W Series: Emma Kimilainen takes epic victory in wet Spa
In a league of her own: Emma Kimilainen returned to W Series victory after a dominant performance at Spa Francorchamps.
Friday at Spa Francorchamps was a rough day for the whole W Series family, no doubt. But, when Ayla Agren and later Beitske Visser were discharged from the hospital, and all the other drivers involved in that horrific accident were cleared by the medical team to race, the focus switched back to the racing aspect. The W Series crew worked tirelessly to fix the cars of Belén Garcia, Sarah Moore, Fabienne Wohlwend and Abbie Eaton, while understandably, Agren and Visser sat out the Belgian GP will be back for the upcoming round at Zandvoort in a week's time.
"These cars are absolutely safe, although I was lucky this time." - commented Visser on Saturday morning. "I was hit three times hard from different angles and still managed to get out of the car on my own, so I think someone was with me – I had an angel on my shoulder.
"It's perfect to be back in the car at Zandvoort next week – I'll definitely be there. After such a serious crash, I think you should get back in the car as soon as possible." The mechanics' unbelievable effort ultimately allowed all the four drivers to take the start of the race. A red-flagged F1 qualifying translated into a delayed start to the W Series race. When cars were lined up in pre-grid, the rain hit hard again and the start was further postponed. It was inevitably a Safety Car start, with Jamie Chadwick leading the pack and Alice Powell – starting in second place – already with visibility issues due to the water spray. Once the rain eased, the race was green flagged on lap 5, with 16 minutes left on the clock. Chadwick immediately pulled away with the clear view ahead of her: the Veloce Racing driver opened a gap of over 2.6 seconds after the first lap of racing. Behind her, though, the action was non-stop: Wood, who was starting from third place following her best qualifying in W Series, had to cut through Radillon and came under pressure from Emma Kimilainen and Marta Garcia. A spectacular 3-car battle emerged: Kimilainen ultimately found a way past the Australian at Rivage, leaving Wood into the clutches of PUMA teammate Marta Garcia. Garcia launched her attack at Pouhon, but Wood was back ahead with a great defensive move. It would be the Spaniard to take fourth at Fagnes, as Garcia and Kimilainen started to showcase the fastest pace in the field. But there were more incredible battles throughout the field: Vicky Piria, who also had her best qualifying with eighth on the grid, dropped behind Sabré Cook – with the American having a great start. With a fully rebuilt car, Fabienne Wohwlend was charging up the field and quickly gained the 11th place, while Gosia Rdest dropped to 16th. Wohlwend – among the fastest on track on Friday before the accident – knew she had the pace in the wet to get back in the points and overtook Piria, before hunting down her Bunker Racing teammate Cook. Meanwhile, Abbie Eaton battled and passed Tomaselli, who would eventually be cleared also by Sarah Moore and Belén Garcia. Ahead, Emma Kimilainen was setting fastest lap after fastest lap: the Finnish racer caught up with Powell and pulled off a stunning move at Blanchimont on lap 7 to take the second position. Marta Garcia quickly joined Powell as well, who reported "no grip whatsoever" via radio. But all the eyes were on the Flying Finn: at a rate of 3 seconds per lap quicker than Chadwick, Emma Kimilainen was soon looking menacing in the Veloce Racing's wing mirrors and moved into the lead with the pass of the season so far around the outside of Fagnes on the defending champion. Powell was really struggling for grip in the second sector and, despite the Brit trying all in her power to defend, Marta Garcia went past at Stavelot for the final podium position. In the final minutes, the most exciting battle saw Jessica Hawkins, Nerea Marti and Fabienne Wohlwend fighting for sixth place: the driver from Liechtenstein had meanwhile cleared Miki Koyama and was one of the fastest drivers on track, but found a tough competitor in Nerea Marti. Fabienne got ahead of the 19-year old Valencian on the last lap and tried one last attempt at the final chicane on Jessica Hawkins but had to settle for seventh. Having opened an outstanding 8.4 seconds gap over Chadwick, Emma Kimilainen took her second W Series victory of her career - the first this season – with an epic drive at Spa Francorchamps.
"This is such an amazing feeling! I had a really good car and I have to thank my engineer, driver coach and mechanic for getting everything spot on today." – said Kimilainen, who returns to victory after Assen 2019.
"More wins are what I'm aiming for in the remainder of the season. It hasn't been the easiest start to the year for me, but anything can happen from here and I'm still aiming for the title, that's for sure."
The championship leader Jamie Chadwick was second and still extended her lead in the points standings over Alice Powell, only fourth at the chequered flag. It was Marta Garcia to step again on the podium - her first since her victory at Norisring in 2019.
Caitlin Wood was fifth and thus claimed her first top-5 in W Series. Wood had stepped in the second PUMA car at Hungaroring, but had a weekend hampered by technical issues. At her second outing in 2021, the Aussie was consistently in the front-running positions throughout the weekend and is now the highest placed reserve driver in the championship standings. Jessica Hawkins was sixth and also scored her best result in W Series, topping two seventh places in 2019. Fabienne Wohlwend recovered from 13th to 7th and was set the fourth fastest lap of the race after being involved in the scary qualifying accident. She preceded Nerea Marti - as the top rookie now slips to fourth in the standings – and Miki Koyama. The final point of the day was snatched by an impressive Abbie Eaton, who got ahead of Sabré Cook on the final lap, denying the American of her first point this year. Piria was P12, ahead of Scuderia W's Sarah Moore and Belén Garcia, with Bruna Tomaselli and Gosia Rdest rounding out the field. Chadwick leads by seven points over Alice Powell (91 to 84), but today's victory brings back Emma Kimilainen into contention, with the Finn now at 60 points with still three rounds to go. Nerea Marti and Fabienne Wohlwend are separated by just one point in fourth and fifth place, further 4 points clear of Sarah Moore in sixth position. Irina Sidorkova wasn't able to take the start of the Belgian round after having tested positive for Covid on Friday morning and it is not clear yet if she will be able to join her colleagues in a week's time at Zandvoort. W Series now heads to The Netherlands for the sixth event of the 2021 season: will the title fight be extended to three-drivers?