FANTASTIC FIRST BRITISH F3 PODIUM OF SEASON FOR CHAIMONGKOL AND HILLSPEED AT DONINGTON PARK GP
Donington Park Grand Prix Circuit delivered a long-awaited first podium finish of the 2019 BRDC British Formula 3 Championship season for Hillspeed on Sunday, 23rd June, with driver Sasakorn ‘Cutter’ Chaimongkol producing a sensational performance during the final race of the weekend.
Despite feeling seriously under the weather throughout the fourth event of the campaign at the Hathersage team’s home track, suffering from flu symptoms, Thai star Chaimongkol put together a stunning first lap to round 12 to leap from sixth into third – which he then held to the conclusion.
Lining-up on the third row of the grid for the last of the weekend’s three races, the 19-year-old made a textbook start to slice his way into the top four as the field headed into Redgate and he then set about pressuring the podium contenders.
When championship leader Clement Novalak got out of shape on the kerbs at the chicane on lap one, Chaimongkol pounced to grab third position on the run down to Melbourne Hairpin. Applying pressure to second placed Ulysse De Pauw as the race wore on, while also working hard to defend from Novalak, Chaimongkol simply didn’t put a wheel wrong.
Into the closing stages of the 12 lap contest the Hillspeed racer continued to search for a way past De Pauw, with Novalak still filling the Thai’s mirrors as well, and at the chequered flag he was just 0.8 seconds shy of the runner-up spot. Notably, Chaimongkol was using older tyres than his chief rivals.
Having shown terrific pace during the build-up to the Donington Park weekend, but with little in the way of good fortune in the preceding two races, third place in round 12 sparked major celebrations and a key breakthrough as the season reaches the midway point.
“Cutter did a fantastic job in race three and we’re delighted to get that long-awaited, and long overdue, first podium of the season”, said Hillspeed team principal Richard Ollerenshaw, “His pace and performance was impressive, and you also have to consider things weren’t equal for Cutter as he was on older tyres and De Pauw in front had four new tyres.
“It would have been great to get second, and that wasn’t far away, but the most important thing was to secure the podium. There have been a lot of things that have gone against us this year, a puncture and wing damage at Snetterton as an example, so hopefully this is the breakthrough Cutter needs to build from in the second half of the season.”
Having delivered a very competitive showing at Donington during the pre-season ‘Media Day’ back in March, where he topped one of the officially timed test sessions, Chaimongkol was always going to be a driver to watch on his return to Leicestershire – even with the flu!
Indeed, during the first of two full days of pre-event testing at the Grand Prix track on Thursday, 20th June, he only missed out on the quickest time of the day by a mere 0.034 seconds with a best lap time of 1m25.456 seconds.
In qualifying on Saturday, 22nd June, the Hillspeed driver was a strong sixth fastest and just 0.3 seconds shy of pole position for race one – even though he lost two lap times due to track limits infringements. Undoubtedly, the front-row had been eminently possible for the Thai driver.
Determined to make progress and challenge for his first podium finish of the year, Chaimongkol’s hopes were dealt an unrecoverable blow on the opening lap when some tight action meant he was bundled down to 13th position.
Moving up into 12th on lap four when Lucas Petersson crashed out into the gravel, following the ensuing Safety Car period Chaimongkol set about the task once again and after a shake-up on lap eight he ran tight behind Nazim Azman. Visibly quicker and piling pressure on his rival, he managed to make his way by on the penultimate tour to take 11th position where he stayed to the flag.
Disappointment from race one became a potential opportunity for better fortune in round 11 on Sunday morning, where Chaimongkol lined-up fifth on the grid. Unfortunately, though, a busy opening lap resulted in him slipping back to ninth before the Safety Car appeared at the start of lap two.
Racing resumed on the fourth tour and although edged back out of the top 10 after a couple of laps, Chaimongkol fought back well in an extremely tight and closely matched midfield pack. After moving back into 10th during the latter stages, he passed Kris Wright on the penultimate tour to seal ninth.
British F3 now heads into a summer break of around a month ahead of the start of the second half of the 2019 season at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium over the weekend 20th/21st July, always a true highlight event.
“We’re really looking forward to Spa next, we’ve gone well there historically and Cutter was on the podium there last year”, said team boss Ollerenshaw, “The aim is to obviously build on this weekend’s podium and get some strong momentum going for the second half of the season.”
2019 British F3 Championship Standings (after Rd12)
11th Sasakorn Chaimongkol, 136pts; 17th Nico Varrone, 24pts