Hillspeed’s Oliver Clarke produced a superb performance at a very wet Donington Park Grand Prix Circuit on Sunday, 16th August, to seal his first BRDC British Formula 3 Championship podium in only his sixth race in the category. Driving impressively in the spray from fifth on the grid, the 17-year-old ran as high as second place at one stage before settling for a richly deserved top three finish in round six. As well as being the first silverware of his debut F3 season, it was also the first podium of 2020 for Markham Vale’s Hillspeed.
Beginning the weekend with 14th position in round five on Saturday, 15th August, from 17th on the grid – after a penalty in qualifying – in round seven on Sunday afternoon the Kings Lynn racer had to settle for a frustrating 19th place following an early pit-stop due to an electrical problem.
West Bridgford-based Thai driver Sasakorn ‘Cutter’ Chaimongkol also experienced mixed fortunes at his adopted ‘home’ track, with a strong seventh position in race one followed by 17th in the very wet sixth round after an excursion – his first wet-weather outing since the middle of 2018. Hopes of another top 10 result in the finale were dashed and Chaimongkol placed in 12th spot.
“We’re absolutely delighted for Ollie with his first podium, it was a great drive,” said Hillspeed team principal Richard Ollerenshaw. “When he was challenged for second by [Kaylen] Frederick, Ollie did absolutely the right thing in letting him go and consolidating the third place. It was only the second time he’d driven the car in the wet, so a fantastic job and proof of his growing stature in British F3. The issue with the yellow flags in qualifying, which was very unfortunate and at an area not in a driver’s eyeline, meant he lost his times and that did comprise his chances in races one and three. Without the electrical issue though in race three I’m confident he could have been in the top 10 with the pace he had.”
Ollerenshaw added: “It’s been a challenging weekend for Cutter, as soon as we saw the weather we knew it would be tough as he’s never driven this car in the wet and his last wet race was Silverstone in 2018. It was a huge ask of him, but he applied himself as he always does. The seventh place in the dry race on Saturday was a good start, but the weather on Sunday did compromise him.”
Following two days of productive testing the Hillspeed duo headed into qualifying on Saturday morning well placed. Chaimongkol was just 0.396 seconds shy of pole position in the all-important session but, such was the competitiveness of the field, he had to settle for the ninth fastest time.
Clarke, meanwhile, qualified 13th quickest – just half a second from pole – but his times were expunged after he was deemed to have set his fastest second sector time when yellow flags were being waved. As a result, he had to begin race one from 17th on the grid.
At the start of round five on Saturday afternoon, with light rain in the air, Chaimongkol and Clarke both made gains on the first lap with the Thai climbing into the top eight and his team-mate moving up into 15th place. On lap two, Clarke gained another spot when Nico Varrone crashed.
Following a Safety Car period, racing resumed on the sixth tour and although Clarke was shuffled back to 15th, he hit back a couple of laps later. Then, on the 13th and final tour, some last lap drama meant Clarke was able to profit and he gained three places to finish the race in 11th position.
Erroneously, the chequered flag was shown a lap later than it should have been due to a timing glitch and so the result was taken back to the lap prior – as per the regulations – with Clarke in 14th spot.
Chaimongkol, meanwhile, swarmed all over the back of championship leader Kaylen Frederick’s car during the second half of the encounter and really pressured the American. On the penultimate tour, lap 12, it paid off handsomely as he expertly made the breakthrough to take seventh place.
Ahead of round six on Sunday morning, Donington Park was very wet and murky. Clarke did initially slip from his grid slot of fifth to sixth into Redgate, but he then put together a sensational first lap and moved back into fifth in double-quick time before battling hard for fourth at McLeans.
His progress was stymied slightly after Max Marzorati banged wheels with the Hillspeed car, but Clarke maintained fourth into lap two. At the Old Hairpin on lap three, a spin for Manaf Hijjawi enabled Clarke to take third and he then passed Carter Williams on lap four for second place.
As the race entered its second half, so Clarke started to be caught by points leader Frederick and on lap seven he dived down the inside into the Melbourne Hairpin. Thereafter, Clarke comfortably held third to the flag to claim his richly deserved first podium in only his sixth F3 race.
Chaimongkol’s planned ascent through the order came to a halt after contact with the barriers at Goddards early on. Able to recover to the pits, after a check over by the team he rejoined and had to settle for 17th position. He did, though, set the fourth fastest lap of 1m40.987 seconds.
Round seven began with Chaimongkol eighth on the grid but, despite a decent initial launch on the slippery track surface, he lost three places on lap one. Edged back to 12th by Hijjawi at the start of lap two, Chaimongkol hit back the next time around. Remaining 11th until lap eight, the Thai then slipped behind Guilherme Peixoto into the hairpin and eventually ended the race in 12th spot.
From 17th on the grid, Clarke had a challenging race in store but realistic hopes of a push for a top 10 finish ended on lap three when he pitted with electrical issues. After the team re-set the system, Clarke rejoined the race two laps down and ultimately finished in 19th position.
Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit in Kent will host the next four rounds of the BRDC British F3 season just a fortnight from now, over the weekend 29th/30th August – two races on the Saturday, two on the Sunday.
2020 BRDC British F3 Driver Standings (after Rd7)
10th Sasakorn ‘Cutter’ Chaimongkol, 80pts; 12th Oliver Clarke, 78pts