Andrew HerronRounds 19 and 20 of the ELF Renault Clio Cup at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit over the weekend, 3rd/4th October, completely summed up Andrew Herron’s season with dreadful luck conspiring against the Northern Irishman’s attempts to conclude 2009 on a high.

As rapid as ever, the 21-year-old from Dromore in Co. Down still managed to end the season third in the championship standings but the final two races of the campaign couldn’t really have been more luckless – a drive-through penalty in the first encounter and a trackrod failure in the second totally compromising what promised to be a good weekend.

After lapping strongly in testing on Friday, his first ever appearance in a race car on the Kent venue’s 2.3-mile configuration, Andrew qualified fourth on the grid for Saturday’s 19th round – just four 10ths of a second shy of pole position – and fifth for the final race of the championship season.

Making a good getaway to the opener, Andrew moved into the top three past slow-starting pole-sitter Philip Glew and then took second position at Hawthorn when erstwhile race leader Robert Gaffney ran wide onto the grass under pressure from Alex MacDowall.

Pressing on, the Brian Herron Contracts-backed racer was as quick as anyone and looked well on course for a podium – and possibly even his elusive first win of the year – but the news soon flashed on the timing monitors that he was to receive a drive-through penalty for starting out of position.

Andrew pitted to serve his penalty at the end of lap five and he actually did very well to climb his way back into 14th position before the finish, posting a fastest lap of 1m40.866 seconds in the process – just four 100ths of a second shy of the quickest time of the race. Shortly after the chequered flag had fallen, second placed finisher Dave Newsham was excluded which lifted Andrew into 13th position.

Round 20 got underway without hitch as he held onto fifth place and his pace was once again outstanding, posting a quickest time of 1m40.865 seconds – just seven 100ths of a second away from the fastest lap – on lap eight as he ran in the top four having got by Gaffney.

On lap 11 though, disaster struck for the JHR Developments driver when a trackrod failed which collapsed the front-wheel assembly. Forcing him to run wide at Sheene Curve, Andrew did well to keep the car from hitting the barriers but the result was an instant retirement.

Although scoring far less points than he had hoped for, Andrew still concludes only his third season of car racing action impressively inside the championship top three. Now, attention turns to plans for 2010 with options open to him to return for a fresh title challenge in Clios or a step-up to the Porsche Carrera Cup GB Championship.

“Basically this weekend has been the story of the whole year for me, I’ve been as quick as anybody in terms of consistent pace – probably the quickest – but qualifying didn’t go to plan and then good old lady luck kicked me in the face again!”, said Andrew.

“You’ve got to take the positives though, I had bent steering and I was still the fastest car on the track so we know the pace is there and with a fair run we can win races and fight for championships. I’m at a bit of crossroads now in my career, a lot of teams have been approaching me about next year so I’ve got a lot of decisions to make over the next couple of weeks.

“I’m really tempted to come back next year and win the Clio title, I’ve never raced in any championship for two years straight and that is something you do need to do. It’s also important for my CV to get a championship win on there. We’ve got a lot of interest from the Porsche paddock as well which is obviously good to know, we just need to wait and see what’s going to happen.”

One highlight of the weekend for Andrew was watching compatriot Colin Turkington overcome the combined threat of the works-Vauxhalls of Fabrizio Giovanardi and Matt Neal during the final British Touring Car Championship race of the season to clinch his first BTCC title. The Co. Down-born driver is a friend of the Herron family and they’re all delighted for him to have achieved his dream.

Andrew added: “Obviously I’m disappointed with the way the season has turned out for us but I’m delighted for Colin that he was able to win the BTCC title. It’s great for Northern Ireland that he’s managed to win the championship and he certainly deserves it, he’s a class driver and a great person as well – we’re all really made up for the family.”

Final Provisional 2009 ELF Renault Clio Cup Driver Standings:
Champion: Philip Glew, 563pts; 2nd Alex MacDowall, 445pts; 3rd Andrew Herron, 362pts

Photo by Jakob Ebrey Photography.