Estoril, Portugal – Max Defourny secured third place in the 2016 Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup championship with a podium finish in his final race appearance of the season at the Autodromo do Estoril in Portugal.
The historic Portuguese circuit was new ground for Max and his team R-ace GP. Indeed, an unfamiliar track to most – as a result of limited testing in the Eurocup series – the final round posed a fresh set of challenges for the Belgian driver. He arrived at the circuit shortly after being crowned vice-champion in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC earlier in October.
Although unacquainted with the tight twists and turns of Estoril, Max showed strong pace at the helm of car #33 when his weekend started in earnest in free practice. It was to be a consistent run of form for the teenager over one lap with two P2 finishes obtained during Friday running. With vital championship points up for grabs, it was a positive start to such a decisive weekend.
Come Saturday and the track provided even more challenges for the 22 competitors. Rain fell overnight on Friday, rendering the circuit damp for qualifying. Initially the weather conditions called for wet tyres; during which time Max was showing his characteristic rapid pace for the French team, R-ace GP, holding the fastest time at the halfway point of the 30-minute session. However, the track dried out quickly and all cars entered the pit lane for wet tyres. During his second flying lap on slick tyres, a red flag emerged while Max was on target for a pole position lap time. The unfortunate timing of the red flag, combined with the return of more rain, led to a P11 grid position for Race 1.
Ahead of Saturday’s race, it was clear that Max would need to utilise his best overtaking manoeuvres to beat his championship rivals, Lando Norris, Dorian Boccolacci and Harrison Scott. Max had a strong start and clambered up the order immediately, catching up with pole-sitter and eventual champion Norris. On the final lap, the two racers – who have enjoyed a close rivalry all season – were side by side. The Josef Kaufmann model of Norris cut across Max on the outside of Turn 1, which caused terminal damage to Max’s front suspension. Combined with a radio fault, the Belgian was forced to retire from a race which he certainly deserved to win. In his assault from P11 to P1, he was driving a full second a lap faster than anyone else on track – a remarkable achievement that highlighted his ability to deliver unrivalled pace under pressure.
Hampered again by a wet track for Q2 on Sunday, Max started on slick tyres. His pace was instantly competitive and put him in contention for pole position. Max was on his fastest lap when a yellow flag prevented him from completing a full rotation. Instead, Max qualified in P2 for the final race of the season, just +0.050s behind Sacha Fenestraz. Now resting fourth in the championship battle after his retirement from Race 1, it was all to play for when Max took his grid slot for Sunday afternoon’s competition.
On the opening lap, Max was immediately fighting Fenestraz for the lead, but with tyres still warming up, he was unable to make a move stick. Behind him, Norris was again looking to gain position and engage in another tough battle with the Belgian. Knowing that a podium finish would secure him P3 in the championship, Max managed his race by reducing risk, which afforded Norris with P2. Max subsequently cruised to his eighth podium of his Eurocup campaign and his seventeenth of the year overall. With this, Max did enough to retake third place in the championship with 188.5 points – the vast majority of his team’s points haul from 2016.
A podium finish was a fitting end to a very competitive year from the Belgian who juggled both FR2.0 Eurocup and NEC campaigns throughout the season.
“We’ve had very good pace every weekend,” he said upon looking back on his season. “Third was not our aim, nor a reflection of our speed, but it was the small things outside of our control which cost us the title.”
In a season full of so many podiums in Eurocup, Max reflected on his highlight of 2016:
“The first race of the year, which I won, definitely stands out to me,” continued DCM’s Max. “I also had some great fights with Lando [Norris] throughout the year and was given a great car by the team.”