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22 Jul 2014

Zabalza (left) and Mayer - Oulton Park

Mexican rookie Alfredo Zabalza celebrated a career-best finish on his return to action in the BRDC Formula 4 Championship at rain-lashed Oulton Park over the weekend, while Hillspeed team-mates Gustavo Lima and Rahul Raj Mayer each had their own points hauls afflicted by on-track incidents.
Zabalza, resuming his maiden season of single-seater action having missed the previous event last month at Snetterton due to educational commitments at home in South America, impressed in the opening encounter on Friday, 18th July, with a competitive 13th place finish. Unfortunately, a couple of non-scores in the subsequent pair of races tempered the weekend somewhat.
While Brazilian racer Lima and Malaysian driver Mayer were able to chalk-up best results of seventh and 10th place respectively in round 11 on Saturday, 19th July, having also scored strongly on Friday, the final encounter went awry for both through separate incidents.
“It was a disappointing weekend for the team’s adopted ‘home’ race, but it’s one the drivers will bounce back from in the second half of the season”, commented Richard Ollerenshaw, Hillspeed team principal, “The opportunity for some better results was there, unfortunately things just didn’t work out as we’d have liked in the end.”
In round 10 on Friday afternoon, Lima – the best of the Hillspeed drivers in qualifying with the 10th quickest time – was nudged back a place initially but moved back into the top 10 on lap two before piling on pressure to Rodrigo Fonseca. Striving for a way past, Lima finally managed to get ahead on the eighth tour and thereafter held ninth to the chequered flag on lap 12.
Team-mate Mayer started race one from 15th on the grid and he surged into 13th position on lap one before an excursion on lap four resulted in a drop down the order to 17th position. Determined to recover as well as possible, the Malaysian fought his way through to 14th spot two laps from the end.
Zabalza, beginning the race from 17th on the grid on his first competitive outing at Oulton, moved up into the top 16 on lap one and held station until the fourth tour when profiting from misfortune for two rivals to leap into 14th spot. When Fonseca dropped back on lap eight, Zabalza took 13th place.
Heavy rain prior to the first of Saturday’s two races resulted in a very wet track and it was no real surprise when the encounter began under Safety Car conditions. When the action proper started, Lima held ninth position and on lap six managed to unseat Tom Jackson for eighth. The Hillspeed racer was then able to grab seventh position a lap later when Sennan Fielding hit trouble.
Mayer, who started in 14th place, profited from an excursion for Zabalza on lap three – the Mexican unfortunately ending his race there and then – and managed to break into the top 12 on lap four. He then made a welcome return to the top 10 at the expense of Jackson and Fielding.
For round 12, in which tyre choice played a crucial role, Mayer started in eighth position and opted to run with wet-weather tyres with the track still pretty wet in places. Moving into seventh initially, the Malaysian worked wonders in the tricky conditions to keep faster slick-shod cars behind but, on lap eight, contact from Michael Claessens led to a bitterly disappointing retirement.
Zabalza, also taking treaded rubber, slipped four positions from his starting slot of 14th on the first lap but mounted a sterling recovery to carve his way into the top 12 by lap five. He continued to progress and just a lap later was inside the top 10 as others took one too many risks. 
Although not running on the pace of those with slicks, Zabalza kept out of trouble and impressively fended off the attentions of Tom Bale lap after lap. On the final tour, though, confusion between the closely matched duo resulted in both actually entering the pits, rather than taking the chequered flag, thinking – in error – the race ended a lap earlier. The mistake cost Zabalza a best-yet result.
Championship front-runner Lima also encountered misfortune in the final outing of the weekend, a potential top 10 challenge going begging when he was collected by a three-car tangle just three laps into the race. The incident meant Lima slipped out of the championship top eight. 
“Due to commitments back in Brazil, Gustavo didn’t attend any of the pre-race test days and had not been to Oulton for over 12 months so he went into the weekend with a lack of track time compared to the other front-runners”, said Ollerenshaw, “Then, difficult driving conditions in the wet led to some very clumsy overtaking which ultimately put out both Gus and Rahul in race three.
“Alfredo’s mistake to believe that the last race had finished a lap early cost him what would have been a seventh place with other drivers’ mistakes. Unfortunately, he didn’t take the opportunity and learnt an important lesson that you never stop racing until you see the chequered flag!”
Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit will be the venue for the start of the second half of the BRDC Formula 4 Championship season on 16th/17th August. Before then, Hillspeed’s Protyre Formula Renault team will return to action this weekend, 26th/27th July, at Brands Hatch while its Ginetta Junior squad will be back on track at Snetterton in Norfolk on 2nd/3rd August.
Provisional 2014 BRDC Formula 4 Championship Standings (after Rd12):
9th Gustavo Lima, 158pts; 11th Rahul Raj Mayer, 108pts; 21st Alfredo Zabalza, 25pts