By claiming her first podium at only her second British F4 race event, 17-year old Abbi Pulling is quickly establishing herself as a potential championship contender.
We first had glimpses of 17-year old upcoming star Abbi Pulling's talent last week, when she first appeared on the grid of the British Formula 4 at Donington Park.
Pulling, a former karting champion, showed her pace straight away and it was quickly clear that the young Brit had what it takes to be a consistent presence in the top-5. But a series of collisions on track hampered her debut weekend, nonetheless concluded with a sixth place in the final race of the opening round.
With plenty of potential - and a few more races of experience under her belt - Pulling went into the Brands Hatch weekend eager to prove that she belongs to the top spots of the championship. And, straight away from the qualifying session, she placed her JHR Developments Mygale machine in fourth position for the first race at the Kent racetrack, used in its GP layout.
Points leader Zak O'Sullivan clinched the first pole position of the weekend by edging 2019 pole-sitter Alex Connor by just one tenth of a second, thanks to his laptime of 1:27.255.
Luke Browning was third, sharing the front row with Pulling.
JHR Developments' James Hedley, victorious in the last Donington race, could not set any laps due to an engine problem and was P15 and last on the grid, while other female racer Reema Juffali was 14th fastest, just over a second adrift poleman O'Sullivan in a very compressed grid.
“Overall, it's been a really good weekend." - commented Pulling. "We had a positive qualifying session and I was P4. There was a bit more in the bag after looking at the data, but you know it is what is: it's my best qualifying performance in my second meeting in British F4, so it's not too shabby."
O'Sullivan held on to first place and went past Paddock Hill bend in the most favourable position, while Browning found a way past Connor for second. The Carlin driver, though, was unreachable in the first half of the race and could open a small safe gap on his competitors, which ultimately gave him the edge when Browning's pace started to emerge - leaving no time left for the Fortec racer to attempt a move for the lead.
Connor was also following the action closely behind, but positions were maintained until the chequered flag, as O'Sullivan took his second win of the season - his first at the iconic Brands Hatch venue.
With yet another convincing performance, Abbi Pulling didn't put a foot wrong and was fourth across the line, claiming her best result in the championship up until that point.
Reema Juffali was 12th, with Lubin, Villagomez and Hedley all failing to finish first weekend's race.
But it was the second race that reserved the best surprise for Pulling, who could top her best finish and claim an extraordinary first podium after battling for victory in the final laps of the race. The young lady briefly advanced into second at Paddock Hill Bend at the race start, but then saw reverse-grid poleman Christian Mansell and Roberto Faria pulling away.
Leading a train of fierce competitors behind her, Pulling held off Luke Browning for the entire race, before the Fortec Motorsport driver came under increasing pressure from the attacks of Arden's Alex Connor and Roman Bilinski.
Championship leader O'Sullivan endured a difficult race as he was forced to pit for mechanical problems, but his closest rivals in the points standings could not do better than fourth and fifth.
Mansell took a commanding lights to flag victory, despite Brazilian Roberto Faria had closed-in in the final minutes and finished only half a second behind. With a masterful drive, Pulling took her maiden podium in single seaters and equalled the highest finish in the series for a female racing driver (Louise Richardson, Croft 2015).
“The first race I started and finished P4 so it was quite a calm race. Race two was kind of the highlight of the weekend; I got my first podium and it’s not like it was an easy race either." - explained Pulling.
"I was pushing 100% from start to finish as I had two very experienced drivers behind me in Browning and Connor who have both raced at Brands Hatch in the past, whereas I'd only done one test day beforehand so you can't really complain about that, especially as we caught the leaders at the end as well."
O'Sullivan bounced back in the third race and completed a perfect weekend for Team Carlin. Leading from start to finish, the British racer finished ahead of Luke Browning - who moved ahead of Faria and Pino at the first famous corner of Paddock Hill Bend and then chased Alex Connor. Browning was quick to seize the opportunity when Connor made a little mistake at Clearways, opening the door. This battle allowed O'Sullivan to gain some margin, but he then had to watch his mirrors from the return of Browning in the final minutes.
A famously difficult track where to pass, Brands Hatch leaves no room for error and ultimately O'Sullivan could defend his second win of the weekend, three tenths clear of Luke Browning. Connor, Faria and Bilinski rounded out the top five, while Abbi Pulling had a more difficult third race and finished down the order in P14 after starting in seventh place on the grid.
“Race three didn't really go our way – I messed up the start a little bit, but you know it's still a learning experience. It was annoying that we had a bit of contact on the last lap which put me down in 14th position because it would have been a good point scoring weekend if it wasn't for that. It is what it is and I'm happy."
But, coming home with a fourth and a third place from Brands Hatch, Abbi Pulling has now established herself as a potential championship contender.
“The pace is definitely there, and we've shown the lads that I'm here to win." - she continues. "I was speechless on Saturday and hopefully we can carry that to Oulton Park. We've been strong there in testing and I know that I've got the pace more so than Brands Hatch, so to come out with a podium at a track that I wasn't as confident in means it was a very positive weekend."
"Abbi was fabulous on Saturday taking third and fourth and equals the best position of a female driver in British F4 and I am sure this season there will be more to come with bigger trophies, so I look forward to seeing how she progresses." - said JHR Development's Team Principal Steven Hunter.
Reema Juffali was P12 in all the three races, as she could not replicate her point-paying performance of Donington - nonetheless making good progresses and battling just outside the top-10 in the second and third races.
"Happy with the steps I’ve taken on this legendary circuit" - commented the Saudi driver.
As the series now heads to Oulton Park in two-weeks time after its first back-to-back weekend of the 2020 revised schedule, Pulling now sits eighth in the championship standings with 35 points.