James Hedley became the latest ‘Triple Crown’ winner after a superb hat-trick of victories on home turf in the F4 British Championship certified by FIA – powered by Ford EcoBoost at Thruxton, Hampshire, last weekend [19-20 September].
The BRDC Rising Star stormed to a double pole position on Saturday morning, setting a new qualifying lap record in the process, and duly followed it up with a clean sweep at his local venue to extend JHR’s winning streak at Thruxton to six races in a row.
The first came after fending off race-long pressure from Argenti Motorsport’s Casper Stevenson, a late charge bringing the scholarship winner to within 0.193 seconds of a maiden victory, but ultimately Hedley triumphed in a near-photo finish at the chequered flag.
That result would be repeated just a few hours later, albeit in far more dramatic circumstances.
A first-corner collision at Allard between championship leader Luke Browning (Fortec), chief rival Zak O’Sullivan (Carlin) and front-runner Alex Connor (Arden) caused uncertainty, and Hedley duly capitalized, threading the eye of the needle to move through into the lead from fifth on the partially-reversed grid.
Stevenson, by contrast, had to brake to avoid the incident, but put in a gritty drive to fight back through the order and zero in on Hedley’s lead once more.
He closed the gap down from over two seconds to just a few tenths, but once again was forced to settle for the runner-up spot.
Hedley then became the second driver this season to wrap up a treble on home territory from pole position in the ITV2-televised finale, leading from lights-to-flag to record his fourth win of the campaign by the better part of 8 seconds.
Stevenson would be in the mix once again, but this time it was Hedley’s JHR team mate Abbi Pulling defending valiantly, and she duly secured a career-best result of second in a 1-2 finish for Steven Hunter’s outfit, with Stevenson third after a thrilling scrap between the pair.
Hedley and Stevenson’s respective hat-tricks – victories and podium finishes – have moved them back into title contention on a tough weekend for leading lights Browning and O’Sullivan.
Browning’s weekend started well enough, the Fortec racer moving forward from sixth after an off-colour qualifying to third behind Hedley and Stevenson, but a grid penalty for the aforementioned contact in race two at Allard put him on the back foot for race three.
Another trademark strong start put Browning up from tenth to sixth, but another tangle, this time with Carlin’s Christian Mansell and Connor at the Complex, sent the Arden challenger round.
Connor fought back through to finish fifth on the road behind Browning, with the stewards reversing the positions post-race. Browning was also handed another three penalty points, bringing his total to six. In accordance with the regulations, that meant a three-point championship deduction, but he still holds a comfortable 57-point margin at the top heading to Silverstone.
For O’Sullivan, it seemed to be one of ‘those’ weekends. Fifth in the opener proved to be the highlight, though he did salvage a solitary point from the reverse-grid race despite damage by virtue of staying out whilst others had issues ahead.
A mechanical problem in race three scuppered his challenge before it had properly begun, and he did well to finish on the lead lap with a wounded car, albeit in last place.
Those respective dramas for the top two have handed Stevenson, Hedley and Connor an opportunity to shrink the deficit, with a clear leading quintet now emerging as Britain’s FIA Formula 4 series enters the second half of the delayed 2020 season.
Pulling’s podium moves her into joint-sixth overall with the F3-bound Roberto Faria, and marked a welcome return to form for a driver who has found luck hard to come by in recent times.
Just behind is Mansell, the Aussie rising star doing well to stay ahead of a resurgent Frederick Lubin (Arden) in the Rookie Cup stakes.
Lubin took a convincing double win on Saturday, but Mansell responded with a win of his own to keep a 32-point buffer in the class standings.
Both will need to be wary of Rafael Villagomez’s progress, the Mexican scaling up the order to third despite contesting fewer rounds with a class podium hat-trick in Hampshire.
Villagomez was also one half of a thrilling battle with Reema Juffali (Argenti) in the televised finale, the Saudi Arabian racer showing some serious racecraft – including a daring move to the inside of Goodwood – in pursuit of more points.
Although a small mistake at the exit of Club chicane ultimately settled the tie in Villagomez’s favour for ninth in the race, it stood out as one of the best on-track battles of the campaign, proof that every point is hard-won in British F4!
There was also a welcome podium return for Arden’s Roman Bilinski, the Polish racer putting a tough Knockhill behind him in perfect fashion with third in that chaotic reverse grid race after a good inter-team battle with Lubin.
Matias Zagazeta (Carlin) similarly made a return to the points in the same race, the Carlin challenger improving with every race as he continues to develop in his maiden year of car racing.
In the Teams Cup, Fortec’s lead over Carlin now stands at 69 points, though the Daventry-based team will be without Villagomez at Silverstone next week due to his French F4 commitments.
JHR leap-frog Arden into third outright, with Argenti now closing in arguably the closest Teams’ competition of recent years.
Next up for the F4 British Championship is a visit to Silverstone, Northamptonshire – home of the British Grand Prix – for a triple-header on the National circuit over the weekend of 26-27 September.