Sebastian Priaulx’s second season in the Ginetta Junior championship has been as interesting off the track as on it. Priaulx has overcome his off-track problems and heads to Brands Hatch second in the points standings.
Priaulx kicked off his championship bid with a double pole at the Brands Hatch opener. He was joined by Tom Gamble, Harry King, and Dan Harper in a four-way battle for the win and was leading in the closing stages of the race but contact with team-mate Gamble sent them both into a spin. He finished fourth.
A dominant victory followed in race two, securing Priaulx an early title lead. Starting on pole again, Priaulx initially lost the lead of the opening lap but retook the position from Gamble on lap two. With a series of fast laps, Priaulx claimed his first win of the season, more than three seconds ahead of Gamble.
The strong start to the season didn’t continue at Donington Park. A sixth and seventh in the opening two races was followed by a retirement in race three. In the space of one weekend, he dropped from the championship lead to fifth.
The real trouble started at Thruxton. Though Priaulx took fifth and his second win of the season at the Hampshire track, he and team-mate Harry Dyson and Matt Luff we later excluded from the meeting. Ginetta had found all three cars had been tweaked with, against regulations. As well as losing the points he’d scored at Thruxton, Priaulx was handed a 70-point penalty. It dropped him to 17th in the standings.
Many believed the penalty all but ended Priaulx championship hopes, but the teenager didn’t appear to get that memo. He dominated the following weekend at Oulton Park, taking two lights to flag victories to reignite his championship fight.
Priaulx continued with the positive momentum at Croft with two more consecutive wins. He claimed two dominant pole positions in qualifying and converted both to wins in the opening two races of the weekend, but missed out on the hat-trick of victories.
The 17-year-old led early and built a gap to the rest of the pack before a safety car period bunched up the field. He was left defending against Gamble, Kiern Jewiss and Tom Wood, and was shuffled down to third before the end of the race.
Despite the Thruxton penalty, Priaulx was now seventh in the standings and off-track events would help his title bid further.
JHR Developments took an appeal of the Thruxton penalty to the MSA National Court, who decided in the team’s favour. Priaulx’s points – as well as those of his team-mates – were reinstated. It put Priaulx back to the top of the order, 16 points ahead of team-mate Tom Gamble.
After the summer break, Priaulx aimed to extend his championship lead, but a spin in the opening race at Snetterton whilst fighting for the win dropped him backwards and he finished eighth.
Another spin at the start of race two prompted a strong recovery drive. Having dropped down to 15th, Priaulx slowly climbed back through the field, making it up to third before the chequered flag.
A seventh place rounded out the weekend, extending his lead by just a single point.
Priaulx was left frustrated after a difficult weekend at Knockhill. The JHR Developments driver took the chequered flag third in a drag race to the line but was handed a five second penalty, dropping him to seventh whilst his championship rivals finished third and fourth. A wide moment in the following race awarded Priaulx with a sixth place in race two, cutting his lead to just three points ahead of Gamble.
Drama picked up off track after the Scottish round, as Ginetta declared it was suspending JHR from both its Junior and GT4 SuperCup championships as it conducted an investigation into the team.
Whilst the points Priaulx and his team-mates had built up were unaffected, the suspension meant they would have to switch teams for the remaining three rounds of the season.
Priaulx quickly found a seat at HHC Motorsport and headed to Rockingham with the hopes he could put the off-track drama behind him.
After briefly leading the opening race, Priaulx dropped to second before a safety car bunched up the field again. On the restart, Gamble found a way past his title rival, dropping Priaulx to third, where he stayed until the chequered flag. He was promoted to second after the race when former team-mate Gamble was handed a time penalty.
A pair of third place finishes followed, completing a hat-trick of podiums, but he’d dropped to second in the title fight.
He fell even further from the title lead at Silverstone. Whilst Gamble clamed a trio of victories, Priaulx took fourth, second, and fifth place finishes.
With only one round remaining, Priaulx is 42 points behind Gamble in the championship fight, 46 points adrift when dropped scores are taken into account.
Image credit: Caroline Rhea