Abbi Pulling denied British F4 glory at Knockhill
British upcoming star Abbi Pulling was taken out from the second Knockhill British F4 race while leading the field from reverse-grid pole, but now looks forward to the next round at Thruxton where her team holds a positive record.
F4 British Championship certified by FIA – powered by Ford EcoBoost had its second back-to-back weekend and headed to the Scottish venue of Knockhill for the fourth round of the 2020 revised calendar.
17-year old Abbi Pulling has been the revelation of the British-based Formula 4 championship so far, as the driver of the #49 JHR Developments car proved to be a consistent presence in the top-5 in her first formula season. Pulling claimed a podium in her second race weekend when she finished third in the second race of the Brands Hatch event, then was again in the top five at Oulton Park.
Coming to Knockhill, Pulling was eyeing another podium result but left frustrated by a series of unfortunate incidents.
Qualifying resulted in seventh place for the Brit - with all the three JHR cars performing below the team's expectations. It was Pulling's first visit to the Scottish racetrack, but her practice pace suggested that top-five finishes remained achievable in the three weekend's races.
Starting from pole, Fortec Motorsport's Luke Browning had the perfect getaway and held comfortably his position from Alex Connor and Casper Stevenson, as the two battled for second behind the leader in the early stages. Arden's Connor held off the attacks and could defend his runner up place, but Browning - almost three seconds ahead - converted pole position into his fourth straight race win, claiming the record-breaking result following three victories at Oulton Park last weekend.
Stevenson was third for Argenti Motorsport, just ahead of Zak O'Sullivan, the latter having to defend from James Hedley. The JHR driver saw again his race coming to a premature end due to a contact with Roberto Faria as Hedley tried to go around the outside at Clark.
Behind them, another fierce battle saw Abbi Pulling and Roman Bilinski going side-by-side on the main straight. The young girl was pushed onto the grass and had to settle for sixth to avoid contact - despite securing reverse grid pole for the second race of the weekend.
“We struggled a bit in qualifying. I’ve not been to Knockhill before this week, so I was learning each time we went out on track." - she explained. "Race one was decent; I kind of stayed in my position though I fell back a bit at the start and made my way forward but then I was battling for fifth and I was put on the grass, which was annoying, so I finished sixth."
Saudi racer Reema Juffali advanced two positions from her starting place and was 12th across the finish line.
Abbi Pulling best chances for a race win to date were short-lived though, as she was again hit by Bilinski on the opening lap and was out into the gravel at Turn 1.
“Finishing sixth put me on pole for race two and it is such a good opportunity so I thought I would make the most of it and get a podium because we knew we had the pace and talent to do it, but I didn’t even make it to the first corner unfortunately." - said Pulling. "The same driver I had an incident with in race one, hit my rear and took me out of the race. It’s a learning curve, I guess, but it’s not right at the same time, so I knew I had nothing to lose for race three."
It was a hugely disappointing end to Race 2 for Pulling and, when the Safety Car paved the way for a restart, Zak O'Sullivan went into the lead and never looked back. Browning recovered to third and could then find a way around Bilinksi at Duffus Dip, with also Alex Connor advancing to third following a mistake by the Polish Arden driver at Clark corner.
Bilinksi was fifth at the finish line, but was later excluded from the race result for causing the collision with Pulling.
Browning's winning streak was therefore broken by his Carlin's title rival Zak O'Sullivan, claiming his fourth win in the series. Browning was second and Connor completed the podium, with Stevenson again showing good pace to finish fourth. JHR Developments' James Hedley inherited fifth place and recorded the fastest lap of the race after a charge through the field.
Reema Juffali had some exciting battles for tenth place with Frederick Lubin and Nico Pino - the Arden driver ultimately coming out on top of the small group to take 10th, while Juffali finished P11 edging her Chilean teammate by two tenths of a second across the finish line.
Race 3 saw Pulling starting from eighth place due to the second-best time in qualifying, with championship leader Luke Browning again slotting into pole position, ahead of Casper Stevenson. Browning was able to held off the Argenti driver into the opening corners and then he could build a gap to win with an over four-second margin.
With his fifth victory this season, he extended his championship lead over O'Sullivan who could not do better than third after a bold move on Alex Connor on the first lap of the race. In the latter stages, O'Sullivan caught up with Stevenson, but could not find a way past his opponent.
Abbi Pulling had another unfortunate race and was forced to retire for a mechanical issue:
“I was quite amped up before race three because of the incident earlier and sadly something broke at the rear and made it basically undriveable until Alice [Powell, W Series race winner and Pulling's coach] threw out the board and called me in to the pits. I was ready to keep going but if I did the rear would have collapsed and that would be even more damage."
“I tried to keep my position even with the problem because I thought it was a slow puncture at first. It’s disheartening having two bad weekends in a row, but I will keep my head high."
James Hedley was fifth after swapping positions with Roberto Faria, the pair finishing ahead of Roman Bilinski. Reema Juffali battled for 12th with Carlin's Matias Zagazeta and could ultimately claim the position in another solid performance for the Saudi driver.
"It's not the weekend we were hoping for and certainly not the results we know we are capable of achieving." - commented Steven Hunter, JHR Developments' Team Principal.
"We have been in motorsport long enough to know that sometimes the cards just don't fall in your favour."
"It was such a shame about the incident removing Abbi from race two as that was a certain podium finish. There were positives from the weekend and we know we have the pace so we'll head to Thruxton where hopefully we can repeat some of the success we achieved last year."
Abbi Pulling leaves Knockhill disappointed, but with high hopes for the next round at Thruxton, where JHR Developments claimed three race wins last year with two different drivers, hopeful to repeat that success.