One down. One to go. A spectacular first race of the weekend at COTA saw Jamie Chadwick take a controlled victory ahead of Emma Kimiläinen, as Alice Powell charged back from tenth to the podium on the final lap. The championship is going down to the wire.
Race fans at COTA on Saturday witnessed a highly spectacular F1 qualifying - then W Series went out on track and topped that. In one of the most exciting races of the year for the all-female championship, Jamie Chadwick was handed the lead after a chaotic Turn 1 and controlled the race to regain the points' lead ahead of tomorrow's title decider. In a sunny morning, defending champion Jamie Chadwick and 18-year old reserve driver Abbi Pulling - at her third outing in the series - battled for pole position: Pulling secured her first ever single-seater pole position, while Chadwick's final run was enough to set the second fastest lap of the session and clinch pole position for Race 2 on Sunday. With a very solid session, Belén Garcia had claimed third place, but a post-qualifying 3 place grid drop for impeding Jessica Hawkins demoted her to P6. Her Scuderia W teammate Sarah Moore was thus joined on the second row of the grid by Emma Kimiläinen, who made good progress after a difficult Friday. Alice Powell also had very trouble practice sessions - and the championship leader continued to struggle into qualifying: her final run on new tyres was only good enough for tenth, forcing the British racer to a recovery later in the day. When the lights went out, Abbi Pulling was slow off the line and quickly had Chadwick alongside on the run up towards Turn 1. From fourth, though, Emma Kimiläinen had a rocket start and went into the lead - only to drop down to third at the corner exit having been stuck for a moment in third gear. But the biggest mover on the first lap was surely Belén Garcia, who took the inside line to advance into second place from sixth on the starting grid. Chadwick was promptly back in the lead, capitalizing on the situation: she led Garcia, Kimiläinen, Pulling and Moore after the first lap. Alice Powell also had a good launch and was P7. Further down the order, Marta Garcia lost out a few places but could reclaim eighth to Visser. After her best qualifying of the season, Sabré Cook moved into the Top 10 on the second lap, in a super competitive midfield. The only American on the field was making up positions, but dropped down to last before recovering again. Chadwick started to pull away when Belén Garcia had to defend from the fast Kimiläinen - who also had her mirrors full of pole sitter Abbi Pulling. Meanwhile, Powell overtook Fabienne Wohlwend and joined the leading group. On lap 3, Kimiläinen found a gap and cleared Garcia - who defended well from Pulling. The PUMA driver would ultimately find a way around Belén at the first corner, just as Powell forced her way past compatriot and good friend Sarah Moore for fifth place. The championship contender was in a hurry and completed a clean yet firm pass at Turn 12. There was not a dull moment, as drivers battled throughout the field - in search of crucial points to get in the Top-8. Visser passed Marta Garcia for seventh place, in a group that also included Jessica Hawkins and Nerea Marti - the Spaniard also making up positions after a few issues in qualifying. It surely wasn't Abbie Eaton's best day: the Ecurie W driver almost stalled on the grid and, once she had made up a few spots, her #44 car came to a halt in between Turn 17 and 18 on lap 4. Eaton's car was cleared by the marshals without the need to neutralize the race with either a Safety Car or a VSC. In the second half of the race, Belén Garcia really started to struggle for grip and her monumental efforts to keep behind teammate Sarah Moore and a growing train of cars would eventually be in vain: the Catalan driver went deep into Turn 1 and lost places to Moore, Visser and Hawkins. Marta Garcia - also struggling for tyres, attempted the move on Belén at Turn 12, but went slightly deep and made light contact with the back of Jessica Hawkins. While the latter continued, Marta spun and dropped down. At the top of the leaderboard, Jamie Chadwick was in management mode but was slowly but steadily being caught by Emma Kimiläinen. Abbi Pulling was the fastest driver on track, but not enough to get into striking distance either. Behind her, her mentor Alice Powell was managing the tyres. Positions continued to change around the top-10: Visser found a way around Moore for 5th with three minutes to go, Piria climbed to P14 and Sabré Cook was again knocking at the doors of the Top10, fighting with Miki Koyama. With two minutes left on the clock, Alice Powell gave it her all and could attack Pulling - whose tyres were not in an optimal state and was thus struggling to keep the car within the track limits. Pulling received a warning from the stewards and, on the final lap, lost third place to Alice Powell at Turn 11. Despite Emma Kimiläinen getting within a second gap to Jamie Chadwick, the Veloce Racing driver took a controlled victory to retake the championship lead by 20 points over Alice Powell - who finished third after a storming drive. "I'm really happy with that after starting second." - commented Chadwick after the race. "Having Alice [Powell] behind me on the grid, I knew I had to capitalise at the start and I managed to do that. I've won and moved ahead in the championship and that was the main objective today, but the hard work starts tomorrow." "I can't afford to take any risks, so I was a bit hesitant at the start when I came under pressure from Emma [Kimiläinen] but I held on, built a gap and managed the race from there even though it was tricky with the tyres", she added. After another strong season, Emma claimed her fourth podium of the season, but drops out of contention for the 2021 title. With 93 points, though, the Finnish racer has third in the standings locked in. "My start was mega, but I had an issue with the gears and couldn't get out of the first corner – luckily the other girls didn't drive into me." - explained Kimiläinen. "From there I was fighting a lot and made a really good overtake on Belen [Garcia] to get second." "I knew I needed to push to get into some clean air and pressurise Jamie [Chadwick]. I got close to her, but I was struggling with grip at the end when Abbi [Pulling] was pushing me hard and there was no time for saving tyres. But still a good race for me and I gave it my all." Pulling missed out on her first podium and was fourth, ahead of Beistke Visser - almost 20 seconds behind the top four. Jessica Hawkins overtook Sarah Moore on the last lap and was sixth across the line, while Nerea Marti had the best out of Wohlwend and Koyama to finish eighth. Sabré Cook equalled her best result of the season with P11 after passing Belén Garcia in the closing stages, who had dropped all the way from second on the first lap. Caitlin Wood was tenths of a second behind her, concluding a difficult race for the Australian started with technical issues in free practice. Vicky Piria made a couple of places to finish P14, ahead of Marta Garcia, Ayla Agren and Bruna Tomaselli. Chadwick will line up alongside Abbi Pulling in tomorrow's final showdown, as Sarah Moore and Marta Garcia will share the second row. Garcia is currently 12th in the standings and needs big points to get into the Top-8 - which would secure her a spot on next year's grid. Belén Garcia has dropped out of the Top-8 as well, as 2019 runner-up Visser would now be the last of the qualified drivers. The Dutchwoman is set to start tomorrow's race from P5. But all the eyes will be again on Alice Powell, ninth on the grid. "Qualifying and practice were a nightmare for me, but starting so far back gave me the mindset of having nothing to lose." - said Powell. "As Daniel Ricciardo says, it was about licking the stamp and sending it, and I had great pace in the race so a big thank you to everyone at Racing X for working so hard to get me sorted and in the right frame of mind." Do not count Powell out: the championship is going down to the wire. Race 2 starts on Sunday at 11:05 local time (18:05 CEST).