Raoul Owens - FR NEC, Spa-FrancorchampsBritish racer Raoul Owens secured a hard-fought points-scoring finish on his debut in the hugely competitive Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup (NEC) at Spa-Francorchamps on Sunday, 14th October, during a fast-paced weekend of several ‘firsts’ for the 18-year-old.

In addition to being his maiden outing in the heavily subscribed 36-strong championship, the final event of the NEC season was also his first ever experience of the 4.3-mile Belgian track as well as the Bright Spark Ventures-backed driver’s debut weekend at the wheel of a current FR 2.0 chassis.

“Spa has been a great experience”, said the Pembury-born racer, “It’s a difficult track to learn when you’re learning a new car as well but I definitely enjoyed it. This Renault has a lot more grip than the BARC Renault car I’ve been used to, it just feels much more up to date – which it obviously is – and NEC is definitely a good step-up for sure.”

Although there were only two short practice sessions ahead of qualifying, Raoul made good progress and posted a best time of 2m24.844 seconds in the grid-determining session for race one to secure a 15th row start. Impressively, he sliced over two seconds off his opening effort during the second run to deliver a quickest lap of 2m22.485 seconds for the race two grid, meaning a row 11 start.

Sunday morning’s race was the most rewarding for the Manor MP Motorsport driver with a finish inside the top 20 ahead of a large number of more seasoned FR 2.0 NEC competitors. It certainly proved to be a baptism of fire for Raoul, through no fault of his own, with an early red flag stoppage followed by a further Safety Car period later on.

Maintaining excellent composure throughout, he steered his 2.0-litre Renault into the upper reaches of the top 20 with just a couple of laps to go and was then able to profit from a multi-car tangle late on to move into 19th position on the final lap to secure some hard-earned championship points.

Race two all boiled down to tyre choice with rain starting to fall ahead of the start. Raoul’s initial thinking was to begin the encounter on treaded wet-weather rubber and that ultimately proved to be the correct call as drivers on slick tyres all struggled as conditions got worse instead of better.

Unfortunately, a team decision to run with slicks – an option taken up by the vast majority of the grid – proved costly as a few competitors starting near the back gambling on treaded rubber were able to slice through the order with ease. With hardly any grip to call on Raoul did still manage to bring the car home undamaged, although he rued what might have been.

“When we did the formation lap out of the pits there was light drizzle that was fairly persistent and the track felt very slippery”, said the Cape Town-based racer, “Although it wasn’t quite wet enough at that point for wets I thought we should go with them as I had a feeling the rain would continue.

“Ninty percent of the grid opted for dry tyres though so the team decided to go with that, I wish I’d have stuck to my guns with the initial call though as wets did end up being the way to go. Conditions were really difficult, especially as it was only my second day in the car. Still, in the dry we were only 1.6 seconds off the quickest guys and on a track the size of Spa that wasn’t bad at all.”

Photo by Chris Schotanus/Essay Produkties