SOLID PROGRESS FOR AL KHALIFA ON BRITISH F3 DEBUT WITH HILLSPEED
Hillspeed made a very welcome return to competitive action at Oulton Park International Circuit in Cheshire over Bank Holiday Weekend during the fourth race meeting of the BRDC British Formula 3 Championship season, the Derbyshire squad giving newcomer Ali Al Khalifa his UK racing bow.
Marking the Hathersage team’s first race outing of the year in the newly rebranded British F3 category, rounds 10, 11 and 12 of the campaign were Bahraini driver Al Khalifa’s first races in Formula 3 machinery and the category debutant did a sterling job across the weekend.
Despite being his first visit to Oulton Park, and first race meeting at any level for the best part of a year, the 20-year-old Middle Eastern racer took a best result of 18th position in round 11 on Bank Holiday Monday, 30th May, and made pleasing steps in the No.25 Hillspeed car.
“Ali has done exceptionally well at Oulton this weekend, he made progress in every session from testing onwards and that’s all any of us could ask”, said team principal Richard Ollerenshaw, “It doesn’t get any harder than starting your first F3 races at Oulton Park but he’s done a good job, worked well with the team, and we have a lot of positives to build on at Silverstone in two weeks.”
Al Khalifa made good headway throughout testing and in qualifying on Saturday, 28th May, the championship rookie posted the 20th best time – lapping 0.4 seconds quicker than series regular Jeremy Wahome.
Although slipping back a place on the opening lap of round 10 later in the day, the Bahraini stayed with the group ahead and continued to improve his lap times prior to the race being red flagged on lap seven following a dramatic accident involving Ameya Vaidyanathan and Sisa Ngebulana.
With Ngebulana excluded from the results for his part in the incident, and Vaidyanathan not running at the time of the stoppage following a frightening barrel roll, Al Khalifa actually ended his maiden British F3 race in 19th position.
After a day off on Sunday, track action at Oulton Park resumed on Bank Holiday Monday with Al Khalifa lining-up 19th on the grid for race two of the weekend. Due to a competitor entering the pits at the end of the green flag lap, the Hillspeed racer actually began the contest in an elevated 18th position and he initially ran within 0.5 seconds of Wahome during the early laps.
Improving his pace with every lap, the Bahraini gained more and more confidence and into the final third of the race he was still just 0.7 seconds behind the car ahead. In the end, Al Khalifa ended the race in 18th position and, notably, his best lap of the race was less than a second shy of top 10 pace.
In the final race of the weekend on Monday afternoon, Al Khalifa stayed in 21st position throughout the contest and the Middle Eastern racer was somewhat frustrated with a couple of mistakes which did mean he lost touch with the pack. Even so, the category newcomer was positive about his debut weekend in British F3 as a whole.
“To be honest, I wanted more from myself but I improved”, reflected the Bahraini, “It was my first time at this track, it’s a tough track to learn, but I managed to improve over the weekend. I made a few mistakes unfortunately, I went off a few times during the last race, but overall it’s been good.
“I’ve been out of racing for a year, this weekend was about trying to get back into the racing mindset again and to also learn the F3 car – it is new to me and quite a step up from what I have been driving previously. Next we go to Silverstone and it is a track I’ve been to, I tested there and it is a very nice track – very fast. I think it should be a lot better there than this weekend.”
Rounds 13, 14 and 15 of the BRDC British F3 Championship will take place at Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit in Northamptonshire a fortnight from now, over the weekend 11th/12th June.