Hillspeed Back To Winning Ways After Spectacular Maiden British F3 Victory For Rookie Varrone At Spa
Hillspeed made a long overdue return to winning ways in the BRDC British Formula 3 Championship at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on Sunday, 21st July, after a simply remarkable drive from series rookie Nico Varrone – the Argentinian climbing to the top step of the podium in only his fifth F3 race.
Starting eighth on the grid for the second of the weekend’s three contests at the Belgian track, the 18-year-old absolutely starred with a series of stunning overtakes in round 14 to deliver a popular win and also claim Derbyshire squad Hillspeed’s maiden win in British F3.
“It's incredible”, said Varrone, “My first race was at Silverstone last month and I couldn't get to Donington because of budget reasons. But we are here at Spa, my first time at Spa and my first time driving here was only on Friday so it's all still very new for me. To get a win from P8 with very strong pace is something I can't believe, the car was fantastic and it's incredible.”
Varrone book-ended his sensational result with 11th position in round 13 on Saturday, 20th July, and then eighth in round 15 later on Sunday afternoon to wrap-up a fantastic first visit to Spa and confirm his star potential.
Sasakorn ‘Cutter’ Chaimongkol experienced a more challenging weekend than expected, beginning with a top 10 finish in race one and then having to mount a fightback in race two from the tail of the field to finish in 12th position – the Thai proving his pace though with the fastest lap and ultimately scooping the Sunoco ‘Fastest Driver of the Weekend’ award for his efforts.
In race three Chaimongkol produced superb speed again, circulating within just a couple of tenths of a second of the fastest lap, but a battling top seven finish was stolen from his grasp at the very last corner following contact from Johnathan Hoggard. After his enforced spin Chaimongkol took the flag in 13th place but a penalty for Hoggard post-race elevated the Hillspeed driver into the top 12.
“We’re massively pleased for Nico”, said Richard Ollerenshaw, Hillspeed team principal, “To come to Spa for the first time and do what he has, taking the win in only his fifth race in British F3, is very special and he’ll only get quicker. He’s performed very impressively and it was a win he had to work for against some top quality drivers, like [Neil] Verhagen, which makes it all the sweeter.
“Cutter didn’t have much luck, after missing out on getting his lap together in qualifying it was a battle thereafter but his pace was exceptional. In race two a big delay at Turn One and subsequent contact from [Kaylen] Frederick stopped, what I firmly believe, could have been a Hillspeed one-two so that’s disappointing. Overall, though, it’s been a fantastic weekend.”
Hillspeed on the pace and back on top at Spa-Francorchamps
Varrone, who wasn’t in action last time out at Donington Park, wasted no time in re-acclimatising to his Tatuus-Cosworth British F3 car during the first of three free practice sessions on Friday, 19th July, with the fifth quickest lap time while Chaimongkol was 11th fastest.
In session two, the Thai surged to the top of the times with the quickest lap of 2m17.503 seconds (113.94mph) and Varrone made it both Hillspeed cars in the top five. In session three, Chaimongkol was sixth and Varrone 10th but the former’s best from session two remained the fastest of the day.
During the highly competitive qualifying session later on, Chaimongkol and Varrone were very evenly matched but they had to settle for 11th and 12th respectively on the grid for round 13 on Saturday morning. Light rain prior to the start didn’t become anything more significant and after a brief delay the action got underway.
Varrone gained a place on the first lap to move into 11th spot, but Chaimongkol had a frustrating start after slipping to 14th place. Mounting a great recovery, Chaimongkol was into the top 12 by lap three and he then spent several laps behind his team-mate.
Getting ahead of Varrone on lap seven, Chaimongkol also moved into the top 10 after a pit visit for podium challenger Neil Verhagen and the two Hillspeed cars went on to take the flag on lap nine in 10th and 11th places, with just 0.3 seconds splitting them.
Round 14 on Sunday provided some of the very best racing of the season, and Varrone was at the absolute centre of it. Climbing from eighth to seventh at the beginning, he then grabbed sixth with a great move out of Bruxelles and after a lap two Safety Car period he continued to scythe through.
On the third tour into the chicane, Varrone produced an exquisite pass around the outside to take fifth and the next time around he repeated the move even more impressively, taking two places in one go! Running third into lap five, on the sixth tour at Les Combes he brilliantly grabbed second.
Glued to race leader Josh Mason into the seventh and penultimate lap, Varrone closed up in the slipstream along Kemmel Straight and duly swept around the outside of his rival into Les Combes to take first place. Keeping Mason at bay on the final tour, Varrone didn’t put a wheel wrong to claim his maiden British F3 victory and spark delirious celebrations in the Hillspeed camp.
Chaimongkol started just behind his team-mate in ninth spot but an incident at La Source led to a delay and the loss of momentum on the run down Eau Rouge, and up onto the Kemmel Straight, meant he was a sitting duck and lost a number of places. Then, subsequent contact from Kaylen Frederick meant the talented Thai was at the tail of the field and faced a very tough challenge.
Into the second half of the contest, Chaimongkol really started to showcase his pace and reeled off a series of fastest laps – ultimately taking the best of the race with a time of 2m18.572 seconds. Rising into 13th position on lap six after a midfield shake-up, he then broke into the top 12 on the final lap.
For round 15, Varrone and Chaimongkol started alongside each other on the sixth row and they put together a strong opening. Running an elevated 10th and 11th into lap two, Varrone then grabbed ninth position from Hoggard at La Source but his rival hit back in the slipstream to Les Combes.
Chaimongkol then seized his opportunity to pounce by passing his team-mate to climb into the top 10 and when Ulysse De Pauw started to slip down the order the Hillspeed duo moved into ninth and 10th respectively. On lap four, Chaimongkol passed Lucas Petersson for eighth at La Source and he continued his ascent by taking seventh the next time around.
Remaining there to the final lap, running close behind the top six, Chaimongkol was then tipped into a spin at the Bus Stop Chicane by Hoggard and so dropped to 13th place at the flag. Varrone, who had stayed 10th during the second half of the encounter, finished an elevated ninth as a result and this then became eighth when Hoggard was penalised with Chaimongkol duly declared 12th.
There is just a fortnight to wait until British F3 is back in action on UK soil, with rounds 16, 17 and 18 taking place over the weekend 3rd/4th August at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit in Kent.
2019 British F3 Championship Standings (after Rd15)
11th Sasakorn Chaimongkol, 160pts; 16th Nico Varrone, 73pts