Double Top Four For Impressive Clarke On Debut At Rain-Lashed 'Home' Track Snetterton
First year BRDC British Formula 3 Championship driver Oliver Clarke delivered a series of excellent performances across a very busy four-race event at his home track, Snetterton 300 Circuit in Norfolk, over the weekend with a brace of top four finishes and four top 10 results for the Hillspeed team.
Making his first ever competitive appearance at his local circuit, Kings Lynn racer Clarke showed terrific pace and car control during two wet races on Saturday, 3rd October, and two more on Sunday, 4th October, and only just missed out on adding the second podium of his rookie season.
Hillspeed team-mate Sasakorn ‘Cutter’ Chaimongkol was in sensational form in qualifying with the fourth fastest time and also second quickest second-best lap, but the quartet of races didn’t work out for the Thai driver and he had to settle for a best finish of sixth from round 17 on Sunday.
Bagging plentiful points across rounds 15, 16, 17 and 18, Clarke has leapt up from 12th in the driver standings to seventh in the coveted championship. Chaimongkol remains eighth in the title battle, just five points adrift of his fellow Hillspeed racer.
“It’s been a frustrating weekend in some respects with the results for Cutter, but a very strong weekend for Ollie – he was unlucky not to be on the podium again”, said Richard Ollerenshaw, team principal of Markham Vale-based Hillspeed, “The boys in the team got on top of the car right from the start of testing on Thursday, we had the potential for podiums without a doubt this weekend.
“Ollie raced superbly and he put on plenty of points to move up into seventh in the championship, a great reward on his first ever time racing at Snetterton. Without the timing issue in qualifying he would’ve been on the second row in race one, and a podium would’ve been inevitable with the pace and performance he delivered. It wasn’t the best weekend for Cutter, but we know he’ll hit back.”
Mixed fortunes for Hillspeed duo across quartet of Snetterton races
Qualifying took place in the rain and Chaimongkol was rapid from the outset, setting the pace on his first flying lap and going on to trade pole position for almost the full session. Conversely, Clarke picked up his pace throughout and eventually set a superb fourth fastest time – his best of the year.
Frustratingly for the Briton, though, a timing glitch where the chequered flag was briefly shown several minutes early, before then being withdrawn, led to an amended result. Officials determined the order from the point of the erroneous early flag, so Chaimongkol was fourth and Clarke seventh.
Matching his previous best starting position of the season, Chaimongkol was well placed to bid for his first podium of 2020 in round 15 but a luckless stall on the grid dropped him down to 14th position. Faced with a very difficult fight-back, having lost significant time, the Thai lapped with podium pace – a best lap of 2m08.186 seconds – and progressed impressively to finish in the top 10.
Clarke enjoyed a terrific first lap, slicing his way into fourth and running within touch of the podium throughout. Closing to within just 0.8 seconds of Nazim Azman with a couple of laps to go, Clarke remained fourth to the flag in his first race at his home track. His best lap was 2m08.595 seconds.
Round 16 wasn’t as fruitful for the team-mates, with another second row start for Chaimongkol coming to nothing due to some wheelspin off the grid. Dropping all the way down to 16th position, he did gain one place by lap five but then a tangle with another car a couple of laps later dropped him to 16th where he finished.
From the fifth row of the grid, in 10th position, Clarke dropped down to 15th on the second tour after a moment of his own but he battled back impressively and by the end of lap four he was inside the top 12. Moving further up the order as the race progressed with a great performance, Clarke ultimately recovered into ninth. His best lap of 2m00.271 seconds was the fourth fastest of all.
Sunday at Snetterton was wet again and for round 17 Chaimongkol lined-up seventh on the grid due to a penalty from race two – he had originally qualified a season-best second – while in the sister car Clarke started race three from 11th position.
Due to the huge rooster tails of spray being thrown into the air by the F3 cars, and the amount of water on track, officials opted to begin Sunday’s opening race behind the Safety Car with the action proper beginning on lap three.
Chaimongkol immediately started to pressurise Azman for sixth and as they headed out of the infield onto Bentley Straight, Azman slid wide off the track and the Hillspeed car sliced past. Quickly closing on his next target, Ulysse De Pauw, Chaimongkol thereafter remained sixth to the finish on lap eight.
Clarke delivered an outstanding first racing lap, carving his way through from 11th into the top eight through the first few corners and then taking seventh after Azman’s excursion. Running 3.4 seconds shy of Chaimongkol into lap four, at the flag he had closed to within 1.4 seconds. Yet again, Clarke’s pace was impressive and he set the fourth fastest lap with a time of 2m12.955 seconds.
Round 18 also started behind the Safety Car on a wet track and the conditions were certainly, once again, very tricky indeed. The action proper got underway on the third tour and after a battle mid-lap with Louis Foster – who earlier slid off from the lead at the second corner – Clarke held sixth.
Taking fifth out of the hairpin on lap five, he closed quickly on Azman and at the same turn the next time around he mounted a challenge for fourth. Passing Kush Maini, who had already been usurped by Azman, Clarke then set his sights on the podium. Swarming all over the back of Azman’s car in the spray, Clarke tried everything but at the flag on lap nine he just missed third by 0.489 seconds.
From 11th position on the grid, Chaimongkol lost a place on the first racing lap but on the sixth tour he passed both Bart Horsten and Alex Fores to climb into the top 10. Horsten, though, was able to hit back two laps later and a very tight three-way battle towards the finish concluded with the Thai having to settle for 11th a mere tenth of a second shy of the top 10.
There is now a three week break in the BRDC British F3 calendar before the championship makes its third visit of the season to Donington Park in Leicestershire – Hillspeed’s home track. Rounds 19, 20 and 21 of the campaign will take place over the weekend 24th/25th October.
2020 BRDC British F3 Driver Standings (after Rd18)
7th Oliver Clarke, 220pts; 8th Sasakorn ‘Cutter’ Chaimongkol, 215pts