W Series: Jamie Chadwick leads disrupted practice in Singapore
At W Series' return to the track after a 9-week summer break, Jamie Chadwick kicked off the Singapore GP weekend by topping free practice, in a session twice halted by red flags.
After a long summer-break, W Series returned to the track at Singapore, for its first ever race on Asian soil. One of the most anticipated weekends of the year, the Singapore GP replaced the Japanese race on the W Series calendar, as logistical challenges made the trip to Suzuka unfeasible.
Over 9 weeks after the latest round in Hungary - the longest mid-season break in W Series' history - the 18 drivers are now tackling several new challenges at the Marina Bay street circuit: a new track for everyone - as only Filipino racer Bianca Bustamante has ever raced on part of the layout, in a karting race - as well as slightly different cars.
The 18 Tatuus shipped to Singapore are in fact the Toyota Racing Series ones, as used at the Spanish GP in Barcelona.
Jamie Chadwick has her eyes set on her third title in the all-female championship and, after an utterly dominant season, she can wrap it up at Marina Bay: the Briton needs to outscore Alice Powell, Beitske Visser and Abbi Pulling to bag the title after Sunday's race.
And her weekend was off to a good start, as Chadwick topped the 30-minute free practice session.
Alice Powell set the early pace under the lights in Singapore, ahead of Bristol Street Motors teammate Jessica Hawkins and Emma Kimilainen.
Powell had a spin at the last corner but continued - before a first red flag halted the action soon later, when Chloe Chambers hit the wall at Turn 8.
Also, there was no more track action for Emma Kimilainen, as the Finnish star had a brake failure at Turn 18. Luckily, the impact was at relatively slow speed and damage is understood to be not significant.
There was also drama in pitlane, as Chadwick and Wohlwend made contact and the incident is now under review.
As the session resumed, Jessica Hawkins had gained the top of the timesheets, but Powell was the first driver to go under the 2m15 mark. Wohlwend was also improving quickly and moved up into second place, ahead of Sarah Moore, Jamie Chadwick - at her first representative lap time after a small issue delayed her start in the session - and Marta Garcia.
While the Spaniard had set the fastest first sector overall, a second red flag interrupted the action: Academy driver Bianca Bustamante had come to a halt at Turn 3.
With now three minutes left on the clock, everyone headed out to set their fastest laps: Chadwick went fastest, with a 2:13.529 that put her half a second clear than anyone else.
"It was a bit messy, and I had a little issue at the beginning as well, so I only got a couple of laps in", said Chadwick. "For all of us it is trying to find the limits without getting caught out as there are so many variables around here. It was so special to be able to drive under the lights, and when we went out first it was so cool. There isn't a lot of margin for error out there and you don't want to make any mistakes in practice and hinder the rest of your weekend. The simulator doesn't do the circuit justice at all. It is going to be hard tomorrow."
Abbi Pulling also improved Powell's previous benchmark and moved up to second, while her mentor could not improve in her last attempt.
Belén Garcia and Beitske Visser had a good final run and were fourth and fifth respectively, ahead of Nerea Marti and Fabienne Wohlwend. Sarah Moore, Jessica Hawkins and Marta Garcia - all showing good pace in the early stages - could not improve after the final red flag but still finished the session in the top ten.
Bruna Tomaselli was P11, while Ayla Agren - at her return to the series as replacement for the injured Tereza Babickova at the Puma W Series Team - had a very encouraging first session, having stepped back in the car after last year's season finale.
Despite the issue that ended her session early, Bianca Bustamanta was P14 and first of the rookies: the 17 year old driver was within the top ten at one point and is eyeing her best result of the season in what can be considered her home race.
The brake issue relegated Emma Kimilainen - in a remarkably unlucky season - to P15 after only two timed laps, ahead of Emely De Heus, Juju Noda and Chloe Chambers.
With W Series being the main support series of the F1 GP in Singapore the race will go underway on Sunday morning rather than the usual Saturday schedule.
Qualifying is therefore planned for Saturday 1st October at 16:45 local time.