Weather: Grey, drizzly, very humid.
Race Report – Round 4 (Race 1):
At Spa this morning, despite a less than impressive start position, William Buller (Fortec Motorsport) powered to victory on a soggy track, leading the field home at the end of 11 slippery laps. Second place went to Carlin’s Jordan King, with Sean Gelael (Double R Racing) surviving a tense battle for 3rd which ended in a major crash and a Safety Car period. Victory in the National Class went to Sun Zheng (CF Racing), despite the Chinese driver losing the lead in the middle of the race and having to be very clever to regain it.
When the lights went out to signal the start of the race, the pole sitter, Nicholas Latifi (Carlin) didn’t so much bog down as make a very average start, which was all the invitation Buller, starting from 6th, needed. The Northern Irish driver put the power down and rocketed through into the lead, along with Antonio Giovinazzi (Double R Racing), the latter starting from 5th. With the drizzle increasing in intensity, by the time they got to Eau Rouge Buller was comfortably ahead and would stay there all the way to the chequered flag.
Giovinazzi, meanwhile, fell back to his starting position while the distinctively liveried second Fortec Motorsport car of Felipe Guimaraes made it no further than Eau Rouge on lap one when he got sandwiched between a couple of fast moving fellow-competitors. The officials hung out the yellow flags in that sector and everyone settled down to race without the likeable Brazilian. Behind Buller, King had edged into 2nd ahead of Latifi, while Jann Mardenborough (Carlin) was 4th from Giovinazzi, Gelael, Tatiana Calderon (Double R Racing), Zheng, Jordan Oon (Team West-Tec) and Chris Vlok (Team West-Tec).
A lap later and it looked as if Giovinazzi’s efforts would be in vain, when the officials noticed that his rear light was not on. In these conditions, that was really bad news. The black and orange flag went out with his number on it and a lap later he was in the pits, for a very rapid repair. Meanwhile Buller continued on at an unabated pace, leaving King breathless in his wake.
Further back, Zheng had lost the National Class lead to Oon, the rookie pulling away rapidly, leaving the Chinese driver to try and figure out a way back past. It didn’t help that Giovinazzi was now coming up on the pack, having rejoined with all his lights on. The Italian was in determined mood now, and wanted to make up for lost ground.
Buller kept right on pulling away, while King was having a very lonely run in 2nd, while Latifi was impeding the rest of the pack, with Mardenborough right on the Canadian’s tail, and Calderon keeping pace with the two of them. Meanwhile Giovinazzi had caught Zheng and passed him, which was when Zheng saw his chance.
Meanwhile the leader was now taking it very carefully through the Bus Stop as the rain kept on falling. It wasn’t as if he needed to push that hard after all; he was five seconds clear of King, and King was well clear of everyone else. It was safer there as it turned out, as Mardenborough was now locked in a battle with Gelael, which looked as if it had gone Gelael’s way for a lap. The Indonesian driver got past on the drag from the Bus Stop to La Source, but Mardenborough came back at him, and was soon 4th again, both of them close on Latifi’s tail still.
In the National Class, Zheng took advantage of Giovinazzi’s rapid progress, hitching onto the rear of the Italian’s car, and using it as camouflage to sneak back ahead of Oon and into the class lead with around 10 minutes left of the race. It was a smart move and as it turned out it was just as well he made it when he did.
A lap later and Mardenborough, under intense pressure from Gelael, saw what he thought was an opening in Latifi’s defence. He made a dive for it and the pair clashed at Raidillon, wiping both cars out of the race, pitching Latifi into a dramatic barrel roll, and making a Safety Car essential. It duly pulled out onto the track picking up Buller, and wiping out the lead he had carefully built up over 8 laps. King was still 2nd, and Gelael was now 3rd from Calderon, Giovinazzi, Zheng, Oon and Vlok.
With a lap left (and around 20 seconds on the clock) the Safety Car came in and we were left with a one lap sprint for the finish. It all got a bit lively as they crossed the line to go live again, with Gelael scrabbling about looking for a way past King, and Giovinazzi and Calderon jockeying for position, but it was pretty much a done deal by this stage.
Buller came home the winner to consolidate his lead in the series, while King was a good 2nd, ahead of a delighted Gelael. Calderon came home 4th, her best result so far, while Giovinazzi was 5th. 6th went to Zheng, winning the National Class from Oon, and Vlok. There were no other finishers.
Fastest laps went to Buller and Zheng.