Powell tops first session of the season, edges Wohlwend by 0.094
The 2022 season is underway – with a returning battle: Alice Powell edged Fabienne Wohlwend by the tight margin of 0.094 seconds, with Jamie Chadwick not far behind. The new Miami track seemed to reward the more experienced drivers, as everyone explored the limits of the tricky layout.
Season 3, Round 1 - Miami. The most anticipated weekend of the season for many fans – as well as for drivers, as they almost unanimously cited the newly-built street course of Miami as the race they were most looking forward to in 2022 at pre-season testing.
It certainly is an exciting return for the championship, which builds on the momentum of 2021 when it delivered on its promises of “bigger and better” and is now back with an extended race calendar, new teams and some exciting new faces on the grid, as the 18 drivers are eager to finally break the Chadwick domination after two on-track seasons.
Jamie Chadwick is in fact returning to defend the crown for the third year in a row – but what she’s especially after in the W Series paddock will be to find new backers willing to move her up the ladder. And the skyrocketing attention for the series, especially in new markets, might just do the trick.
Will it be “third time’s a charm” for Alice Powell? The British racer was so close to clinching her first W Series title last year, but she is willing to go, having been denied by a few technical gremlins. The newly appointed Alpine F1 Team’s Academy talent scout will share the track for the first time on a full-season scale with her protégé Abbi Pulling. Having highly impressed with a podium in just a few appearances as a reserve driver, all eyes will be on “little AP” now: will she be able to challenge her coach in the long run?
Never count Emma Kimilainen out either: with a bit more luck compared to last year, the most experienced racer on the grid could realistically get away with her first title in 2022, having also moved to the Puma W Series Team.
But there are also fast youngsters ready to grab every opportunity to shine – like Nerea Marti, who’s ready to finally take over that top step of the podium; or drivers like Beitske Visser and Marta Garcia, who will be looking to find again that sparkle they had in 2019.
The new Miami track proved to be an interesting mix of fast corners, tight sections and long straights that resemble some previous new-generation permanent style racetrack built with temporary infrastructure like Sochi and Jeddah.
In the first session of the season, drivers mainly used their 30 minutes to get used to the track and its reference points, as they tested out the limits under braking and a few had to resort to the runoff areas.
Jessica Hawkins – this year again Alice Powell’s teammate, but at Bristol Street Motors – led the early stages, before Emma Kimilainen, Alice Powell and Jamie Chadwick alternated on top of the leaderboard.
A red flag interrupted the action halfway through the session, when Bianca Bustamante spun just out of the Marina corner. The Academy car didn’t make contact with the barriers and sustained no damages, but the session was halted to allow the Filipino driver to get back underway.
When running resumed, it would be Emma Kimilainen to set the fastest time with 10 minutes left on the clock, and the Finnish ace remained unbeaten until Fabienne Wohlwend topped her lap time with less than 5 minutes to go.
The driver from Liechtenstein seemed to have found more pace in the first two sectors and kept improving – but Alice Powell signed a 1:57.118 that gave her the top spot in the closing stages.
A spin by newcomer driver Emely De Heus (Sirin Racing) brought out a quick yellow flag but the track was soon clear and drivers continued to improve. Chadwick returned into the high ranks with a third place, followed by Nerea Marti and Emma Kimilainen.
Kimilainen and Wohlwend went for a final fast lap but both couldn’t ultimately top Powell, who ended the first day of the 2022 season as the leader by the tight margin of 0.094 seconds. Chadwick was a little over 2 tenths down the road, just ahead of Marti, Kimilainen, Moore and Visser – making it seven teams in the top-7.
Jessica Hawkins, Belén Garcia and Bruna Tomaselli rounded out the top ten – the latter sporting a great Ayrton Senna-inspired helmet design.
“It’s really tight, it’s really fast and so exciting” – Wohlwend described the Miami International Autodrome, which seems to be rewarding the more experienced drivers over the rookies. Juju Noda ended as the fastest of the newcomers, but unfortunately finished the session into the wall of Turn 16 just under the bridge. She was 14th fastest, ahead of Academy teammate Bianca Bustamante, Chloe Chambers, Tereza Babickova and Emely De Heus. The two youngest drivers on the grid were separated by only 0.01 seconds.
Returning from a spinal injury picked up at the last 2021 race at COTA, Abbie Eaton was 11th, while Marta Garcia and Abbi Pulling – P12 and P13 respectively – will have some setup work to do to climb up the order.
The qualifying session will get underway on Saturday at 09:10 local time (15:10 CEST), as the first race will follow at 14:30 ET (20:30 CEST).
Bristol Street Motors
Puma W Series Team
Bristol Street Motors
Puma W Series Team
Emely DE HEUS