Oliver Rowland moved to within just a single point of the 2015 Formula Renault 3.5 title by storming to his seventh victory of the year at Le Mans on Saturday.
Formula Renault 3.5 is the flagship series on the World Series by Renault roster, and has produced a number of Formula 1 drivers including Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Kevin Magnussen and Carlos Sainz Jr.
Sainz won last year’s title with a record seven victories before joining Toro Rosso in F1 for 2015, but his tally was tied by Rowland on Saturday after the Briton dominated proceedings from pole position on the Bugatti layout of the Circuit de la Sarthe.
Rowland came under pressure throughout the race from title rival Matthieu Vaxiviere, but when the Frenchman lost part of his front wing trying to take the lead, he dropped back into the pack.
Vaxiviere took a rather liberal attitude towards to the track limits, frequently cutting the chicane in a bid to gain position and keep the chasing drivers back. The stewards decided that enough was enough after he had cut it four times and handed him a time penalty.
This left Vaxiviere tenth at the end of the race, giving him one point that in fact denied Rowland from being crowned champion on Saturday. With 75 points remaining, Rowland leads by 74, making his title victory a mere formality.
“The start was difficult and Egor [Orudzhev, who finished second] was very close to me, but I managed to keep him behind me,” Rowland explained.
“After that, I really had no answer to Matthieu’s pace. Although the contact made my life easier, I was a bit worried for my tyre and tried to stay away from the curbs, as well as stay within the track limitations to avoid a penalty.
“I spent two seasons with Fortec in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and this is my second season in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series with them. It is great to reward such fantastic people with this victory record.”
Rowland and Orudzhev were joined on the podium by Tom Dillmann, who edged out Dean Stoneman for P3 on the final lap of the race.
Lawrence led all 16 laps of both races after taking the holeshot in the second moto and grabbing the lead from Dylan Ferrandis in Turn 2 of Moto 1. Lawrence claimed a four-second lead in Moto 1 and five seconds in Moto 2, but as dominant as it seems on paper, there were some exciting moments during the weekend. In the second race, Lawrence wanted to build an advantage that would allow him to maintain his pace and he nearly high-sided a couple of times in heavy ruts.
In his second race back from a concussion, Ferrandis finished in the runner-up spot with a second in Moto 1 and a third in Moto 2. While his finish of second overall goes into the record books, Pro Motocross points are rewarded for each individual race and that meant Ferrandis lost eight points in championship battle to Lawrence. With Sexton failing to mount up for the race, Ferrandis advanced to second in the standings with an 18-point gap to Lawrence. Equally important, Ferrandis gained ground in the SuperMotocross World Championship (WSX) points and now has a gap of 44 over 21st-place Justin Starling.
Cooper Webb is also in his second round since returning from a Supercross injury suffered in Nashville at the end of their season. Claiming results of fourth and second in the two races, Webb earned 40 SuperMotocross points at Hangtown and closed in on Sexton in the WSX battle. Sexton entered Hangtown with a large enough lead that he could not be overtaken, but he is now only 38 points up and could face a difficult decision next week at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado if he wants to hold onto his lead.
Aaron Plessinger had an adventurous weekend in which he seemed to close on Lawrence in his second race before crashing and dropping to fourth. Coupled with a fifth-place finish in Moto 1, he earned 35 points and was credited with fourth overall.
Cashing in on confidence he gained in the final rounds of the Supercross season, Adam Cianciarulo earned his first top-five of the Pro Motocross championship after narrowly missing out last week with a sixth. He earned the distinction with consistent results of fifth in Moto 1 and fourth in Moto 2.
The Lawrence brothers made history last week as the first siblings to win in two Pro Motocross divisions on the same day. Fans should get accustomed to seeing this happen with some regularity as Hunter Lawrence posted identical results in Hangtown to those he had at Fox Raceway in the season opener.
In both races, Lawrence got off to a slow start in Moto 1 and had to claw his way back to the podium. He dominated Moto 2 in both rounds to earn the overall victories.
Justin Cooper did not allow Lawrence to gain much of an advantage in the Motocross points’ standings, however. Finishing second in both motos, the earned only one point less than Lawrence. His modest showing in Round 1 of the outdoor season has him 12 points out of first in the championship standings.
Haiden Deegan scored his first moto win in just his fourth start in the series. In the first race of the day, he had to withstand constant pressure from Cooper, but when his teammate closed in on him, Deegan reached down and found a little more speed. Now that he’s won one of these races, he has his sight set on challenging Lawrence for the title. Deegan is second in the Pro Motocross championship standings with a 10-point deficit to the leader.
RJ Hampshire rounded out the top five with a pair of fifth-place results and 32 points for the round. Even though the deficit is a whopping 61 points, Hampshire climbed to second in the SuperMotocross championship standings now that Jett Lawrence has moved to the big bikes.
Jalek Swoll struggled last week and finished 21st overall at Fox Raceway. This week, he finished on the cusp of 10th in both races with a ninth in Moto 1 and 11th in Moto 2. In the SuperMotocross standings, he has a lot of ground to make up. He currently sits 49th on the chart with a 70-point gap to Chance Hymas, who is on the bubble to earn a guaranteed position in the SMX Mains for the three playoff races that will be held on September.