Heffernan Gambles and Hits the Jackpot
Tyre gamble pays off as Heffernan wins thrilling F3 Cup race at Snetterton 200.
Moments before the first F3 Cup race of the weekend, every F3 Cup driver and team member gazed up to the sky as dark rain clouds loomed over Snetterton. Once the rain started, all cars headed to the grid on wet tyres - at the time, the Pirelli wets appeared to be the best option.
However, after the first of two green flag laps a number of drivers decided to come into the pits and gamble on changing to slicks. Mark Harrison came in, but decided to stay with the wet tyres, but James Heffernan, Robbie Watts, Jacopo Sebastiani, Stuart Wiltshire and Shane Kelly all went for the slicks option. Their respective teams frantically tried to change tyres as the rest of the field stayed on wets and took their positions onto the grid for a race start.
2012 F3 Cup Champion Chris Dittmann found himself starting the race on the front of the grid, as erstwhile pole man Kelly's UWR team set about fitting the slick tyres to his car. Dittmann hadn't even expected to race this weekend, the CDR boss finding himself filling in for Phillip Jeans at the last moment.
As the lights went out, the temporarily depleted field headed into Riches, then followed Heffernan, Harrison, Watts, Sebastiani, Wiltshire and Kelly from the pits.
For the first few laps, Dittmann maintained his lead, followed by Carey and Line, who also decided to stay on the wet tyres. As the race progressed, and the track conditions improved, the drivers who gambled on slicks enjoyed faster and faster lap times. Kelly showed the first signs of the dry tyres' advantage as he moved up the field, eventually producing the fastest lap of the race (1:07.511).
However, it was Sebastiani, Watts and Heffernan who were the ones to watch, as they each moved up the field to claim the top three podium spots. Dittmann lead for most of the race, and put on a determined battle, but Heffernan eventually overtook at the exit of Bomb Hole, and from then on Dittmann was at the mercy of Sebastiani, Watts and Kelly.
Gino Ussi fared well on his return to the Championship with a ninth place finish, while Venn, Bishop, Purcell and Gillet battled hard to finish as high up the order as possible with their wet tyres on a rapidly drying track.
Malcolm Scott represented the Open class with a last minute change into his F398 Dallara, and Adrian Holley decided to stay in the pits for the race, not wanting to risk his wet tyres with another two races still to go on Sunday.
Race winner James Heffernan said: "The team (CF Racing) made a great call for me to come in and put me out on slicks. Everyone around me was on wets, I wanted to stay on wets, but after the first green flag lap they said it's dry, let's get back to the slicks. I then thought to myself I could win the race here, so if I'm first out of the pit lane it's more the case of is there enough time, or am I going to be a minute or so short in the tight 15 minute race - that was my only doubt really. I knew it was in the bag if I could just be patient enough not to trip up while people were having battles on their wets. So I was careful around those guys - Chris Dittmann made it interesting, and he was doing well on those wet tyres."
Second place Jacopo Sebastiani, said: "Luckily, we came into the pits at the right time for the tyres, but what made the result was the team (CF Racing), especially as they had three cars to change tyres, with Stuart (Wiltshire) and James (Heffernan), the team did an amazing job to change twelve tyres in that amount of time - that was the strategic move to get me up the running order."
The final podium spot went to Robbie Watts in third place, he said: "I should've won it - I didn't push hard enough at start of the race, but well done to James (Heffernan), and Jacabo (Sebastiani). Jacopo got past me right at the end, but it's points in the bag and I'll now move onto the next race tomorrow.
For the full race results click here.
F3 Cup races again tomorrow (14 May) on the Snetterton 200 circuit at 09:25 and 14:30.