|James Hedley took a sublime double victory before Joseph Loake held his own in a wet-weather thriller on an eventful opening weekend (8-9 May) for the 2021 F4 British Championship certified by FIA – powered by Ford EcoBoost at Thruxton.
Ford’s rising stars were greeted by rain for the opening qualifying session, and Matthew Rees led a JHR quartet for both Rounds 1 & 3, with Arden’s Thomas Ikin on reverse-grid pole position for the middle contest.
The circuit continued to dry over the course of the day, giving teams and drivers a tyre selection headache. Ten opted to stick with the wet tyres, the rest made a late call to put slicks on, which paid off handsomely.
Although Abbi Pulling led early on after sweeping around the outside of Rees at Allard, the slick-shod cars quickly came into their own. Hedley – who in the opening exchanges dispatched seven cars in a single lap – was quickly promoted to the race lead and set about establishing his lead.
The gap back to second-placed Joel Granfors (Fortec), also on slicks, peaked at around 10 seconds, but the Swede was able to reel Hedley in during the closing laps, whilst also keeping Matias Zagazeta (Phinsys by Argenti) at arm’s length despite several side-by-side moments into the Club chicane.
Eduardo Coseteng (Phinsys by Argenti) and Arden’s Zak Taylor completed their respective rises through the order to take fourth and fifth, with Oliver Gray the fastest of the wet-shod cars in sixth.
Sunday brought about clearer skies, and a fully dry track surface for the first time ahead of the series’ first full reverse grid race.
Ikin was able to keep a fast-starting Taylor at bay on the opening tour, but Hedley – back on the fourth row of the grid – was at it again.
After stand-out moves on the inside at Allard past Marcos Flack (Phinsys by Argenti) and around the outside of Carlin’s Roman Bilinski at Goodwood, the Dorset-based racer found himself on the tail of both Red Arrows in third.
He was able to squeeze ahead of Taylor into Club, and then passed Ikin for the lead just before a quarter distance, before breaking the tow and building the 7.3 second advantage he held at the flag.
Conversely, the battle for second could scarcely be closer.
Taylor was able to pass Ikin at the second time of asking, with his team-mate left to defend from the squabbling Granfors and Carlin racer Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak.
The slipstream up Woodham Hill allowed both to close in on Ikin; they chose one side each, with Granfors on the inside line able to slip through into third, with Inthraphuvasak following him past the pole-sitter.
Taylor defended valiantly, but after several failed attempts, Granfors was finally able to annex second in the closing laps.
Ikin looked on course to finish fifth but dropped behind a resurgent Pulling on the final tour, the latter moving up an impressive ten spots from her back row starting position.
Hedley’s double cemented his early position atop the standings from Granfors after a brace of 1-2 finishes for the Fortec squad, but few could predict the drama to come in the final race later that afternoon.
What would become the first attempt at a race start ran smoothly, with Joseph Loake taking the lead from pole-sitter Rees on the outside at Allard.
McKenzy Cresswell (JHR) followed him through into second, but it was all rendered academic after a four-car shunt at Club brought out the red flags.
The incident was triggered after Hedley ran side-by-side through the chicane with Carlin’s Kai Askey.
Neither gave an inch and the end result was contact after Hedley had to take extra kerb on the first apex and tagged Askey’s #15 challenger into a spin. The pair then collected Zagazeta and left Inthraphuvasak with nowhere to go, both innocent casualties.
With one race left to run for the headlining British Touring Car Championship and delays earlier in the day adding pressure to the schedule, the decision was taken to move the final F4 race to the end of the timetable.
That, crucially, gave teams an hour to work on repairing the damaged cars and, as the race was red flagged before a lap had been completed, those who made the second start could return to their original grid slots.
What followed proved to be a remarkable display; each of the stricken cars was returned to working order in time to make the revised start, but a downpour during the intervening period meant a switch to wet tyres and threw another dynamic into the mix.
Loake put in a repeat display at the start to sweep into the lead, and again Cresswell followed him through.
Although the two were inseparable for the race distance, a clear opportunity to pass never presented itself to Cresswell, though he kept Loake honest to the chequered flag, the winning margin just 0.9 seconds.
It marked a superb weekend for both, with Loake taking a maiden win and Cresswell the early lead in the Rookie Cup stakes by three points over Gray.
Hedley was also on the move yet again, this time to salvage a podium finish from what had seemed to be a non-finish. His climb through the field was far steadier than in races one and two, but a last lap pass on Rees at Campbell promoted him to third and allowed him to extend his points lead over Granfors once more.
Loake’s win promotes him up the order to third, three markers clear of Cresswell, whilst Taylor’s solid debut outing puts him fifth overall.
Fortec’s early-season form has given them a healthy advantage in the Teams Cup, with 49 points back to Carlin in second spot.
The next three rounds of the 2021 F4 British Championship will take place at Snetterton’s 300 circuit in Norfolk on 12-13 June.
James Hedley (#67) said:
“I’m absolutely over the moon with how the weekend went. Whatever Thruxton threw at us, we bounced back to the top. A massive thanks to the boys and girls at Fortec for a mega car and their tremendous effort to fix it for Race 3. I can’t thank them or my sponsors enough – without them, I wouldn’t be racing at all.”
Joseph Loake (#84) said:
“Race three was a miracle! I wasn’t expecting it, especially after yesterday. Starting second, I knew my starts were really strong, so I focused on getting it right and tried to keep a gap. McKenzy put me under a lot of pressure in the first few laps but I managed to hold him off and build a little gap, so I didn’t need to defend. I have to thank all the team, Maciek, Paul, my Mum and Dad, and everyone. They’ve all been amazing to me.”