Ahmad Al HarthyHillspeed’s Ahmad Al Harthy produced two determined race drives at Donington Park National Circuit over the weekend, 8th/9th August, bouncing back from a tricky qualifying run to post a pair of solid finishes in rounds six and seven of the 2009 Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship.

Likewise, team-mates James Theodore and Alexander Jeffrey also had a troublesome weekend but both emerged with impressive performances under their belts. The net result of the Donington action means Al Harthy is fourth in the driver standings, Theodore holds seventh position and Jeffrey remains in the top 20 after just four race outings in Formula Renault BARC.

Qualifying on Saturday, 8th August, didn’t go as smoothly as expected for Derbyshire-based Hillspeed with Al Harthy seventh on the grid for round six, Theodore 10th quickest and Jeffrey – making his return after sustaining a hand injury at Snetterton in June – in 14th place. The round seven session was slightly better with Al Harthy fifth fastest, Theodore 10th again and Jeffrey 13th on the grid.

At the start of Sunday’s opening race, Al Harthy got away well and immediately made good progress to move into the top six. On lap two, the 27-year-old produced a great move at Redgate to grab fifth position from ex-Formula Renault UK competitor Sasha Radola and he gained another place on lap 10 when Don De Graaff pitted from fourth after receiving a drive-through penalty for a false start.

Just prior to this, car racing rookie Jeffrey was involved in a fairly hefty accident at Goddards Chicane at the end of lap nine while dicing with category returnee Pierre Renom. Under braking for the turn, Jeffrey went wide over the grass and on the exit he was involved in a collision with Jack Piper which resulted in both drivers having to retire on the spot with damage.

Due to the cars being stranded in a dangerous position, the Safety Car was deployed and the re-start then came on lap 13 with Al Harthy’s Oman Air, Sultanate of Oman, Oman Tourist Board and Sport Oman-backed Formula Renault in fourth place and Theodore’s Liberty Properties-sponsored car in seventh position.

At the end of the 14th tour, Theodore slipped back to eighth at Goddards with four cars all vying for position and that’s where he remained to the chequered flag. Impressively, the 17-year-old posted the third fastest race lap with a superb time of 1m09.280 seconds. Al Harthy also unfortunately lost out in the closing stages, front-running rival Brett Parris snatching fourth at Redgate on the last lap.

Round seven proved to be the most trying race of the season so far for Hillspeed with Al Harthy and Theodore both falling victim to contact which cost both drivers the chance to challenge for top six results. Lining up fifth on the grid, Al Harthy was punted off the circuit on the very first lap and dropped to the tail of the field almost, before battling back brilliantly into eighth place.

Theodore finished just behind his more experienced team-mate, contact from another driver also proving his downfall. Again though, the Shropshire racer fought back impressively to a ninth place result. He and Al Harthy also posted the sixth and fifth quickest lap times respectively.

Jeffrey had a much improved outing in round seven, only his fourth ever single-seater race, to achieve a career best finish of 11th position. Lapping with a best time of 1m10.323 seconds, the young Scotsman circulated with pace just six 10ths of a second shy of that of his team-mates.

Looking back on the weekend, Hillspeed team principal Richard Ollerenshaw said: “There was certainly some questionable driving in the second race which cost both Ahmad and James the chance of much stronger results. Ahmad was hit on the opening lap and James was taken off the road midway through the race.

“It’s a great shame for the whole team, particularly with Donington being our home circuit, but there are plenty of positives to take away with us and we’re heading to Brands Hatch two weeks from now looking forward to being back in the mix at the front. Qualifying didn’t go as we wanted but the pace of all three drivers showed in the races, especially James who set the third fastest lap in race one.”

He added: “With our pace we should have come away with more this weekend but that’s the way things turn out sometimes. Alex produced good speed as he continues to improve and although his accident in race one was unfortunate, he bounced back very well indeed in the second one.”

Hillspeed’s fourth Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship competitor, Ellis Harkins, was unable to compete at Donington Park this weekend due to budgetary problems but it is hoped he will be back in his car for the next two rounds at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in Kent a fortnight from now, 22nd/23rd August.

With the season now at its midway point, Hillspeed is currently the second highest scoring team in Formula Renault BARC – counting the two best placed cars for each squad in the seven rounds so far contested – on 252 points.

Provisional 2009 Protyre Formula Renault BARC Driver Standings (after Rds6&7):
4th Ahmad Al Harthy, 154pts; 7th James Theodore, 88pts; 16th Ellis Harkins, 34pts; 20th Alexander Jeffrey, 19pts

Photo by Jakob Ebrey Photography.