tarun Reddy and Patrick Dussault, neither driver being injured. The race was restarted with grid positions determined by the running order when the race had been stopped.
On the restart Matteo made a good start but was demoted to fifth at the first corner as Piers Hickin, who started behind Matteo was able to sprint past even before they reached the first corner. Matteo soon caught and passed team-mate Noble with a stunning move around the outside at turn one to take fourth. Although he initially had good balance unfortunately as the race went on he found he was having to deal with ever increasing oversteer.
Even with the deteriorating balance Matteo hunted down Gill and pressured him into a mistake at Tower Bend which allowed him to get alongside, and finally pass him into the Jim Clark esses. Following his early brake issues, Matteo’s efforts were rewarded with a well-deserved third, behind race-winner Piers Hickin and Fitippaldi.
At the start of race two Matteo once again had a dashboard problem but made a decent start. As he was starting at the back of the grid he was cautious as he went into turn one having witnessed four cars spin on the formation lap to the grid. Matteo’s cautious approach paid off as he avoided chaos ahead of him on the first lap. Having avoided the chaos he was into fifth behind Noble. Despite his dashboard issues and a down-change gear problem, he was soon chasing Noble and was lining him up to overtake when he had a down-change issue as he braked for the last corner that spun him around, costing him five seconds. Despite a quick recovery, there were not enough laps left for him to catch Noble and he was forced to settle for fifth. Matteo took the chequered flag in fifth and drew some consolation in recording second fastest lap of the race. It was a disappointing end to a promising weekend where he clearly had the speed to compete for a win.
Race two was won by Fittipaldi, who also set fastest lap, securing him the Protyre Formula Renault title. Race two second place finisher Alex Gill is now second in the Championship with race one winner Hickin now third, while Matteo trails them in the Championship by ten and four points respectively.
The fight for second in the Championship will be fought out at the final round of the 2014 Protyre Formula Renault Championship which takes place this weekend (27 and 28 September) at Silverstone on the National circuit, where it supports the British Touring Car Championship. Sunday’s Protyre Formula Renault race will be aired live on ITV 4 in the UK.