This time last year Ashington racing driver Stuart Middleton was being lauded as ‘one to watch’ and a future star of British motorsport…fast forward 12 months and the North East sportsman has more than lived up to his billing, well and truly taking the national motor racing scene by storm.
Winning the prestigious British GT4 Championship title at his first attempt with team-mate Will Tregurtha, and being invited onto the ‘Rising Star’ programme of the Silverstone-based British Racing Drivers’ Club, Middleton’s career is very much on the fast track to even greater success.
So impressive has 2017 been for the teenager from Northumberland, only his third season in car racing at any level, in January he will take to the track at Daytona International Raceway in Florida, USA, after winning an immense $250,000 (£200,000) prize drive in the annual Rolex 24 Hour race.
Set to join drivers with Formula One, Indycar and Le Mans 24 Hours experience for the twice-round-the-clock Daytona encounter, Middleton is very much on the crest of a wave as the current year draws to a close.
The accolades are continuing to come as well as we near the end of 2017, with the motor racing champion receiving the hugely prestigious BRDC Henry Surtees Award at a special ceremony in central London at the beginning of December. He and Tregurtha received the award after being judged to have delivered the ‘most outstanding performance by a BRDC Rising Star’ this season.
“It’s been an absolutely incredible year, I couldn’t have wished for a better season and to now be just a few weeks away from racing at Daytona International Speedway in the Rolex 24 hour race is amazing – something I never expected”, said the British GT4 champion.
“We obviously wanted to do the best we possibly could in our first season in British GT, and with such a fantastic team-mate in Will [Tregurtha] I knew we had a great opportunity. To actually win the championship, though, and become the youngest ever British GT champions in history too was something beyond our wildest dreams really.
“Both of us knew we had a phenomenal team in HHC Motorsport and our Ginetta G55 car was pretty much faultless all year, there is so much you have to get right in endurance racing though so the team work was absolutely crucial. Everyone did such an immense job all year.”
Middleton’s natural speed and raw ability were clear to see at the end of the 2015 season, his first in car racing, when he dominated the Ginetta Junior Winter Championship with three race victories on his way to the title.
Only just missing out on the main season Junior crown to the aforementioned Tregurtha last year, despite being the driver with most wins [seven in total], Middleton hoped to graduate into one of the more senior championships for 2017 but the British GT deal came as a mouth-watering surprise.
Joining HHC Motorsport as part of a formidable, if inexperienced, line-up with Tregurtha the pair enjoyed a mesmerising season in the ultra-competitive GT4 category and very quickly became championship contenders amidst a grid of highly experienced and ultra-quick drivers and teams.
With little in the way of testing during the pre-season, the first two races of the year at Oulton Park would be a good barometer of where the duo were placed in the pecking order. Second position in their first race, which meant they became the youngest GT4 podium finishers in British GT history, made things crystal clear.
“When we got to Oulton none of us knew exactly where we’d be compared to the competition, all of us were confident we’d be quick and competitive but when we finished second in the first race it made it obvious to us the championship might be possible”, said Middleton.
“I have to admit I was surprised how strong our pace was, but we just seemed to click with the Ginetta G55 GT4 straight away and the team, obviously, did an amazing job. It was definitely the start we’d been hoping for and wanted, and it definitely set the season up well.”
Claiming their maiden victory in round three at Rockingham, the pairing’s first two-hour race, the success elevated them to the top of the championship points standings and a second win followed during the very next event at Snetterton.
Driveshaft failure during the season’s flagship three-hour race at Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit came as a hammer blow, but the overseas visit to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium delivered two podium finishes in the pair of one-hour races to enable Middleton and Tregurtha to retake the series lead.
Podium number six followed at Brands Hatch, the penultimate event, which meant they headed into the Donington Park GP Circuit finale with a 25-point cushion. Duly going on to claim their memorable British GT4 championship victory with another podium, second place in the last race of the year, they also secured the ‘Silver Cup’ class title and the Teams’ crown for HHC.
Middleton and Tregurtha were both eligible for the Sunoco Whelen Challenge, in which a total of 400 drivers from a variety of championships were graded on their performances throughout the season. After the title win at Donington, Middleton held the lead and only one driver from the Radical Euro Masters could prevent the youngster from claiming the eye-watering Rolex 24 prize.
In the end, the Sunoco Whelen Challenge Championship and prize went to Northumberland’s endurance racing hot-shoe and it was another history making feat, Stuart becoming the youngest ever winner of the covered prize.
He is now busy preparing for the potentially career-changing opportunity where he will partner former F1 star Felipe Nasr, Toyota ‘works’ driver Mike Conway and American ace Eric Curran. Sharing an Action Express entered Cadillac Dpi-VR prototype sportscar, the quartet will undoubtedly be one of the most eagerly watched in the annual 24 hour contest and Middleton says he intends to repay the faith shown in him by Anglo American Oil Company which provides the Sunoco prize.
“Racing at Daytona with such experienced team-mates is something I couldn’t have even considered 12 months ago, it’s a mega opportunity and especially so early in my career”, he said, “I want to make the best impression I possibly can, this is such a massive leap from GT4 into a full prototype but I know the team is fantastic and Felipe, Mike and Eric are legends to be honest.
“Since I heard the news at the end of October I’ve been ramping up my training programme and trying to learn as much as I can about Daytona on the simulator. Looking forward to my first 24 hour race is something pretty special, but to be doing so at Daytona is mind-blowing. I can’t wait!”
Notably, some of the competition the squad will be up against includes multiple Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso, Grand Prix winner Juan Pablo Montoya and ex-F1 racers Paul Di Resta and Anthony Davidson.
Thanks to Marc Orme Media and PR for the article.