Megan Gilkes holds on to reverse grid pole to win in Assen
Canadian Megan Gilkes, the youngest driver on the W-Series grid, took an historical non-championship race win by 0.003 seconds on Alice Powell.
After a cloudy Saturday, the sun was shining on the legendary Assen TT circuit and on the 20 cars taking the start of Sunday's morning W-Series experimental reverse grid race.
As announced later yesterday, W-Series opted for a full grid inversion based on championship points, which sent title contenders Jamie Chadwick and Beitske Visser to the back of the grid and Megan Gilkes on pole position.
Both the series reserve drivers, Belgian Sarah Bovy and Hungarian Vivien Keszthelyi, were also entered in the race.
At the race start, Sabré Cook had a stunning launch from 8th and brought herself up to third at the first corner, with Gilkes retaining the lead and Sarah Bovy hanging onto second.
Starting from third, Shea Holbrook dropped to 5th place, with Jessica Hawkins making up one position from 7th to 6th. Yesterday's podium finisher Alice Powell had an incredible first lap and recovered from P17 to P9, while the two championship contenders Visser and Chadwick completed the first lap in 14th and 16th respectively.
In the first frantic laps, it was action all over the field, as drivers went side by side and switched positions at every corner. Powell overtook Holbrook for eighth, Kimilainen passed three competitors in one lap and Visser made a move stick on Piria at turn one.
With all the battles unfolding, the top three Gilkes-Bovy-Cook slightly stretched their lead by almost 3 seconds over Keszthelyi in fourth.
The never-ending fight between Visser and Chadwick heated up once again, with the two rivals going wheel to wheel for a whole lap of the Assen racetrack before being joined by Fabienne Wohlwend, eager to pick up the pieces of the battle in front of her.
Chadwick, after a prolonged duel, lost momentum at the last chicane and dropped a couple of places.
On the 5th lap, Wohlwend was on a charge and signed the fastest lap, while Piria and Schiff found a way around Holbrook. Jessica Hawkins passed Esmee Hawkey for 5th and immediately started putting pressure on Keszthelyi ahead.
Gilkes managed to expand her lead by over a second from Bovy, who was coming increasingly under pressure from Sabré Cook.
Alice Powell continued her impressive comeback and on the eighth lap passed Hawkey and Keszthelyi at the last chicane, also making contact with the Hungarian in the process. Vivien spun a few corners later, trying to defend her top five position.
Visser had a hard time passing Holbrook, but she could move past the American when the latter went wide and had to take the run-off to rejoin the track.
A few corners later, Holbrook spun over the insidious Assen kerbs and beached her Tatuus F3 car in the gravel, bringing out the Safety Car.
It was bad news for Megan Gilkes, who saw her lead erased with 11 minutes left on the clock.
When the race resumed, the Canadian had not the best of the restarts, with Sarah Bovy determined to take over the lead: they both ran wide at turn one, with Jessica Hawkins behind desperately trying to take advantage from their fight. The British driver, though, lost out to Sabré Cook in the process, as the American also passed Sarah Bovy for second when the reserve driver went wide again in the battle for the lead.
Gosia Rdest passed Tasmin Pepper for 6th, but both were overtaken by the charging Emma Kimilainen. In the last 10 minutes, the on-track action was almost impossible to keep track of, as drivers kept switching positions until the Safety Car had to be deployed again when Gosia Rdest was tagged and spun around by the dropping Sarah Bovy at turn 5. Right behind them, Fabienne Wohlwend spun trying to take evasive action.
A few seconds earlier, Jessica Hawkins had retaken third from Sabré Cook at the chicane and yesterday's championship race winner Emma Kimilainen had gained the 5th place.
When the Safety Car was called back in, the remaining 18 drivers then had a fiery 2-laps shootout to the chequered flag. Jessica Hawkins went on full attack mode on Megan Gilkes, but could not find a way past the Canadian, while Alice Powell took second with two bold moves when Hawkins lost momentum at turn 16 and lost out to Cook and Kimilainen as well.
Kimilainen dived on the inside at turn one of the last lap to take third, but then ran wide allowing Cook back into P3. The Finnish racer switched positions with Hawkins as well at turn 4 and 5, just as Alice Powell was closer than ever to Gilkes. The British 26-year old did try a late move for the lead on the last chicane, but Gilkes defended superbly and won by 3 thousands of a second at the photofinish.
Sabré Cook was third, ahead of Kimilainen, Hawkins and Pepper, with five drivers within one second. Schiff took P7, while Chadwick made a few positions in the last hectic laps and took 8th away from Vicky Piria. Sarah Moore, after a difficult first half of the race recovered all the way up to P10. Sarah Bovy finished 11th, in front of Wood, Garcia and home hero Beitske Visser, who dropped to 14th position in the closing stages.
The W-Series reverse-standings grid experiment turned into one of the most thrilling motor racing events of the season, with the surprising victory of a remarkable Megan Gilkes. The 18-year old (youngest on the grid) driver showed the potential she had not been able to deliver in the previous championship rounds and will be one to watch for the last round in Brands Hatch and, hopefully, for next year.
The all-female championship will be back on track in three weeks time on the British famous racetrack for the grand finale, when Jamie Chadwick and Beitske Visser will battle for the historic inaugural W-Series title.
Ph credits: W-Series media