Highly rated young GT racer Stuart Middleton made a very welcome return to the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Europe podium at Zandvoort in The Netherlands over the weekend, 13th/14th July, with third place in round five and second in a rain-hit sixth round – just missing the win by a mere 0.4 seconds.
Ashington 19-year-old Middleton, teaming with Jack Bartholomew, fought hard to take the lead of Sunday morning’s encounter a few laps prior to the mid-race driver changes and did a superb job with slick tyres on an increasingly wet track. However, a late Safety Car period proved costly for Bartholomew when a healthy lead was reduced to nothing and he slipped to second.
Even so, the runner-up spot in race two and third from the weekend’s first contest on Saturday means the Bonaldi Motorsport duo conclude the Zandvoort event still fourth in the championship, but now only two points shy of third place and just 14 points away from the series lead.
“It’s been a good weekend and two podiums is a great way to bounce back after Misano”, said British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Rising Star Middleton, “This was the first time either Jack or I have been to Zandvoort so, considering the limited track time, I think we did a really good job.
“Race two, in the rain on slicks, was a lot of fun and it was only the Safety Car in Jack’s stint which got in the way of the win. Pace wise in the wet we were phenomenal, so I wouldn’t mind a few more races like that this season! Zandvoort is an awesome place to drive, especially in a car like the Lamborghini, and you have to be really committed with the technical stuff, a proper drivers’ track.”
In qualifying on Saturday morning Bartholomew took the opening stint, setting the grid for round five, and the Briton produced the sixth fastest time within 0.6 seconds of the front row. In session two, Middleton delivered an improved top three performance to secure a spot on the second row of the grid for round six, his lap of 1m39.712 seconds just 0.4 seconds outside the top two.
Bartholomew began Saturday afternoon’s encounter in the No.32 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 and he instantly gained a position off the rolling start to climb into fifth. Running 0.9 seconds behind the top four into lap two, he chipped away at the gap over the subsequent laps and by the ninth tour he was within just 0.2 seconds of Niels Lagrange.
When the pit-stop window opened at the 20-minute mark, Bartholomew continued and moved up into fourth when one of the podium challengers pitted. Pitting the next time around to hand over to Middleton, when the race order settled with around 20 minutes left on the clock the Ashington racer was fourth and lapping faster than the trio ahead.
Closing at a rapid rate on the podium battle, he took chunks of time out of his rivals but then, on lap 22, the second placed Lamborghini of Bartosz Paziewski slid off into the gravel while under pressure from Vito Postiglione. Middleton duly swept past to take third and although losing time during the latter stages through backmarker traffic, Middleton maintained third and a terrific podium return.
The North East Caravans, Steel & Jelly and Spine Optics backed driver started race two on Sunday morning, with a partly wet track awaiting competitors, and when the lights went out he held third on the run into Tarzan for the first time, rebuffing a strong challenge from Harald Schlegelmilch.
Within half a second of Alberto di Folco into lap two, Middleton stayed close behind the duo ahead as dark clouds lingered over the Zandvoort track and then light rain began to fall on lap four. Pressuring di Folco, the Italian then had a spin on lap five and so Middleton sliced past into second position.
Running 1.4 seconds behind first placed Postiglione into lap six, Middleton closed the gap to almost a second but with 15 minutes of the race complete the leader started to increase his advantage as third placed Schlegelmilch began to loom larger in Middleton’s mirrors threading through traffic.
Around the time the pit stop window opened, as the race approached mid-distance, much heavier rain began to fall and Middleton closed back to within 1.8 seconds of Postiglione while also edging away from Schlegelmilch. On lap 15 a backmarker got in the way of the two leaders and Middleton seized his opportunity, storming around the outside with a stunning move to take the lead.
Postiglione and Schlegelmilch pitted at the end of the lap, while Middleton continued in the lead with the backmarker still ahead of him. Pitting at the end of lap 17 to hand over the Lamborghini, Bartholomew joined the track with just over 19 minutes to run with a lead of almost four seconds.
On lap 19, though, the lead was reduced to nothing when the Safety Car was deployed due to a car hitting the barriers. Racing resumed on lap 22, with less than nine minutes to run, and Bartholomew stayed ahead but under pressure from Danny Kroes – who took over the Schlegelmilch car.
At the end of the lap Kroes went around the outside at the last corner to seize the lead and then Bartholomew’s attention had to turn to trying to repel Karol Basz, Postiglione’s team-mate. With five minutes left on the clock, though, the Safety Car reappeared with a Huracan beached in the gravel.
With only two minutes remaining in the race the action got back underway and Bartholomew pressured Kroes as the rain disappeared once again. Glued to the No.3 car, the Briton didn’t relent but at the flag on lap 26 he had to settle for second just 0.4 seconds shy of the win.
Next on the Lamborghini Super Trofeo calendar is a visit to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium a fortnight from now, on Friday, 26th July, and Saturday, 27th July, where the championship will run as part of the support package to the annual Total 24 Hours of Spa.
2019 Lamborghini Super Trofeo Driver Standings:
4th Stuart Middleton/Jack Bartholomew, 55pts
Source. Marc Orme