W Series: Abbi Pulling takes maiden pole position, Chadwick on Sunday pole
In one of the most exciting qualifying sessions to date, Jamie Chadwick and Abbi Pulling traded positions at the top: the young reserve driver claimed her maiden pole position in race 1, while Chadwick's second best lap was enough to secure pole for Sunday. Belén Garcia and Sarah Moore share the second row.
Friday at COTA was all about Jamie Chadwick taking the headlines. Behind the title contender – and defending champion – though, a 18-year-old reserve driver had just finished in second place in both sessions, at her third appearance in W Series.
Abbi Pulling was set to compete in her second British F4 championship in 2021, after a remarkable rookie season defined by several podium finishes. Her sophomore campaign in F4, on the other hand, was met with funding issues that ultimately halted her season. She thus had to focus all her efforts on her reserve driver role in W Series, making the most out of the outings and trying to grab a full-time seat in 2022.
On Saturday morning, Abbi Pulling seemed to be on a mission to do just that: she led most of the 30-minute qualifying session, clinching her first pole position in spectacular fashion. Pulling preceded Jamie Chadwick and Belén Garcia, third on the grid for Race 1.
Chadwick and Pulling were the first drivers to set competitive lap times and set the early pace: it would remain a battle between the Veloce Racing and PUMA drivers, with Scuderia W's teammates Belén Garcia and Sarah Moore also not far behind.
Moore went on top in the opening minutes, before Pulling could re-claim the lead after having a lap time disallowed for track limits at the 10 minute mark.
Championship leader – and Pulling's mentor - Alice Powell, yesterday hampered by several technical issues, seemed back in contention in the first half of the session, when she slotted in third place, just ahead of her main rival Jamie Chadwick.
Mid-way through qualifying, Chadwick stayed out one more lap and improved to third, before joining all the rest of the field in the pitlane to bolt on fresh tyres for the final push.
Miki Koyama was notified via radio of a rear suspension issue, which terminated her session. It was yet another disappointment for the Japanese driver, who had an unbelievable amount of technical issues on her car throughout the season. She ended the session in P15.
Belén Garcia was among the protagonists of the final stint; on new tyres, she went on top of the timing screen, ahead of compatriot Marta Garcia. Powell was again struggling and couldn't find enough speed, initially moving into fifth place before slipping down the order.
Beitske Visser – third in both sessions on Friday - had a great first sector, but then couldn't do better than fourth.
All the eyes, though, were on Abbi Pulling and Jamie Chadwick: Pulling could beat Garcia's fastest lap by 0.003 seconds, while Chadwick encountered traffic and had to back off in a couple of laps. She would eventually completed a clean lap to climb back to first place with four minutes left on the clock.
In one of the most tightly fought qualifying to date, Pulling responded back with a 2:05.633 that would ultimately reward her the pole position for Race 1. Chadwick's last lap, albeit not fast enough to demote Pulling, gained the Veloce Racing driver the second fastest lap of the session and therefore the pole position for Race 2 - until that point also in the hands of Abbi Pulling.
"I got out of the car and thought I was going to throw up, which is just the adrenaline!" – said Pulling. "It's the first pole position of my career and what a place to do it at."
"It's awesome. As I said yesterday, I tend to go into race weekends with high expectations, but this weekend I've tried not to think about it and keep everything at the back of my mind, and that's a good way for me to deal with things", she added.
"I know I'm good at maintaining a tyre for a long stint as I've done it throughout my British Formula 4 season, and the two W Series races I've done so far this year have given me good experience too. I may not be as experienced as some of the people around me, but I've got a good idea of what I need to do."
Belén Garcia and Sarah Moore – both very fast on Friday as well – carried momentum and will share the second row of the grid in today's race. Emma Kimilainen had struggled with setup problems throughout the free practice sessions, but quick changes in qualifying brought her back up to fifth place.
"After the struggle I've had with the setup yesterday and also at the beginning of the quali session, I'm really pleased we were able to improve and get this result." – she said. "It's still a position where you can attack from". Kimilainen remains mathematically in contention for the title.
Marta Garcia and Beitske Visser – two of the championship favourites ahead of the season – will start from sixth and seventh, as Jessica Hawkins, Fabienne Wohlwend and Alice Powell rounded out the top-10. The qualifying result will surely put some extra pressure on Powell, but we can expect her to fight until the end.
Sabré Cook had a very good session and finished in 12th position, in her best qualifying of the season. The only American on the grid is often one of the biggest movers in the races and will aim for the first points of her season on home soil.
The highest placed rookie in the championship, Nerea Marti, had a challenging session and finished in P13, ahead of Eaton, Koyama and Caitlin Wood. The Australian reserve driver, subbing in for Irina Sidorkova at COTA, had brake issues yesterday and had again a troubled run with a spin in the Esses section.
Bruna Tomaselli will start both the races from the last position after she had several laps deleted for track limits.
The first race of the weekend will follow at 17:35 local time (00:35 CEST).