Abbi Pulling records best finish with second place in British F4
British F4 might have found a new star in the making with young racer Abbi Pulling: in her second podium of her rookie season, the 17-year old JHR Developments driver was second in yet another impressive weekend at Thruxton.
Two weeks ago, she had a frustrating weekend with two retirements at Knockhill despite showing continuous pace in the JHR Developments F4 car. Now, Abbi Pulling finds herself as the most successful female racer in the history of the British Formula 4 championship, after an outstanding performance in all three races at Thruxton in the fifth round of her rookie season.
In a weekend utterly dominated by the JHR Developments outfit, Pulling put in strong results in both the practice sessions, where she finished fourth and with the top drivers literally divided by few thousandths of a second. In yet another impressive qualifying, the 17-year old Brit worked together with teammate James Hedley to give each other the tow - always a critical point on the fastest circuit in the UK. Hedley claimed pole position for the first race with a 1:13.055 lap and just marginally denied Pulling her first pole for race 3, who slotted into second place for Sunday's final race.
“James and I get on well and work well together so we planned a strategy and worked to give each other the tow." - commented Pulling, who - just like her teammate - is coached by W Series star Alice Powell. "I was confident going into qualifying and we kept doing what we had been, and we got third for race one and second for race three, which I was over the moon about."
Home boy James Hedley won the first race in commanding fashion, despite having to hold off the attacks of Casper Stevenson (Argenti Racing) in the final stages.
Hedley had a great start off the line and maintained the lead over Stevenson, with Pulling right behind their tails.
The two championship rivals Browning and O'Sullivan had an exciting side-by-side battle that ultimately saw the points-leader advancing to fifth. The Fortec Motorsport racer chased and passed Alex Connor just one lap later, before a Safety Car interrupted the action for Matias Zagazeta's retirement.
While Hedley defended his leadership at the green flag, Abbi Pulling had a slower restart and came under pressure from the recovering Browning - losing her final podium position soon after. But it was too late to catch the leading duo, who had disappeared into distance and were protagonists of a thrilling final lap, ended with Hedley winning by just over a tenth of a second.
Pulling tried to respond back to Browning in the closing stages, but the two made contact and Abbi picked up front wing damages that dropped her further down the order.
“I was disappointed with my performance in race one, because I made a mistake on the Safety Car restart which dropped me back." - she said. "In the final laps I went for a move on Alex [Connor] and thought he was going to pull out, but he came back in and I made contact with his rear which broke a bracket on my wing, so I was all over the place and trying to keep the car on the road."
The young lady dropped to sixth place, just behind Zak O'Sullivan - who crucially took home fifth place and reverse-grid pole for the second race on Sunday.
Reema Juffali was ninth and scored her best result of the 2020 season so far - her third top-10 this year.
Starting fifth in the reverse-grid race, Hedley quickly moved up the order when an accident at the start surprisingly put most of his competitors out of contention: Browning, O'Sullivan and Connor dropped back after they made contact at Turn 1, with also Stevenson forced to take evasive action - leaving race 1 dominator again in a solitary lead when the Safety Car failed to materialize.
Stevenson would attempt a comeback and passed Pulling for fifth at the chicane, then went on to close in on the rest of the pack and overtook both Arden Motorsport's teammates Lubin and Bilinski, advancing to second.
Stevenson ate most of the gap away from Hedley, but the JHR Developments driver wasn't going to give up his second win of the weekend easily and held off the late charges to take his third win of the season.
Roman Bilinksi was third and edged Lubin to take the final step of the podium. Abbi Pulling had a good race and finished in the top-5 despite struggling for pace in the second half of the competition due to her used Hankook tyres. Nontheless, the young lady defended well from the recovering Browning and sprinted across the line to take fifth by just 0.146 seconds.
“There was a big incident at the start of race two." - she said after the race. "I made it up to fourth but struggled a little on the worn tyres so lost one place but managed to defend from the championship leader and kept him behind, so that was a positive."
Reema Juffali endured the toughest race of the Thruxton weekend and had to retire. She wasn't the only DNF of the race though, as Alex Connor was also called back into the pits with a damaged front wing after the first lap clashes.
The final race at Thruxton represented the real highlight of the weekend for Abbi Pulling, who was eager to make the most out of her front-row start. Pulling had a blistering getaway but she lined up behind teammate Hedley at Turn 1. In yet another masterclass performance, Hedley pulled away and never looked back: the BRDC Rising Star completed a stunning hat-trick at Thruxton, a circuit that proved JHR Developments' winning ground.
With a comfortable lead of over 7 seconds, Hedley came home with two pole positions and three race victories - but there was glory also for Abbi Pulling, as the young racer had her mirrors full of Caspar Stevenson and defended superbly to clinch her first second place finish of her F4 career, in her rookie season.
Stevenson launched his attacks at Club chicane, but Pulling never put a foot wrong and became the best female finisher in the series - topping Louise Richardson and her own record of third.
“I was full of aggression for race three because Saturday wasn’t as good as it could have been. I almost jumped into the lead at the start but thought it would be a clever option to follow James as he knows the track like the back of his hand." - commented an ectsatic Pulling.
"Casper caught me a little and it was a fight for the final 12 minutes. I was defending for my life and was happy to show what I could do in terms of my racecraft.
Behind the JHR Development's 1-2, it was a widely entertaining race with championship leader Luke Browning having to make up positions after a grid-drop for his involvement in Saturday's second race incident. Browning had a great start and immediately moved up on four rivals. At Campbell corner, he then banged wheels with Christian Mansell and Alex Connor - the latter being sent on a spin. Connor was then able to fight his way back up into fourth and edged Browning across the line - the Fortec Motorsport's driver extending his championship lead despite having his toughest race weekend to date.
It was a very busy race for Saudi driver Reema Juffali, who was protagonist of an exciting battle with Lubin and Villagomez. Having a strong race in ninth, Reema attempted a move on Lubin which opened a gap for Villagomez. The Mexican driver made a move stick at Campbell, but Juffali responded back and the pair continued to swap places for the rest of the race. Villagomez ultimately claimed P9 after a pass at Turn 1, as Reema Juffali could nevertheless score her fourth top-10 of her sophomore British F4 campaign.
The series will now head to Silverstone in one-week time for its sixth round of the season:
“I am confident for Silverstone having done lots on the simulator and having had test days there." - said Pulling, who is now seventh in the championship standings.
"I have done more laps there than I have at Thruxton, so I am over the moon and aiming for some more pots next weekend!”
“It was an exceptionally good weekend." - added Steven Hunter, Team Principal at JHR Developments. "While James’ three wins out of three is the highlight, but Abbi’s second place in race three brought out a lot of emotion than anything else. Both were quick all the way through and it was nice to see both of them on the podium."
Both the drivers coached by Alice Powell will now try to keep momentum into Silverstone:
"After all the bad luck you have had at the previous rounds, being taken out and only really finishing half the races so far this season because of it, you kept up the hard work and dedication and it paid off." - wrote Powell on her social media profiles commenting on Pulling's race. "Amazing drive, soaking up immense pressure to come home in P2 in Race 3. I couldn't have been happier! It is days like these, as a coach, you live for."
Will Alice soon find herself competing against her pupil in bigger series? While it might be early to say, what the first part of the British F4 season has proven, is that Abbi Pulling certainly looks like one of the most interesting profiles to follow in the upcoming years.