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Raoul OwensSingle-seater racer Raoul Owens will graduate to the Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup (NEC) in 2013 after today, Friday, 16th November, confirming a deal with championship challenging team Manor MP Motorsport.

The 18-year-old, who originates from Pembury in Kent but resides in Cape Town, South Africa, will make the full-time move to European-level competition after spending his first two seasons of car racing in the UK-based Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship.

Although the 2012 campaign wasn’t as straight-forward as Raoul wanted, with a series of car issues hampering his progress, a switch to Manor MP for his competitive debut in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium last month underlined the potential of the new-found partnership.

“I’m really delighted to have signed a deal for next year with Manor MP Motorsport, to have our plans in place so early is a great start”, commented the British-born racer, “I really gelled well with the team when I raced with them at Spa, so we’ve got a great base to work from going into winter testing over the next few months.”

Manor MP Motorsport enjoyed a highly successful season in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC this year, the first for the squad in its current guise. At the end of 2011, multiple-championship winning Formula Renault UK team Manor Competition and established NEC and Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 outfit MP Motorsport pooled their respective resources to create one major single-seater force.

During the maiden campaign for the newly amalgamated entrant, Manor MP finished second in the team and driver standings in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC and additionally made an impact in the sister Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 series, the championship Raoul plans to progress into for 2014.

“Everyone knows the Manor name, there’s so much heritage in the team and they achieved a huge amount in Formula Renault UK over the years”, added Raoul, “It’s going to be fantastic being part of a team that worked with F1 World Champions like Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton in their early careers, it’s an amazing opportunity and one I aim to make the most of.

“We know it’s going to be a tough challenge, NEC is a really competitive championship and it’s on another level compared to Formula Renault BARC. The standard will be incredibly high but with a strong run in winter testing, I’m confident we can have a good first year in Europe.”

Beginning his motorsport career in 2006 in karting, the Bright Spark Ventures-supported racer won the Rotax Mini Max Regional Championship in South Africa the following year. He then stepped-up to Rotax Junior Max in time for the 2008 season, where he became Vice-Champion of the domestic series in South Africa and a World Finalist, before making the move into cars in 2011.

Raoul’s winter testing programme in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC begins next week with visits to Valencia and Barcelona in Spain. From there he’ll be back in action in December, at Portimao and Estoril in Portugal, before making a return to Spain for a trip to Jerez.

Photo by Jakob Ebrey Photography.

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

Raoul OwensRaoul Owens brought the curtain down on an incredibly frustrating season in the Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship at Silverstone over the weekend, 6th/7th October, and is now focused on a fresh challenge as he prepares for his European race debut in a few days’ time.

Off the back of a season littered with mechanical woes and other issues, the 18-year-old Kent-born driver wasn’t disappointed to see the chequered flag fall on the final race of the 2012 campaign on Sunday afternoon – particularly after struggling with the handling of his car throughout the event.

Qualifying set the scene for the weekend with Raoul uncharacteristically 23rd and 25th on the grid for the two races. Things didn’t improve much in race conditions either, a lack of pace troubling the Cape Town-based teenager and ultimately leading to a vexing best finish of 19th position in round 14.

“At the start of the year I was happy in the car and it felt good but over the course of the year things have just gone in the opposite direction”, explained Raoul, “This weekend things haven’t been as we’d want at all, we’ve all been scratching our heads and it was impossible to pull a good lap time.

“We’ve definitely not shown our true pace this weekend, or for the majority of the year, which is obviously really disappointing. I’d hoped to end the season on a high but it’s probably been the worst weekend of the season really.”

Unhappy with the balance of his car, in race one on Saturday, Raoul’s difficult run was compounded when a drive into the points from 23rd on the grid came to nothing as he was dropped back to 23rd on the final race classification due to a time penalty.

Pushing especially hard in an attempt to extract more performance from his FR 2.0, the Bright Spark Ventures-backed racer was deemed to have exceeded the track limits at Copse Corner. Hoping to make amends in race two, the drive into 19th place was as much as the British driver could muster with handling problems again hampering his progress.

“It’s not been a season to remember that’s for sure”, he added, “We just need to focus on what comes next now and where we’ll be in 2013. The plan is to race in Europe and hopefully make the sort of impact we thought we were going to this year.”

Raoul’s first venture into competition on the European mainland will come next weekend, 13th/14th October, with a visit to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium for the season finale of the Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup (NEC). He will make his series debut with Manor MP Motorsport.

Photo by Jakob Ebrey Photography.