GRAY AND GRANFORS SEAL MAIDEN BRITISH F4 VICTORIES AS TITLE PLOT THICKENS AT THRUXTON
Oliver Gray and Joel Granfors sealed maiden victories in the F4 British Championship certified by FIA – powered by Ford EcoBoost at Thruxton last weekend [28-29 August] as another dramatic weekend on track raised the stakes in the title fight.
Both Fortec Motorsport drivers made the trip to the high-speed, 2.35-mile Hampshire venue still searching for their first trip to the winner’s circle, both in Britain’s FIA Formula 4 series and their fledgling single-seater careers.
Gray, a consistent front-runner and visitor to the Rookie Cup rostrum, but still seeking his first outright podium finish prior to the weekend, made the headlines on Saturday morning with a maiden brace of pole positions, breaking the qualifying lap record in the process.
In fact, each of the four fastest times in qualifying, set by Gray, Phinsys by Argenti’s Matias Zagazeta, championship leader Matthew Rees and his JHR team-mate Abbi Pulling respectively, would have been good enough to set a new benchmark, highlighting the strength in depth of competition between Ford’s rising stars this season.
The first two races proved to be typically hard-fought affairs, the first of which ended up in the stewards’ room after a boisterous battle up front between Gray and Zagazeta.
The pair were able to break the tow to the chasing pack behind, giving them license to dispute the race lead on two occasions heading into the Club chicane. In the first instance, a move to the inside by Gray left Zagazeta over the kerbs in avoidance of a collision, with the Brit able to get the advantage at Allard a few laps later.
Zagazeta kept the pressure on and send a move around the outside of Club on the final lap; again, the Peruvian took to the kerbs but, crucially, kept the throttle in and took the chequered flag a half-second clear of Gray, with Pulling third.
After post-race judicials, Zagazeta was found to have gained an unfair advantage and the positions between the leading pair were reversed, which stood after an appeal.
That marked Gray’s maiden win in the series and an eighth different victor of the season, a feat he would repeat on Sunday after soaking up race-long pressure from Zagazeta, then Pulling and finally team-mate Granfors to propel himself back into title contention.
Gray’s triumphs book-ended a maiden victory of his own for team-mate Granfors, the Swede taking a breakthrough result at the same circuit that yielded a brace of podium finishes on debut back in May.
Granfors’ victory proved to be another contentious moment on an action-packed weekend, after contact at Club with race leader Pulling pitched the latter into the air and to the back of the field.
It was adjudged to be a racing incident after the fact, meaning that Granfors’ triumph, secured by 0.9 seconds over a jubilant David Morales (Arden) in second, stood.
That completed an emphatic hat-trick for Fortec Motorsport on a week that saw their previous chief title contender, James Hedley, switch teams to Carlin, and it was far from a quiet weekend in the title fight.
Rees remains the ‘one to beat’ heading to Croft and Silverstone next month, but the JHR racer could only manage the lower reaches of the top ten on all three outings, allowing Zagazeta to move to within two points of the Welsh teenager.
Hedley now sits third, the BRDC Rising Star able to take a solitary podium away from a weekend he chalked down as a learning exercise, the Poole-based racer adapting to the setup on his new Carlin-run challenger.
Granfors and Gray’s silverware-laden triple headers have elevated them to fourth and sixth respectively, sandwiching McKenzy Cresswell (JHR Developments), who endured another weekend of ‘what might have been’ in Hampshire.
The two-time race winner enjoyed a solid run to fourth in the opening race but contact from behind by Aiden Neate (Argenti) into Club in the reverse grid contest spun him round and backwards into the tyre barrier, damaging the car beyond repair in time to compete any further.
He remains fourth but will need to find some momentum once again if he is to continue his starring role in this season’s title fight any further.
Whilst Morales revelled in a well-deserved maiden podium, team-mate Zak Taylor walked away from a heart-stopping moment at the Complex in the final race, the Gloucestershire teenager rolling before coming to rest ‘the right way up’ after being tagged by Pulling.
Taylor escaped the incident unharmed, but any chance of adding to a solid eighth-place finish the previous day was gone. The recent Motorsport UK Academy graduate remains in the top ten outright but will be looking to Croft to re-gain ground.
Kai Askey (Carlin), Eduardo Coseteng (Argenti) and Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak (Carlin) are now blanketed by just eight points for the final spot inside the top ten, the latter pair securing an equal career-best results and a hat-trick of points finishes respectively to close in on two-time podium finisher Askey.
Dougie Bolger (Carlin) enjoyed another strong weekend fighting up front, although the Japanese racer had to serve a 5-second penalty for spinning Joseph Loake (JHR) into Hedley in the opener, an incident from which he was the only car to continue.
Neate’s run of top-six finishes continues, including a career-best fourth in the final race of the weekend as the 15-year-old knocks on the door of a first trip to the rostrum. Neate also took a first Rookie victory in the process as he starts to climb the class order.
Marcos Flack (Argenti) will be frustrated to just miss out on adding to his points haul, but the Australian will now look to re-group and make up for lost time when the championship resumes at Croft, Yorkshire on 18-19 September.