Series newcomer Dean Stoneman secures double victory at the opening round of the 2013/2014 Radical Middle East Cup, while Ben Barker jumps to the top of the SR3 standings.[Not a valid template]
He came, he saw, he conquered. Yes, that’s quite similar to the plaudits crankandpiston.com gave Ed Jones last year on his one-off series outing, but given that the opening round of the 2013/2014 Radical Middle East Cup was again dominated by a young Brit, it was tough not to make the comparison.
One could only wonder how Jones – on the Radical entry list but on Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 duty in Barcelona – would have taken on his countryman at the Yas Marina Circuit. Few could deny Stoneman’s speed from free practice onwards. Having set an official lap record for the Radical Middle East Cup during free practice (with a 2m 07.434s), pole position was a synch. The 23-year old wasn’t hanging around in the first race either, a strong start netting an 11-second lead after just two laps and a near-one minute advantage come the finish. Although pushed into the first chicane at the beginning of race two, another solid performance ensured the #88 SR8 a double victory on his first Radical Middle East Cup race outing at Yas Marina in three years.
Further down the road, fellow Brits James Littlejohn and Tony Wells endured a tougher race. With clutch problems hindering the #2 SR8’s performance in qualifying, the duo only just made the start of race one, taking their starting position on pitroad mere seconds before the field finished its warm-up lap. Despite the setback, Littlejohn put in a superb performance to overtake every car on-track bar Stoneman, lapping at times several tenths quicker than the leader. Handling problems however hampered their running, a second-place in the SR8 category in race one a greater reward for their efforts than their exit in race two, Wells pulling off just before half distance with engine problems.
The fight for SR3 category victory further back was a lone one, Ben Barker fending off the #7 entry of Scott Balsdon/Oliver Smith entry to secure a double class victory. With reigning champion Tarek Elgammel sitting out the opening round – though continuing his driver coaching duties throughout the afternoon at Yas – and last year’s runner-up Mohammed Jawa foregoing the opening round for family-focused Eid commitments, it was a strong start to the Middle East campaign for new leader Barker. Unable to bounce back from a poor start, Balsdon and Smith had to content themselves with sixth in-class in race two, one lap down.
In the fight from the get-go however was the Ludovic Loffreda/Wesley Grogor’s #24 SR3, consistent running bringing them well into contention for class victory during the early stages of both races. Second and third in-class from a busy weekend was nevertheless a good result, especially considering the duo had started sixth on the grid for race one and fought back from a difficult start.
Mohamed and Salem Al Nusif meanwhile bounced back from a disappointing race one (which ended after just two laps) to secure third in-class in race two. Their cause was helped by fellow Kuwaiti favourite – and recently signed Dragon Racing driver – Khaled Al Mudhaf, who as well as manning the team headphones even helped give the #9 entry a push start during a problematic pit stop in race two. Mohamed Al Ghanim meanwhile felt the pain after a difficult race one, from which he retired on-track with just minutes to run, the #10 SR3’s final resting place bringing out the red flags and an early end to the opening event. He would at least fair better in race two, securing seventh in-class after a terrific scrap with the #71 Emal Racing pairing of Graeme Hannah and Mark Jordan.