W Series: Chadwick tops red-flagged FP2, Pulling shines in second
Jamie Chadwick continued to lead the way at COTA after a red-flagged and shortened second practice session. Abbi Pulling and Beitske Visser remain in the top three, while Alice Powell climbed the order after engine issues in the morning, finishing behind Belén Garcia in P5.
Day one at Circuit of the Americas ended with FP2 - as the series reintroduced a second 30-minute session for the first time since the Brands Hatch 2019 season finale. Jamie Chadwick had topped the morning session, leading reserve driver Abbi Pulling and the 2019 runner-up Beitske Visser. Chadwick's main title rival Alice Powell was only tenth fastest after missing almost half a session due to engine issues. When the session went underway at 16:40 local time, Jessica Hawkins was the first driver to set a competitive lap time. The Aston Martin F1 team development driver had enjoyed a strong first session as well, finishing in the top-5 in the morning behind Sarah Moore - who turned 26 today. Jamie Chadwick had set fastest first and second sectors, but had to back off in the final sector due to traffic. Bunker Racing's Fabienne Wohlwend then briefly led, before Chadwick ultimately raised the bar by almost a second. At the 10 minute mark, the Veloce Racing's duo was again locking out the top two spots on the timing sheets: Bruna Tomaselli was second fastest after an overall impressive day, followed by the PUMA car of Abbi Pulling and Nerea Marti. Two drivers waited in the pits for most of the first half of the session: Beitske Visser and home hero Sabré Cook. Visser was back in the top three for the first time since the Hungaroring qualifying, having then missed the Spa Francorchamps round due to the monumental qualifying accident. One week later, the Dutchwoman returned behind the wheel of her MForbes Motorsport's sponsored Tatuus T318, but the aftermath of the crash required a little longer for Visser to be back to full form. Cook, who has previously raced at COTA in F4 US and has a special link with the circuit also opted to wait in the pitlane and bolt on new tyres earlier than the other drivers, hoping to have clean traffic-free runs during the other's pit stops mid-way through the session. Meanwhile, Hawkins moved into second place with a great lap that splitted the Veloce Racing's teammate; Tomaselli had a good first sector but then couldn't improve, as the whole field dived into the pit lane to switch to new tyres for the final push. It was then time for Sabré Cook and Beitske Visser to shine: the American driver's effort was rewarded with a remarkable second place, topped by Visser who went on top of the leaderboard with 10 minutes left on the clock - beating Chadwick's time by 0.131 seconds. Chadwick, though, responded quickly after, setting a 2:05.673 - which would remain the fastest of the day. Belén Garcia and Alice Powell improved and moved into third and fourth place - moments before yellow flags were out in the first sector. Abbie Eaton had in fact spun and stalled at the exit of Turn 1. Just before the inevitable red flag was deployed, Abbi Pulling managed to snatch second from Visser, as the leading trio remained unchanged from FP1. The session was called with 6 minutes left and Jamie Chadwick could end a flawless Friday at the top-end of the classify. With two races to go - one on Saturday and one on Sunday - the defending champion will have to outscore Alice Powell - currently tied on 109 points - to secure the title. "It's been a positive day." - Jamie said. "We didn't get as many laps in as we'd have liked to in that last session with the red flag, but to have the two practice sessions today has made me a lot more comfortable at the circuit so I'm looking forward to coming back tomorrow." "The track itself is cool. It's really hard and especially hard to learn in such a short space of time. I think it's quite demanding of every part of the car and to get a perfect lap out of it is really difficult, so we're just focusing on trying to put everything together and hopefully we can do that in qualifying." "There's still a lot we can work on but we're going to take what we’ve learnt from today into tomorrow in full attack, and hopefully we can continue this run of form", added the Veloce Racing driver. Powell was back in the top five, but hopes to fix a few more issues on her car ahead of tomorrow's qualifying. "In the first practice session we had rear locking similar to what we had in Austria, but that wasn't the biggest problem as the engine overheated and I was struggling for straight-line speed." - explained Powell. "In session two I was a bit hampered by the red flag, but I wasn't the only one and I struggled with rear locking again. So it has been a difficult day, but tomorrow is a new day. The track is bumpy but I love the first sector. The middle sector is short and just straights, and the last sector is good too. It is probably the bumpiest circuit I have been on and that adds to the challenge for everyone." Powell's protegé Abbi Pulling had a stunning day and continued to be Chadwick's closest pursuer. Having had to halt her British F4 campaign due to a lack of funding, Pulling targets a full time seat in W Series in 2022 - and the first day at COTA was one more proof of her potential. "I have high expectations of myself a lot of the time, so I've tried to go into this weekend with no expectations other than to improve on my last result" - said Pulling, who finished seventh in her last outing at Zandvoort. She has so far scored points in both the races she entered. "So far, so good and hopefully we can carry this momentum into qualifying", she continued. "Going into tomorrow I'll review my references and see if there's any time to be gained, but at this point it's only minor things so I just need to keep doing what I'm doing." After a challenging season, Beistke Visser looks back in the mix for the podium positions. "Another P3, so [it was] a good session for us." - she commented. "[I had] a bit of traffic, but I think it's looking good as everyone is quite close. Let's put everything together tomorrow." With a strong lap, Belén Garcia was fourth, ahead of Alice Powell and Sarah Moore - the Brit also completing an encouraging day in sixth. Marta Garcia followed in seventh place; the Spaniard managed to get ahead of the only American on the grid just before the red flag. "It was a great step forward from FP1" - said Sabré Cook. "Obviously really happy with the pace improvement, so I'll just try to put it all together, keep learning and have a good qualifying tomorrow." Jessica Hawkins and Bruna Tomaselli rounded out the Top-10. Fabienne Wohlwend - among the early pace setters - was unlucky with the red flag timing and, together with Nerea Marti and Emma Kimilainen, couldn't complete a lap on the new set of tyres. Kimilainen is still in mathematical contention for the title, but had a difficult day and finished P13 in both sessions. Saturday's schedule features the only qualifying session at 11:10 (18:10 CEST) and the first race of the weekend at 17:25 (00:25 CEST). The second fastest lap set by each driver during qualifying will shape the starting grid of the championship decider, which will get underway on Sunday at 11:05 local (18:05 CEST). Battles are expected to be fierce throughout the field, as drivers will fight for a spot on the grid in 2022: the Top-8 in the standings will in fact get automatic entry.