W Series: Jamie Chadwick takes pole position in closely fought Barcelona qualifying
Birthday girl Jamie Chadwick emerged in the final minutes of qualifying with a 1:44.951 that gave her the ninth pole position of her W Series career - after a closely-fought battle for pole that saw 10 cars within one second.
Birthday girl Jamie Chadwick already led the pace in the morning practice session at Barcelona, second race meeting and third round of the 2022 W Series season, before putting in a late lap to claim her ninth pole position in the all-female championship. Chadwick commanded the 30 minute practice session while everyone was getting to grips with the new Toyota-powered cars - which will be employed this season at the Spanish round and at Suzuka in October due to logistics challenges of a global calendar. The lot of extra 18 cars have in fact been provided by the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand, which is currently on hold since 2020 due to New Zealand's border policies. "[The biggest differences are] mainly in the balance of the car", Chloe Chambers told Racers after practice. "With the Toyota car, it tends to have a lot more oversteer and the gear ratios are shorter as well", she explained. "Other than that, it’s just very small things but those are mostly unnoticeable while out on track." The 18 drivers - who had all completed pre-season testing at the Spanish venue except for Abbie Eaton - explored the limits of the car and of the still relatively green track in the morning, showing much closer gaps compared to the Miami street circuit. They would find very different track conditions in the late afternoon, with qualifying getting underway at 7.20pm local time, after F1, F2 and F3 sessions. Abbi Pulling - second in practice - was looking strong in the early stages, as she gained track position over Beitske Visser and set the early pace in the 30 minute qualifying session. She was then topped by compatriot Sarah Moore (Scuderia W), who completed the first runs on top of the leaderboard followed by Nerea Marti. The Valencian was putting in her first laps of the day, having missed practice due to an early trip to the gravel that brought out the red flag - and forced Nerea to go out in qualifying without much data to rely on. Jamie Chadwick was briefly fastest thanks to a great final sector, before her benchmark was topped by Pulling, Hawkins, Belén Garcia and Powell. Chadwick would improve to third again before everyone returned to the pits to put on a new set of Hankook tyres. After a few warm up laps, the final 10 minutes of the session were hectic - with positions changing by the second and incredibly tight margins at the top: for most of the second half of qualifying, the top five were separated by less than a tenth to each other. Sarah Moore was among the main protagonists and set two purple sectors to gain the top of the timing screen - but lost over three tenths in the final corners due to traffic. Meanwhile, Alice Powell gained the lead and traded the provisional pole position with Click2Drive Bristol Street Motors teammate Jessica Hawkins. When it looked like a front-row lock out for Powell and Hawkins, Jamie Chadwick signed a 1:44.951 that put the two-time champion 3 tenths clear of her 2021 main rival Alice Powell, claiming her ninth pole position in the series. "I'm really happy - that's what I wished for when the W Series staff presented me with my birthday cake earlier! I couldn't blow out the candle, but I wished for pole position, and I got it." - said Chadwick.
"It was quite a tricky session. I went on old tyres initially and it was a massive step from the old to the new tyres, and I knew if I didn't make a mistake, it would be okay. But it's quite hard not to make a mistake. On the new tyres I just had loads more confidence. Tomorrow will be all about tyre management, but I'm happy that on the new tyres we can get there."
Alice Powell was second and will return to the front row, albeit finding traffic on her final attempt that prevented the driver of the #27 car from improving on the final run. Nevertheless, Powell showed good speed since practice and will be ready to challenge Chadwick, starting her recovery after an unfortunate first race of the season at Miami. "It's frustrating really", said Powell, who was struggling with a long brake pedal for most of that session. "I kept locking up and I had to keep adjusting the bias. But in some corners, especially out of 13 and 14 – where I just couldn't tap the pedal – and when I got to the chicane, it was quite long."
"I kept struggling with oversteer a lot as well. Then we had one more push lap and Bianca [Bustamante] was on the racing line going slowly. It's frustrating but we improved from practice and hopefully we will move forward again tomorrow." "It's all to play for tomorrow, getting off the line and should be a fun race" - she joked. Powell preceded her protegé Abbi Pulling, who was slightly disappointed to have missed on a front row, but stressed the importance of tyre management on a track that is expected to be quite tricky for tyre deg.
"I started off great as on the first set of tyres I was on pole. Then my headphones came out and unplugged, so I had no communications from my engineer", Pulling explained.
"I didn't see the pit board and I pitted a lap too late, but I thought this was about the time we needed to pit. I came in and luckily only lost one lap, but it wasn't ideal."
"There are still some things for me to look at because I want my tyres to last for the whole race, so we will see how that goes. I'm obviously over the moon compared to what happened in Miami, so hopefully we can convert this into some good points."
2019 runner up Beistke Visser, currently third in the standings after a podium in round 1, is back with more consistency in the leading positions and will start tomorrow's race from fourth. Emma Kimilainen and Belén Garcia will share the third row - as both would have liked to start a bit higher up. Kimilainen had a sensor issue that compromised her practice run this morning - and could not put in a competitive lap until the final minutes of qualifying. Home hero Belén Garcia was second in the morning and will look to climb the order tomorrow to get her first podium in W Series on her home track. Marta Garcia and Sarah Moore were both in contention for the front rows but slipped a bit down towards the final minutes: they will line up in seventh and eighth place respectively. Jessica Hawkins and Fabienne Wohlwend round out the top ten - with ten cars within the one second gap. From third to ninth, drivers are all separated by thousandths of a second, proving how competitive the field is on a circuit known to most of the drivers. Nerea Marti was only 11th; the missing tracktime from practice proved costly for Nerea, who will have her eyes set on a fierce charge tomorrow. Bruna Tomaselli was 12th after suffering from a clutch issue and preceded Tereza Babickova, the satest of the rookies in 13th place - and just a little over a second adrift polesitter Chadwick. Juju Noda has shown encouraging signs since practice and was again P14, ahead of Emely De Heus, Chloe Chambers and Bianca Bustamante. Abbie Eaton rounds out the grid - having spent the final minutes of the session in the pits with an issue. The only race of the weekend at Circuit de Montmelo will go green on Saturday at 14:40 local time - as Jamie Chadwick will try to convert her pole position in her third win of the season and keep scoring the maximum amount of points available. But, of course, she will have plenty of competition.