W Series: Jamie Chadwick leads practice session after late yellow flag
Jamie Chadwick and Alice Powell traded positions at the top of the W Series practice session at Zandvoort, before the championship leader could secure the top of the timing sheets when a yellow flag in the final minutes freezed positions. Abbie Eaton edged Nerea Martí for third.
A few days after the Belgian GP – an overall difficult weekend for W Series that nevertheless concluded with a spectacular race on Saturday and saw Emma Kimiläinen taking her first victory of the season and climbing the ranks in the championship standings – the all-female championship quickly turned the page and was back in action at Zandvoort, for the sixth round of the 2021 season - and the last of the European races before the flyovers.
MForbes Motorsport's Beitske Visser and Ayla Agren were forced to sit out the race at Spa Francorchamps following the massive 6-car shunt that shocked the world of motor racing. Luckily, no driver was seriously injured, with Moore, Garcia, Wohlwend and Eaton all taking part in the race at Spa.
Visser and Agren, who were transferred to a local hospital for further checks, were advised to return behind the wheel at Zandvoort, and both have passed medical examinations on Thursday and were cleared to race in the Dutch GP.
The second PUMA seat – which continues to be assigned to one of the alternating reserve drivers in place of Tasmin Pepper – went to British F4 front-runner Abbi Pulling, one of Europe's most exciting female up-and-coming talents in single-seaters. Pulling had made her W Series debut at her home race in Silverstone and immediately scored a Top-10.
“This weekend will be just as special as my debut at Silverstone which was an incredible experience." – said Pulling before getting back in the Tatuus F3 car. "I finished in the top 10 but there was more in it for me. I feel more confident at Zandvoort, so I want to build on that result and enjoy the weekend.”
The 18-year-old British driver is among the few W Series entries to have prior experience of the Dutch venue, as she raced in the Ginetta GT5 Challenge in 2019.
Irina Sidorkova missed the Belgian round as well, due to a positive COVID test on Friday at Spa Francorchamps. The Russian teenager was tested again on Sunday, and she was found negative. Having spent the weekend in isolation in her hotel room, she was allowed to travel to the Netherlands and will thus compete in Zandvoort.
On the day when the Dutch circuit made its comeback as a GP venue after 36 years, lights went green at the end of the pitlane for the 18 W Series drivers for the 30-minute practice session. Home hero Beitske Visser – sporting a special helmet livery in orange colours and a goldfish - was the first to venture out, amidst the cheers of her home crowd.
All the drivers spent the opening minutes exploring the circuit in its newest configuration, which includes a series of banked corners – an uncommon feature for the European racetracks.
After claiming her first win in W Series since Assen 2019, Kimiläinen was the first driver to set a competitive lap time and led the early standings ahead of Alice Powell and Jamie Chadwick. 10 minutes into the session, Powell went on top, setting a lap 40 thousandths of a second faster than her main championship rival Chadwick – as the top three in the point standings remained on top of the leaderboard.
Soon after, though, Kimiläinen pitted with car issues, bringing her session to a premature end.
Nerea Martí was up in third place and the young Spaniard continued to improve in the second half of the session. With ten minutes left, it would then be championship leader Jamie Chadwick to swap the positions on top, and the Veloce Racing driver held on to her first place until the chequered flag.
"[It's a] really tricky circuit – there's a lot more time in there I think." – commented Jamie after the session. "It's a blind, difficult track to learn but I'm happy with my first session."
Alice Powell was second fastest, only marginally behind Chadwick, but she was denied a final run once the yellow flags came out for the stricken car of Marta Garcia in the gravel in the second sector.
"It's definitely gone onto the list of one of my favourite tracks." – said Alice. "It's so awesome with all the camber changes and the different variety of corners. There's still a bit of work to do, we're lacking a little bit with the car and struggling a bit with the rear end", but the Briton is now hoping to get a few changes and fix the setup ahead of qualifying.
With a great lap in the closing stages, Miki Koyama moved into fourth place and Abbie Eaton advanced for the first time in the top-three, marking a 1:35.890 that would grant her P3 by only 0.032 seconds over W Series Academy driver Nerea Martí.
"Finally in the top three." – commented Ecurie W's Abbie Eaton, who was among the drivers to praise the circuit layout. "What a track, it's amazing! It's so physically demanding as well, with the undulations. [You have to] have the confidence to carry the speed in the banked corners, I've never been on a track like it".
Beitske Visser had a positive free practice session and was fifth fastest, ultimately ending ahead of Koyama in sixth. Despite sitting out more than half a session, Emma Kimiläinen finished seventh, approximately one second off pace-setter Chadwick.
Fabienne Wohlwend – who had also spent time in the leading positions early in the session - was eighth, ahead of Sarah Moore and Abbi Pulling.
Ayla Agren, Belén Garcia and Jessica Hawkins were just outside the Top 10, as Sabré Cook – also in a similar pace as her Bunker Racing teammate Wohlwend in the earlier minutes – slipped down to P14. Marta Garcia's spin through the gravel didn't bring out the red flag, but effectively terminated the session with drivers unable to improve. After returning to the podium in Belgium, Marta was 15th in FP1 at Zandvoort.
Qualifying will get underway at 16:30 CEST and it is expected to be a particularly important session, given the lack of clear passing opportunities of the tight yet fast Zandvoort layout.