Markham Vale motor racing team Hillspeed came tantalisingly close to celebrating another BRDC British Formula 3 Championship podium on home ground at Donington Park Grand Prix Circuit on Sunday, 20th September, in round 14 of the season.
Thai driver Sasakorn ‘Cutter’ Chaimongkol, who is based just down the road from Donington in West Bridgford, challenged hard for his first podium of 2020 in the last of the weekend’s three races but had to settle for, a nonetheless competitive, fifth position.
Chaimongkol was rapid from the outset during the category’s second visit of the year to the popular Leicestershire track, qualifying a season-best fourth, but in round 12 on Saturday afternoon he was forced off the road early on and finished in ninth. In round 13 on Sunday, he ended the race in 11th.
Team-mate Oliver Clarke secured his best result of the weekend in race one with a strong seventh place, climbing from ninth on the grid, before then chalking-up more consistent points with eighth in round 13 on Sunday morning. Frustratingly for the Kings Lynn driver, contact to the rear of his car at the start of round 14 led to a puncture and enforced pit-stop. He ended the race in 16th position.
“It’s been a mixed weekend for us, frustrating we didn’t come away with some podiums as Cutter and Ollie were both quick and had great pace throughout,” said Richard Ollerenshaw, Hillspeed team principal, “In all three races the pace was very strong, but in race one Cutter was run off the road and Ollie was hit from behind in race three. We certainly had our weekend compromised. In qualifying and all three races I was very pleased with the performance both drivers delivered, as well as the great job the team did in preparing two quick cars that were capable of podium results. It didn’t work out that way unfortunately, but we did take away some good points again.”
Qualifying brought an impressive showing from Chaimongkol with the fourth fastest time, a lap of 1m25.126 seconds (105.19mph) just five hundredths of a second shy of third and only 0.3 seconds outside pole position. In the sister Hillspeed car Clarke, who had one less day of pre-event testing than his rivals, ended the session with the ninth quickest time of 1m25.436 seconds (104.80mph).
Chaimongkol held onto his top four placing at the start of race one with a good launch, but he was knocked off the track by a rival and dropped to 11th position. Clarke started well and moved into eighth due to his team-mate’s woes, before the Safety Car was deployed for lap two.
Racing resumed on lap four and both Hillspeed drivers held position, before Chaimongkol moved back up into the top 10. Clarke pressured Reece Ushijima in the battle over seventh and on lap 10 he brilliantly made the breakthrough to claim the place, holding it to the flag. Chaimongkol pressured Piers Prior lap after lap and grabbed ninth from his rival on the penultimate tour as well.
For round 13 on Sunday morning, Chaimongkol lined-up eighth with Clarke in 10th position. The Thai driver launched well from the line but was still edged back to ninth through Redgate, and he then slipped behind Clarke out of Coppice as the two Hillspeed cars ran wheel-to-wheel.
Keen to hit back, Chaimongkol pressured on lap two out of the Old Hairpin but he also had Kush Maini swarming behind and Maini managed to dive past for 10th into Melbourne Hairpin. On lap four, though, Chaimongkol reclaimed his top 10 placing.
Just up the road, Clarke saw his opportunity to challenge Prior for eighth and after getting alongside on the run through Schwantz Curve the Hillspeed racer had the inside for McLeans, and he moved ahead with a terrific pass. Chaimongkol then pressured Prior and into Melbourne he grabbed ninth.
At the start of lap five however, Prior produced a late move into Redgate and Chaimongkol lost all of his momentum as he avoided being collected. In doing so, the Thai lost two further places on the run down to Craner Curves and so dropped to 12th spot.
Two laps later, Clarke prepared to mount a challenge as three cars ahead duelled fiercely and into McLeans he saw his chance. Moving past Alex Fores through the right-hander, Clarke momentarily had seventh but slight contact between the pair delayed him and allowed Prior back through. Clarke eventually ended the race in eighth position.
As a result of retirement for Fores, Chaimongkol profited and moved up into 11th where he stayed to the flag on lap 12. Both Hillspeed drivers showcased impressive pace, with Clarke’s quickest lap less than 0.2 seconds shy of the fastest and Chaimongkol’s quickest mere hundredths outside Clarke’s.
Beginning round 14 later in the day from fourth, Chaimongkol made a great start and dived to the inside as he tried to challenge for third. Forced onto the grass by Ulysse De Pauw, the Hillspeed racer managed to avoid any dramas and maintained his momentum to keep hold of fourth into Redgate.
Into the Old Hairpin he had another serious look at De Pauw but had to tuck back in behind his rival on the exit. When De Pauw got ahead of Kaylen Frederick, the next time around Chaimongkol set about challenging the latter for third with huge pressure through Schwantz Curve. At Melbourne Hairpin though, Nazim Azman produced a late dive to the inside and Chaimongkol dropped to fifth.
Attempting to hit back into Redgate on lap three, the Thai couldn’t quite make it stick but he stayed right on the tail of Azman. Lapping within 0.3 seconds of fastest lap pace, Chaimongkol stayed fifth to the flag on lap 11 – just 0.9 seconds shy of Azman.
Clarke’s race was undone on the opening lap when a left-rear puncture, sustained after contact to the rear of his car, led to a frustrating pit visit. Great work from the Hillspeed mechanics enabled him to get back into the race with a replacement tyre as quickly as possible, and the Briton went on to finish in 16th position albeit a lap down.
Snetterton 300 Circuit in Norfolk will host rounds 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the BRDC British F3 season over the weekend 3rd/4th October.
2020 BRDC British F3 Driver Standings (after Rd14)
8th Sasakorn ‘Cutter’ Chaimongkol, 177pts; 12th Oliver Clarke, 155pts