Championship Newcomers Excel on Day One at Donington
F3 Cup’s 2016 season started on a high note today (23 April) with great results for the championship’s newcomers, and strong performances by the regulars.
F3 Cup's 2016 season started on a high note today (23 April) with great results for the championship's newcomers, and strong performances by the regulars.
Qualifying took place under sunny skies at the East Midlands circuit, with Shane Kelly first on track for the University of Wolverhampton Race Team. All 16 entries took to the track for the morning session, double the number of cars at last year's season opener.
Despite a mix of experience in the field, all the lap times quickly began to fall, as experienced F3 pilots Stuart Wiltshire, Tony Bishop, Daryl Jones and Robbie Watts settled back into the rhythm. Although new to the championship (and, in some cases, single seater racing itself), drivers like George Line, James Heffernan and Chris Kite all quickly got to grips with the cars and circuit alike. Less regular, though familiar, faces including Matt Payne, James Ledamun, Geoffrey Hoodless and Richard Purcell were all clearly relishing being back in their race cars. In the midfield, Daniel Tapinos, Jacopo Sebastiani, Malcolm Scott and Mark Harrison put in solid performances, with consistently improving times throughout the session.
Ultimately, pole position stayed with Kelly as he stormed the team's Dallara F308 to a 1:02.870 around the National circuit, followed by Watts - who is nursing a wrist injury this weekend - and Jones. 2015 Championship runner-up Wiltshire had a troubled session, with electrical glitches pushing him down to sixth place overall. Line, not having had a chance to test the car before this weekend, was satisfied with the knowledge he gained during the session and seventh place on the grid.
The first race of the year didn't disappoint in the excitement stakes either - Kelly was unable to capitalise on his pole position, allowing Jones to launch himself into an early lead but the UWR driver was quick to make amends and took the lead back early on. Speaking of his win after the race, Kelly said, "It's unbelievable! This is the result of all the hard work the students have put in over the off-season. We're still learning the tyres, it's something different to last year but the car worked well. I fluffed the start a little bit - it was my first race start in an F3 in probably 10 years!"
The top five changed positions multiple times over the course of the 15 minute race, up to the last lap as George Line and Stuart Wiltshire managed to work their way back up the order, as Daryl Jones dropped down the order with engine troubles. Robbie Watts was starting to feel the pain from his recent wrist injury, but still managed to post the fastest lap of the race, recording at 1:03.369. Mark Harrison had a strong result on his championship return, bringing his car home in fourth place; Likewise Heffernan, driving for CF Racing, who finished in fifth on his debut.
On his second place finish, Line said, "This was our first ever race in the single seater and we didn't get a chance to do any testing so [qualifying] was learning the track and the basics, so as we went on to the race every lap was getting better and better." Moving to F3 from MX-5 racing, Line has enjoyed the new challenges, "It's so different, normally in the Super Cup you try to stay behind people and use the slipstream but in the formula car the turbulent air is totally different. I'm really enjoying the challenge"
Wiltshire was his usual exuberant self on the podium, celebrating his hard-fought third place, telling commentator Alan Hyde, "I haven't prepared a speech this time, I didn't think I'd be able to propel myself so far up the grid for the first race! Qualifying was woeful, my dash was going on and off, I think it was the worst qualifying I've ever had."
The trio were joined on the podium by Trophy Class winner James Ledamun and Masters Class winner Geoffrey Hoodless.
F3 Cup, Donington Park: Race One (23 April 2016)
- Shane Kelly - Dallara F308 - 14 laps
- George Line - Dallara F308 +12.257
- Stuart Wiltshire - Dallara F308 +12.785
- Mark Harrison - Dallara F305 +25.214
- James Heffernan - Dallara F308 +28.103
- Tony Bishop - Dallara F310 +28.484
- Robbie Watts - Dallara F308 +30.334
- Daryl Jones - Dallara F308 +39.611
- Malcolm Scott - Dallara F306 +1:22.676
- Jacopo Sebastiani - Dallara F311 +1:28.587
- Richard Purcell - Dallara F308 +1 lap
- Matt Payne - Dallara F305 +1 lap
- James Ledamun - Dallara F300 +1 lap
- Geoffrey Hoodless - March 813 +2 laps
- Daniel Tapinos - Dallara F311 - DNF
- Chris Kite - Dallara F393 - DNS
F3 Cup's races tomorrow (Sunday) are at 10:45 and 17:15.