Sunoco Challenge: Middleton and Tregurtha inherit first and second
HHC Motorsport’s co-drivers and British GT4 championship leaders Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha moved to the top of the Sunoco Whelen Challenge standings for the first time this season last weekend after long-time pace-setter Colin Noble Jnr dropped points during his penultimate LMP3 Cup outing.
Elsewhere, British GT3 title protagonist Rick Parfitt Jnr held on to the Sunoco 240 Challenge lead after none of his rivals came close to matching his current average score.
Whelen: Advantage Middleton as low numbers hamper Noble Jnr’s bid
Colin Noble Jnr had topped the Sunoco Whelen Challenge standings since late April, but that all changed at Snetterton last weekend when a low turnout contributed towards the LMP3 Cup champion losing his grip on January’s Daytona 24 Hours prize drive.
A victory and third place finish would ordinarily have resulted in a solid points haul. Instead, the LMP3 Cup Pro’s overall average score dropped by 7.03 marks to 71.85, 4.54 fewer than new Whelen leader Stuart Middleton who contested British GT’s penultimate round at Brands Hatch seven days earlier.
Such was Noble Jnr’s drop that Middleton’s HHC Motorsport co-driver Will Tregurtha also rose one place to second overall. He remains in contention, despite the 2.45-point deficit, by virtue of the additional points on offer individually for pole position and fastest race lap.
The HHC crew’s only British GT4 title rivals are also Whelen contenders, although Lanan Racing’s Alex Reed and David Pittard - currently tied fourth on 67.83 points - require a near-perfect final weekend at Donington Park if either are to overturn both their Drivers’ Championship and Challenge arrears.
Stuart Moseley has also suffered from low grid numbers this season, but the Radical SR3 European Masters front-runner remains just 10.14 points behind Middleton with three events remaining in which to drastically improve his score.
Matt Bell, like LMP3 Cup rival Noble Jnr, dropped seven points and a position due to the lack of competition last weekend, while the rest of the top-10 remains as it was with Sam Tordoff best of British GT3’s Pro contingent in eighth ahead of Joe Osborne and Jon Barnes.
This year’s Sunoco Whelen Challenge therefore boils down to six drivers fighting for one fully-funded Cadillac DPi seat in January’s Daytona 24 Hours. Noble Jnr will be first to set a benchmark score, before Middleton, Tregurtha, Reed and Pittard all then gather at Donington Park one week later for their British GT4 decider knowing exactly what they’ll need to claim both the title and provisional Whelen lead. However, any of those five drivers might be left waiting until October 29 and Radical SR3 Euro Masters’ final outing before discovering whether Moseley has done enough to steal the prize drive.
Click here for the complete Sunoco Whelen Challenge standings.
240: Parfitt Jnr holds sway as Sebastiani makes ground
While the top-five positions - featuring British GT3’s Rick Parfitt Jnr and Jon Minshaw occupying first and third, respectively - remained unchanged, Jacopo Sebastiani’s fantastic performance at Snetterton helped the F3 Cup championship leader also announce himself as a serious Sunoco 240 Challenge contender.
A clean sweep of three victories and fastest laps, as well as a pole position, helped increase his season’s average score by 9.71. That might have only resulted in two places gained, but - at this stage of the year - it represented a significant step that helped move the Italian to within 7.93 points of Parfitt Jnr whose 99-point average remains the score to beat for now.
It’s still a sizeable deficit but, with F3 Cup’s six races spread across two weekends to come versus British GT’s single round, Sebastiani will have ample time to overturn Parfitt Jnr and the rest of the top-five’s advantage.
Sebastiani’s gain came at the expense of F3 Cup title rival Shane Kelly who slipped to seventh overall and 16.5 points shy of the 240 lead. He now requires two near-perfect weekends at Brands Hatch and Oulton Park to have any chance of catching Parfitt Jnr, Sebastiani and the rest.
Meanwhile, Alasdair McCaig will be the first of this year’s 240 protagonists to register a final score when his LMP3 Cup campaign concludes at Donington. Like Ecurie Ecosse co-driver Noble Jnr, the Scot’s chances were compromised by a lack of entries at Snetterton last weekend, which resulted in his average dropping to 82.25.
The 240 Challenge continues this weekend when three of the top-five go head-to-head at Oulton Park’s Mini Festival. Mini Challenge Cooper championship rivals Jessica Hawkins and Matt Hammond are just 3.55 and 6.27 points behind Parfitt Jnr, while JCW title hopeful Brett Smith is another 1.3 further back.
Click here for the complete Sunoco 240 Challenge standings.
Upcoming Sunoco Challenge-eligible events:
Aug 18-19Oulton Park - Mini Challenge JCW, Cooper
Sep 01-03Silverstone - Radical European Masters
Donington Park - Britcar Endurance Championship
Sep 08-10Silverstone - Radical Challenge & F3 Cup
Sep 15-17Donington Park - Mini Challenge Cooper, GT Cup, LMP3 Cup
Sep 22-24Donington Park - British GT & Mini Challenge JCW
What are the Sunoco Challenges?
The Sunoco Challenges provide an accurate assessment and comparison of performances across multiple championships during any given season. Points are awarded for qualifying and race results, including fastest lap, which are then converted into an individual average score for each competing driver over the course of a full campaign.
That means each race weekend offers drivers an equal chance to climb and drop down their respective Sunoco Challenge table. It also ensures that performances are taken into consideration across an entire season while placing less emphasis on one-off or unfair results.
As in previous years this season’s Sunoco Whelen Challenge champion will win a fully funded drive aboard a Whelen-sponsored sports-prototype in the 2018 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Meanwhile, Sunoco’s 240 Challenge champion will contest the 240-minute Daytona support race held over the same January weekend at the wheel of a Sunoco-liveried GT4 car.