Sunoco Challenge: Keen grabs early Whelen lead as Haigh and Balon share 240 spoils at Oulton Park
The 2018 Sunoco Whelen and 240 Challenges kicked off over the Easter Bank Holiday Weekend at Oulton Park where no less than four eligible series – British GT3 and GT4, BRDC British F3 and Mini Challenge JCW – were all in action.
Drivers from British GT’s senior category currently lead both competitions thanks to the individual exploits of Phil Keen (Whelen), Flick Haigh and Adam Balon (240). However, with a full season of racing ahead of them, there’s still plenty of time for other rivals to emerge.
Two incredible, fully funded prizes are at stake: a Whelen-sponsored Rolex 24 At Daytona race seat, and entry for the event’s 240-minute Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge round at the wheel of a Sunoco-supported GT4 car.
WHELEN: 2015 CHAMPION KEEN MAKES STRONG START
A meeting shortened by persistent rain and standing water meant British GT3 and GT4 drivers scored the majority of their points in Monday’s opening race.
Sunoco Whelen Challenge organisers, Anglo American Oil Company Ltd, are celebrating the competition’s 10th anniversary this year by allowing previous winners to enter. And it’s 2015 champion Keen who currently leads the list of Rolex 24 At Daytona prize drive hopefuls thanks to his GT3 Pro pole position, fastest race lap and fourth place finish.
The Lamborghini driver’s 115-point total is five more than fellow Whelen alumni, GT3 championship rival and Race 1 winner Jonny Adam could manage, while Ben Barnicoat – who won the GT4 class on debut with Track-Club – occupies joint-second.
British F3 has joined the list of eligible Sunoco Whelen Challenge series this year, but just two of its three races per weekend count towards the prize. A win, second place and fastest lap have therefore propelled Nicolai Kjaergaard up to fourth in the standings, the Dane’s initial 102.5-point haul being nine more than Darren Turner recorded for finishing second in British GT3 and 15 better than F3 title rival and Race 1 winner Linus Lundqvist achieved.
Tolman Motorsport co-drivers Charlie Fagg and Michael O’Brien are first of British GT4’s Pro contingent in seventh overall, while Yelmer Buurman (GT3) and Jack Mitchell (GT4) complete the top-10 after Week 1.
Billy Monger’s extraordinary British F3 podium in his first race since suffering life-changing injuries sees the Carlin driver slot into 14th overall at this early stage.
240: BRITISH GT’S HAIGH AND BALON SHARE EARLY LEAD
Flick Haigh made British GT history at Oulton Park by becoming the first woman to claim an outright pole position and victory. However, that performance still wasn’t enough to give her an early solo lead in the Sunoco 240 Challenge standings thanks to Adam Balon, whose GT4 win and fastest amateur race lap earned him the same number of points.
The pair therefore top the standings together on 132 points, 12 more than Ant Whorton-Eales recorded for his Mini Challenge victory and fastest lap. With the weather putting paid to the championship’s second encounter, Race 1 pole-sitter and runner-up Jordan Collard finds himself fourth in the standings, albeit 27 points shy of top spot.
Two more British GT3 drivers are next up, Jon Minshaw’s fastest amateur lap and fourth place finish earning him the same number of points as Andrew Howard accrued for finishing second overall. GT4 Am runner-up Graham Johnson joins the pair on 93.5 points, 11 more than Lee Mowle and David Pattison in joint-eighth, while Mark Murfitt rounds out the top-10 following his GT4 debut.
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.
This year’s Sunoco Whelen Challenge champion will win a fully funded race seat at the 2019 Rolex 24 At Daytona, courtesy of Whelen.
Meanwhile, Sunoco’s 240 Challenge champion will contest Daytona’s 240-minute Continental Tire SportsCar Championship support race held over the same January weekend at the wheel of a Sunoco-supported GT4 car.
The Sunoco Challenges are organised by Sunoco Racing Fuels’ official European distributor, Anglo American Oil Company Ltd.
To celebrate the Sunoco Whelen Challenge’s 10th anniversary AAOC is allowing all previous winners to enter once again. Ordinarily Bradley Smith (2014), Phil Keen (2015) and Jonny Adam (2016) would have been ineligible to fight for a second trip to Daytona.
Sunoco Whelen Challenge-eligible series
BRDC British Formula 3 Championship
British GT Championship – GT3 Pro and GT4 Pro
Henderson Insurance Brokers LMP3 Cup – Pro
Radical European Masters – SR3 Pro and SR8 Pro
Sunoco 240 Challenge-eligible series
Britcar Endurance Championship
British GT Championship – GT3 Am and GT4 Am
F3 Cup Championship
GT Cup Championship
Henderson Insurance Brokers LMP3 Cup – Am
Mini Challenge – JCW and Cooper Pro
Radical European Masters – SR3 Am and SR8 Am