O’Sullivan and Stevenson close in on championship lead after Croft victories
Zak O’Sullivan and Casper Stevenson moved to within striking distance of points leader Luke Browning after splitting the victories in the F4 British Championship certified by FIA – powered by Ford EcoBoost at Croft last weekend [10-11 October].
Fresh from a maiden victory in Britain’s FIA Formula 4 series at Silverstone, Argenti Motorsport racer Stevenson arrived at the 2.1-mile Yorkshire circuit in high spirits and carried that momentum forward, scoring his first two pole positions in the category, the second despite setting an identical lap time to Browning.
He couldn’t convert it into another visit to the winner’s circle come the race, however, with O’Sullivan cutting through from third on the grid to take the spoils – his sixth victory of the campaign.
The Carlin racer made a good start from the second row, moving past Browning as the Fortec racer slipped back at Clervaux on the opening lap, and then dispatching Stevenson at the Chicane on the following tour to assume the race lead.
Stevenson did mount a fightback, but ultimately came up just short, the pair taking the chequered flag 0.4 seconds apart.
Browning had to settle for just sixth in the opening race, but was back in the thick of the action at the front in the ITV4-televised finale on Sunday afternoon.
Stevenson once again made the best start from pole position, with O’Sullivan slotting into third behind Browning.
An early safety car stoppage for Roman Bilinski’s stranded Arden challenger in the Clervaux gravel trap neutralised the action, and when it restarted some five minutes later, Stevenson made no mistake.
He was given crucial breathing space as O’Sullivan and Browning went into combat over second spot; O’Sullivan’s attempted pass at the inside of the Hairpin put the pair side-by-side down the main straight.
Browning braked later on the inside line, but went wide and skirted the edge of the gravel at Clervaux, allowing O’Sullivan to get the cutback and take the runner-up spot.
It was a classic case of role reversal, with O’Sullivan now applying the pressure in chase of Stevenson, but with the same result.
Stevenson held on by just over a second to notch up his second win of the season, and notably a ninth consecutive podium finish, equalling Josh Skelton’s all-time record.
O’Sullivan’s second place means the gap to Browning – back on the podium after a six-race absence – reduces to just 13 points at the championship summit, with Stevenson hot on their heels, a further 20 markers back with six races left to run in 2020.
Behind the championship battle, Ford’s rising stars threw up a whole host of stories on a thrilling weekend in Yorkshire.
The other two drivers still in mathematical contention for the crown – JHR’s James Hedley and Arden’s Alex Connor – saw their title bids take a blow on a tough weekend.
The pair finished seventh and eighth respectively in race one after a difficult qualifying, and Hedley could only move forward to fifth in race two.
Connor was an early retirement from that contest after contact with the rear of O’Sullivan’s car on the opening lap.
With a maximum score of 150 points still on the table across the final two meetings, both Hedley (-94) and Connor (-99) are still in the running, but will need to hit the front in some style over the last six rounds.
Christian Mansell maintained his advantage in the Rookie Cup stakes, despite a strong weekend for closest challenger Frederick Lubin (Arden).
Lubin equalled his career-best finish of fourth in the opening race, and with it a fifth Rookie win, but Mansell was able to reverse their fortunes on Sunday to keep a 43-point lead heading to Snetterton.
That means the Australian can mathematically wrap up the title next time out, but will need a 33-point swing by the end of the triple-header in Norfolk to secure the honours.
Abbi Pulling made a return to the rostrum, the JHR racer finishing a comfortable third behind O’Sullivan and Stevenson in the opener after a strong getaway.
That marks her third podium of the campaign, and moves her into the top six in the standings.
Bilinski’s fifth-placed finish in the opener keeps the Polish racer close behind, however, with the battle for sixth spot overall set to continue for the rest of the season.
Series returnee Rafael Villagomez (Fortec), Argenti’s Reema Juffali and Carlin’s Matias Zagazeta delivered arguably the battle of the weekend over eighth spot on Sunday.
The Mexican did superbly to soak up the pressure from the pair as they ran virtually nose-to-tail for the majority of the race, but an unlucky off at Sunny Out left Villagomez on the sidelines in the closing stages, with Juffali coming through to pick up her first F4 points at Croft, and Zagazeta another Rookie podium.
In the Teams Cup, Fortec Motorsport now have a slender 7-point advantage over a resurgent Carlin, with Arden similarly keeping JHR at bay by just 2 points.
Argenti continued to surge up the standings, and now just sit a further 20 points back from the established front-runners despite being in their maiden season of competition.
With six races to go, the title battle is reaching fever-pitch at the front, and Snetterton’s 300 circuit in Norfolk will provide the next thrilling instalment on 24-25 October.