In the month of the Markham Vale squad’s 50th anniversary, the penultimate event of the campaign proved to be an impressive one for Hillspeed with a season-best performance in qualifying – second fastest for Clarke, third quickest for Chaimongkol – and three very strong races.
After taking his second podium of the year with third place in round 19 on Sunday morning, Clarke was on course to finish a career-best second in round 21 later in the afternoon but slowed to a stop on the penultimate lap with a damaged tyre and rear suspension. Chaimongkol, running in third at the time, was able to profit and he duly swept past to seal his long-awaited first podium of the year.
With just three races remaining in the 2020 season, the championship finale due to take place just a fortnight from now at Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit, West Bridgford-based Thai driver Chaimongkol is seventh in the standings with Kings Lynn’s Clarke down to ninth after his luckless non-finish.
“It’s been a fantastic weekend, we had the pace throughout the four days and we’re just massively disappointed for Ollie with the issue in race three – both he and Cutter had done an exceptional job and the double podium was on for us”, said Richard Ollerenshaw, Hillspeed team principal. “Right from the start of testing Ollie was quick and when the actual race weekend came around Cutter was on it as well. Qualifying was outstanding, to be P2 and P3 was where we wanted to be, and the pace was definitely there to be on the podium in all three races. Even so, we’re delighted Ollie got his second podium of the year in race one and Cutter his first in race three.”
Clarke started off the final visit of the year to Donington superbly with the second fastest time in the opening test on Thursday, 22nd October, before then lapping quickest in the third outing and going on to end the day fourth overall. On Friday, 23rd October, Clarke was fifth overall after four more sessions to underline an excellent start to the weekend.
In qualifying on Saturday, Clarke starred again to secure a season-best second on the grid with a lap of 1m03.211 seconds (112.71mph). Chaimongkol, who had been 12th and 14th on combined times during the two test days, really stepped it up for qualifying and after being in the mix throughout the session he ended up an excellent third fastest with a time of 1m03.229 seconds (112.67mph).
Hillspeed’s rapid young chargers had to wait until Sunday, though, to try and make the most of their superb qualifying performances – heavy rain on Saturday afternoon led to officials delaying round 19 to the following day on the grounds of safety.
While the skies above Donington were much-improved on Sunday, the track was still wet in places ahead of race one and both Hillspeed drivers went with treaded Pirelli tyres. Although leap-frogged by Ulysse De Pauw at the start, Clarke and Chaimongkol made it safely through the opening lap in third and fourth respectively before the Safety Car was deployed due to a tangle at the Old Hairpin.
Racing got back underway on lap six, with just over 10 minutes remaining, and the team-mates held position. While De Pauw in second place edged away as the race wore on, Chaimongkol remained within 0.9 seconds of Clarke lap after lap. Closing fractionally on lap 11, the Thai racer did lose some ground a couple of laps later and the order remained the same to the flag on lap 15.
Round 20 began with Chaimongkol fifth on the grid and Clarke in sixth, and the former put together a terrific opening to leap into the top three. Determined to fight for his first 2020 podium, the Thai was just 0.4 seconds behind Benjamin Pedersen into lap three but pressure behind started to build.
Passed by De Pauw on lap five, the Hillspeed racer was then edged back to fifth on the eighth tour by Kush Maini but Chaimongkol was able to keep championship leader Kaylen Frederick at bay. During the latter stages he managed to build a fair gap to ensure fifth position at the finish on lap 18.
Clarke’s hopes of another podium disappeared at the start when he had to run through the gravel at Redgate in avoidance of Louis Foster’s car. Dropping to 14th position, and then slipping another place on lap two, he then mounted an impressive recovery and set fastest lap on the seventh tour.
Circulating with very strong pace, Clarke carved his way back through the order and by lap eight he was into 12th position. Breaking into the top 10 a few laps later, he then took ninth on the 17th and penultimate tour which is where he remained to the flag.
Back on the front row of the grid for round 21, thanks to his second best time in qualifying, Clarke held off an initial challenge from team-mate Chaimongkol – starting the race third – and then began to reel off consistent laps to keep the Thai at bay.
Chaimongkol lost significant time, around three seconds, on lap five when a bid from Reece Ushijima resulted in the two cars banging wheels. Thankfully able to retain third, the Hillspeed driver stayed third until lap 17 when Clarke’s hopes of a career-best finish were cruelly dashed.
With a damaged tyre and rear suspension causing the Briton to pull off the circuit at Schwantz Curve, it was a bitterly disappointing blow for the impressive F3 rookie. Chaimongkol, who had been working hard to stay ahead of Maini, duly moved into second and held the place to the chequered flag a lap later.
The final three races of the BRDC British F3 season will be contested two weeks from now, over the weekend 7th/8th November, at Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit in Northamptonshire.
2020 BRDC British F3 Driver Standings (after Rd21)
7th Sasakorn ‘Cutter’ Chaimongkol, 276pts; 9th Oliver Clarke, 251pts