Jamie Chadwick set the early pace at Barcelona, in the free practice session of the W Series third round of the 2022 season. The championship leader preceded home hero Belén Garcia, a little over a tenth behind the Briton, and Abbi Pulling.
Two weeks after the spectacular double-header that kicked off the 2022 season, the all-female single-seater championship W Series is back on track at Barcelona for its second race meeting and third round of the season. The 18 drivers returned to Circuit de Montmelo for the second time this year, as the famous 4.675 km track hosted pre-season testing in March. Albeit in different weather conditions - now in hotter temperatures - drivers return to a more familiar territory compared to the Miami International Autodrome, which was the first experience on a street circuit for most of them. With such a short break between the rounds - and with logistics playing such a crucial role for a global series - W Series teamed up with Toyota Gazoo Racing News Zealand for a whole different lot of Tatuus F3 regional cars to be employed at Barcelona. The cars - belonging to the Toyota Racing Series that has been put on hold due to Covid restrictions in New Zealand for the past couple of years - are identical to the W Series cars but equipped with a Toyota engine rather than the Alfa Romeo Autotecnica used in the all-female series since its inception. The 30-minute session started off with the wrong foot for Spaniard Nerea Marti, who beached her Quantfury car in the gravel trap at La Caixa a few minutes into the session. Marti, who was on the podium in the second race in Miami and scored her first pole position, remains one of the favourites for this weekend, but will have to face an extra challenge as she enters qualifying later today with no practice reference. Marti was on her first flying lap when she went a bit too deep into Turn 10 while passing Emma Kimilainen, ending up on the greener part of the track. She then understeered towards the gravel trap and could not rejoin. The stricken car of Marti brought out the red flag and the session resumed soon after. Beitske Visser was the first to set a timed lap, but Jamie Chadwick was soon on top of the timing sheets and never left the first spot throughout the remaining minutes. Chadwick's 1:45.517 remained unbeaten - but the championship leader will have to watch her mirrors from a fast charging Belén Garcia, who finished second, a little over one tenth of a second adrift. The Catalan is really racing on home soil and will target her first W Series podium this weekend. "Good start, it felt like home", said Belén. "It can be better of course, I'm not P1 yet, but I'm positive. I think everyone will improve in the next session but I'm there in the mix and that's what I want." Third was Abbi Pulling, who had a strong session in third, but the young Brit says she has some good room for improvement: "Practice went quite well, there was almost a mistake every lap so I'd like to improve that", she commented. "I think we were all trying to learn these new cars as there are a few differences in the balance as well. "The form has kinda come back after Miami, I'm happy with how the weekend started and hopefully we can carry on quite similarly." Pulling finished just ahead of her mentor Alice Powell; the 2021 runner up traded places in the final minutes with another fast Spaniard, Marta Garcia, who was once again among the top drivers after a heart-breaking penalty in Miami that demoted her from the podium in race 1. Marta edged her CortDAO teammate Fabienne Wohlwend, sixth fastest and 89 thousandths behind. Wohlwend was fast at Miami, but could not ultimately capitalize due to a series of unfortunate incidents. Bruna Tomaselli waited in the pits longer than the rest of the field as her mechanics worked on some adjustments but the Brazilian seemed to have found some good speed as she was seventh fastest, preceding Jessica Hawkins, Beitske Visser and Sarah Moore in the top ten. Emely De Heus was the fastest of the rookie drivers, finishing eleventh in practice. The Dutchwoman scored her first points in Race 1 at Miami and is looking strong at Barcelona as well: her 1:146.383 was well within the second gap to two-time champion Jamie Chadwick. De Heus, who raced in the Spanish F4 in 2021 and has also contested FRECA collective tests at the end of last year at Barcelona, might be one to watch on Spanish soil. One of the fastest on track in Florida, Emma Kimilainen was massively out of position in FP1: the Finnish star was 12th fastest, as she suffered a brake sensor failure that limited the engine to only 40% of its power on corner exit. The issue has been solved after practice. Rookie Juju Noda had an encouraging session in P13, ahead of Abbie Eaton - who was the only driver missing pre-season testing and thus went out on track for the first time at Montmelo in FP1. Tereza Babickova, Chloe Chambers and Bianca Bustamente rounded out the grid, but gaps were way closer compared to Miami, proving that all the rookies are making big progress session after session. With no time set, Nerea Marti will now head into qualifying with no data, but if there's a driver that can bounce back it's certainly Marti. W Series qualifying will go green at 19:25 local time later today, as the grid for tomorrow's Spanish GP will be set.