NORRIS & COLLARD TO FACE OFF AT BRANDS


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Lando Norris (pictured) and Ricky Collard will be in the spotlight this weekend – Photo: Jakob Ebrey

They have been exchanging the lead of the Ford EcoBoost-powered MSA Formula Championship all season long, and next weekend at Brands Hatch Lando Norris and Ricky Collard will go head to head to determine which of them will claim the title FIA Formula 4 Champion of Great Britain.

In fact there are four drivers with a mathematical chance of title glory, but it is 15-year-old Norris and Collard, 19, who have the best shot at securing the most coveted championship in British single-seater racing.

In the blue corner for Carlin is Somerset-based Norris, the winner of seven races so far this year, his maiden season in single-seaters. In the red corner for TRS Arden is Hampshire’s Collard, son of BTCC ace Rob, who came to MSA Formula after gaining a year’s experience in Formula Ford. Collard has six race victories under his belt and trails Norris by 13 points.

The other drivers with an eye on the title are Norris’s Carlin team-mate Colton Herta and JHR Developments driver Sennan Fielding. With 25 points on offer to the winner of each of the three Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit races, plus five points for fastest lap in qualifying and a point for fastest lap in each race, both Herta and Fielding have a shot but would need some serious misfortune to befall both Norris and Collard…

Last time at Brands Hatch – on the Indy circuit in April – Norris and Collard set the tone for their seasons, Lando qualifying on the front row and racing to victory in the first and third races of the weekend, while Collard qualified mid-grid and took top-six finishes in the regular races, accompanied by a win in the reverse-grid race.

Lando is the only driver this season to have set the quickest lap in qualifying on more than one occasion. In fact, he has done it four times (at Oulton Park, Croft, Knockhill and Rockingham) and has never qualified outside the top two. By contrast Collard has made the top four in qualifying only four times, and has never achieved top spot.

Collard last week received a boost with the news that he has been selected, alongside fellow MSA Formula driver Toby Sowery, as one of the six finalists for the £100,000 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award, but he knows that if he is to wrest the MSA Formula crown from Norris’s fingers then he must qualify well at Brands Hatch. “If I can do the business in qualifying then the rest should be easy,” says Ricky. “My qualifying hasn’t been good this year but my ability to overtake is what has saved me, and that is something which Autosport has picked up on in my nomination.

“I am training so hard at the moment. I’ll be doing as much as I can this week on the simulator, and I shall try everything I can to get a good qualifying, and likewise the team is doing the same. If we can get inside the top two rows of the grid I think we will be in with a good shout. Our race pace has always been better than our qualifying pace, and I think the Carlin car has been very much the opposite. We are two completely different drivers as well. Lando’s really quick and I have a lot of respect for him, but I think he struggles in the pack. Whereas I am the opposite – I thrive in that sort of situation.”

For their part, Norris and the Carlin team will be approaching the finale in the same methodical and calm fashion that has brought them such success all year. “It should be really good,” said Lando. “The Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit is one of my favourite tracks; I won there last year and my pace is always good there. I just need to concentrate on my own race, try to get pole and go for the wins.”

Lando was lucky to emerge unhurt from an accident on Saturday at the Hockenheimring in Germany, where he was competing in the final meeting of the ADAC German F4 Championship. Norris clipped the rear of the car driven by his Muecke Motorsport team-mate David Beckmann, was launched into the air and rolled twice before coming to rest upside down in a gravel trap. He was taken to hospital for precautionary checks and later given the all clear.

If Norris cannot achieve a win, then a couple of good finishes ahead of Collard could be enough for him to stay in front in the points table. Here Lando’s team-mate Herta could help, and Colton will be keen to end his impressive maiden season of European racing on a high. Colton was 15 years and five days old when he took part in the first round in April; he’s not much older now (and is still the youngest in the field) but the Californian has matured impressively in the second half of the season to net eight podium finishes from the last 12 races.

Meanwhile, JHR Developments driver Fielding has the experience to score when it matters, and would be higher up in the points table but for mechanical bad luck. And there are plenty more potential race winners in the Brands Hatch field, such as Double R’s Brazilian ace Matheus Leist, who returned to winning ways last time out at Silverstone.

Collard’s TRS Arden team-mates Sandy Mitchell and Enaam Ahmed will be worth keeping an eye on also as they dispute which of them will end the season ahead in the Rookie championship. Quick young Scot Mitchell has won the class four times this season and Ahmed thrice, while JTR’s Dan Baybutt picked up his maiden Rookie wins at Silverstone.

The Brands Hatch action begins on Friday with two pre-event test sessions ahead of a busy Saturday schedule of qualifying and two races. Sunday afternoon’s 30th and final round of the championship will be screened live, between the closing rounds of the British Touring Car Championship, on ITV4.