Estoril, Portugal – Raoul Owens has concluded his 2016 Renault Sport Trophy (RS01) campaign P7 in the Endurance championship and P9 in the Pro standings after dominating the pace at the final event of the season in Estoril.
On the back of a race victory in Spa-Francorchamps one month prior, the #2 car of Raoul and fellow R-ace GP teammate Fredrik Blomstedt fired up for the race weekend without the positive momentum either driver had hoped for. While the Portuguese circuit was engulfed by fog and wet weather on Friday, the engine of the #2 overheated out on track after just 5 laps of Free Practice by Blomstedt.
With a replacement engine on its way, Raoul had to wait until the third and final session of the day before he could get behind the wheel and warm up for the weekend. Fortunately, 4 previous test days at the same circuit earlier in the year would prove valuable to the team, as the engineers could revert to vehicle setup data that was collected from these tests.
Following overnight rain showers on Friday night, the circuit remained wet ahead of Raoul’s qualifying session on Saturday morning. All of the RS01 competitors opted for wet tyres and Raoul ended the session sixth fastest, knowing that he had room for a better time had his Michelin tyres not begun to peak during his outlap! While the circuit continued to dry out during the final minutes of the session, nobody was able to improve upon their best times – the result of the wet tyre substantially losing its peak performance after just two outlaps.
With the return of more bursts of rain during the Saturday lunch break, the Endurance Race started in damp conditions. Raoul was at the wheel for the first stint of the 70-minute race, while Blomstedt was scheduled to takeover the race seat for the final stint around 35 minutes later. However, the R-ace GP duo of the #2 car who had won together in spectacular style in Belgium were unfortunately snatched of another bid for victory on this occasion. On the opening lap, Raoul became the victim of a triple nudge to his rear bumper from Nelson Panciatici who beached Raoul in the gravel trap at Turn 6. Unable to return to the circuit without the physical aid of the marshals, Raoul’s race came to a premature end through no fault of his own and to the detriment of Blomstedt who had been in contention for the Endurance title going into this weekend. The poor actions of Panciatici resulted in a 2-place grid penalty for his Sprint Race on Sunday.
Hoping to finish his RS01 season on a high, Raoul started the RS01 Pro Sprint Race from P6 and made a clean start while taking the inside line into Turn 1. With cars all around, the Briton was simultaneously on the attack and the defensive – as is typical of a third row grid slot amongst the Pro category drivers – leading to a spin on the wet and greasy exit of Turn 2. The smallest of errors did not cause damage to the #2 car, but did push Raoul back to P14. With 25 minutes of the race still to go, Raoul instantly put the loose moment behind him and was the fastest driver on track lap after lap for the remainder of the race, making up a total of 5 places to meet the chequered flag in P9.
Speaking about Sunday’s Pro Sprint Race, Raoul said:
“Heavy rain hit just before the race started which I was very happy about because my pace was strong over the weekend in these conditions. On the opening lap going through Turn 2 I hit a greasy part of the track and lost the rear of the car, but I got my head down and started setting some great lap times and reeled in the group ahead of me.
“It was a frustrating race as I had strong pace and showed that by coming through from a long way back due to the first lap mistake. Although P9 isn’t a great result, I am happy with the good overtakes I was able to pull off.”
Raoul’s debut season in RS01 has tested him in the most competitive racing environment of his career to date and in a car with superior horsepower, downforce and braking capacity to any other car he has previously driven. And he has joined a small number of elite racing drivers in the world who is capable of taking such a high-performance sports car to the physical limits of its circuit potential – a skill which will undoubtedly serve him well in the years ahead.