Thailand’s Sasakorn ‘Cutter’ Chaimongkol and British youngster Oliver Clarke made a strong and competitive start to the delayed 2020 BRDC British Formula 3 Championship for Hillspeed at Oulton Park over the weekend, 1st/2nd August, with a major haul of points for the Derbyshire squad.
Securing a best result of fifth place in the first of the event’s four races on Saturday, and never finishing outside the top nine, Nottingham-based driver Chaimongkol concluded the weekend in seventh position in the driver standings.
Kings Lynn driver Clarke chalked-up a best of sixth in round three on Sunday afternoon after taking seventh place in each of Saturday’s two contests. In round four on Sunday he added 12th position to depart the Cheshire track eighth in the championship – just five points behind his team-mate.
“It’s been a very good start to the year for the team as a whole, in fact I’d say it’s the strongest ever start we’ve made to a British F3 season,” said Hillspeed team principal Richard Ollerenshaw, “Oulton is a fantastic circuit, but overtaking there in a Formula 3 car is exceptionally hard. Qualifying plays a critical role and while we had a decent qualifying, it could have been better. We have been chasing an issue with the engine in Cutter’s car which did impact his weekend. When you consider he’s been out of the car since last year, he raced impeccably and did a fantastic job. We’ve been super-impressed with Ollie and especially as a rookie to F3, he’s a talented driver with a lot of potential. It’s our home track at Donington next, we’ll be aiming for the podium there.”
Clarke started out the event eighth fastest on combined times in testing on Thursday, 30th July, with Chaimongkol – whose running was impacted by engine troubles – 15th quickest on his first appearance since the end of the 2019 season. On Friday, 31st July, Clarke was an improved seventh on combined times, 0.6 seconds shy of the pace, with Chaimongkol another 0.3 seconds away.
During the all-important first qualifying session of 2020 on Saturday morning, both Hillspeed drivers were competitive with the Thai lapping sixth quickest with a time of 1m31.817 seconds (105.55mph) and Clarke a mere 0.025 seconds adrift of his team-mate in seventh.
Chaimongkol made a clean start to round one later in the day and maintained his top six placing, although Clarke slipped to 10th. The order remained unchanged until lap four when Chaimongkol was edged to seventh, before an excursion for Josh Mason led to the Safety Car being deployed.
Racing resumed on lap seven and three laps later a moment for Reece Ushijima enabled Clarke to move into ninth place, where he stayed to the flag two spots behind Chaimongkol. False start penalties for two rivals, though, elevated Chaimongkol into fifth and Clarke into seventh.
For round two later in the day Clarke lined-up eighth on the grid with Chaimongkol in 10th and both made good progress on lap one, Clarke moving up to seventh and his team-mate leaping two spots into eighth.
Circulating with just a few tenths of a second between them lap after lap around the 2.69-mile International Circuit, overtaking was at an absolute premium as a train built up behind fourth placed Benjamin Pedersen. In the end, no more gains were possible and the processional encounter finished with Clarke seventh and Chaimongkol eighth – just 0.3 seconds splitting them at the flag.
Round three on Sunday started with Clarke fifth on the grid while Chaimongkol lined-up in 11th place. Although slipping back to seventh off the start, Clarke displayed great tenacity race-long and was never more than a few tenths of a second behind Bart Horsten.
Swarming all over the back of the Australian’s car for the entire 13 lap duration, Clarke tried everything in the book to carve open a passing opportunity. As is so often the way in F3 racing, though, the ‘dirty air’ of being so close behind a rival machine worked against Clarke and he had to settle for seventh at the finish only 0.3 seconds behind.
Chaimongkol maintained grid position for the first seven laps but on the eighth tour, as a three-car battle ahead intensified, he moved into the top 10 when Nico Varrone crashed out after a tangle with Guilherme Peixoto at the exit of the chicane.
Redoubling his efforts, Chaimongkol attempted to pounce on the unsettled Peixoto as the Hillspeed racer sought to take ninth. Having a serious look into Cascades, he tried again at Island Bend but there was no way through and so ended the contest in 10th place. Post-race, a penalty for Ulysse De Pauw meant Clarke moved up into sixth in the classification and Chaimongkol into ninth.
The fourth and final race of the weekend started with Chaimongkol ninth on the grid and Clarke in 13th position. When the lights went out the Thai made a terrific launch and quickly moved up into eighth, while Clarke maintained his starting slot.
Once again, the race was a largely processional affair and although there was very little to separate the field there was minimal overtaking. Midway through the contest, on lap seven, Horsten crashed out at Island Bend and Chaimongkol moved up into seventh with Clarke climbing into the top 12.
Chaimongkol did come under increasing pressure from Louis Foster around mid-distance but he saw off the threat and at the chequered flag was 1.4 seconds clear. Clarke, meanwhile, spent the entire race staring at the rear wing of De Pauw’s car. Pressuring hard race-long, the F3 rookie proved a handful and certainly confirmed his credentials as a driver to watch as the season unfolds.
Donington Park Grand Prix Circuit, Hillspeed’s home track, will host rounds five, six and seven of the BRDC British F3 season just a fortnight from now over the weekend 15th/16th August.