Ahmed claims race one victory
Championship leader Enaam Ahmed made it four wins from the first four races of the 2017 BRDC British Formula 3 season, as a barnstorming opening lap saw him charge from the second row to the lead and onwards to victory in race one of the weekend at Rockingham on Saturday.
Pole-sitter Cameron Das held the lead through the first two corners but lost out to Ahmed at turn three, and despite closing on his Carlin team-mate on occasions, had to settle for second. South African Callan O’Keeffe completed a strong performance to round out the podium in third as the second round of the year got underway in Northamptonshire.
American Das stormed to his second pole position of the season in qualifying as he topped the 30-minute session, finishing nearly three tenths clear of his rivals, with Chris Dittmann Racing’s Omar Ismail completing the front-row of the grid for race one in second. In dry but overcast conditions, the session got underway with the majority of the BRDC British F3 field taking to the track almost immediately, whilst a handful of drivers employed varying strategies, with American Chase Owen and Callan O’Keeffe choosing to remain in the pit lane until midway through the session.
As the drivers warmed their Pirelli tyres, it was standings leader Ahmed who was the first man into the 1m13s bracket with a lap time of 1:13.972s. That put him ahead of Ben Hingeley and Omar Ismail but as the session ticked over the halfway point, Cameron Das bettered his Carlin team-mate’s lap by just 0.048s to head the session. A plethora of pit stops ensued with many drivers choosing to change on to an entire new set of Pirelli tyres, but fastest man Das chose to only switch his right-hand side tyres and that would prove a sound decision at the close of qualifying. After a few minutes, the drivers began to improve on their earlier times and it was Ben Hingeley who jumped to the head of the field with six minutes remaining. Omar Ismail followed him across the line moments later however, and he snatched provisional pole away from the Fortec man.
Cameron Das meanwhile was blitzing his way around the circuit, lighting up the timing screens with purple sectors and as he crossed the line, he moved into top spot with a 1:13.543s. He bettered that time on the very next lap, a 1m13.470s extending his advantage over the rest of the field. Ismail remained in second with Hingeley third, before O’Keeffe improved his time with the South African jumping up to fifth, just behind Enaam Ahmed. Despite his progress, O’Keeffe’s session would some come to an end as he spun into the gravel at turn three. The double waved yellow flags came out and they soon turned to red with the Douglas Motorsport man stuck in a dangerous position. With just over two minutes left on the clock, the chequered flag came out, confirming Das’ second pole position of the season.
Speaking as he climbed from his Tatuus-Cosworth car, Das said: “It was a good session, although I did struggle to get some free space in the early stages of qualifying. I had to pit early and go to new tyres. Luckily I was able to put in a lap before the red flags came out and fortunately it was a good one as well. I saw the pit board and saw that, at that stage, the best lap was a 1m13.5s but I didn’t see that I was P1. I was a little nervous that someone else may have beating that time but the guys reassured me that I had pole. I’ve examined my starts from Oulton Park, and my one in the final race was good, so I think in the dry we have them down and I think even in the wet we have them down now so we should be fine.”
Das took up his position at the head of the field for race one but as the lights went out, it was his fellow front-row starter Omar Ismail who made the better getaway and he challenged for the lead into the turn two hairpin. Being on the outside would prove Ismail’s undoing however as he was pushed out of the line and dropped to fifth, whilst fourth place starter Ahmed rocketed up to second, and then switched back down the inside of Das on the run to turn three to take the lead.
Another fast starter was O’Keeffe, who jumped from fifth to third, just ahead of Fortec Motorsports’ Ben Hingeley who dropped one place to fourth. Carlin’s James Pull meanwhile was making up for a disappointing qualifying session and he climbed three places on the opening lap to run in sixth, before dispatching Ismail in swift fashion to move up to fifth.
With all the frantic action across the first lap, Ahmed was able to open up a healthy lead approaching two seconds over the first two circuits. Das meanwhile was forced into fending off heavy pressure from O’Keeffe, who was determined to seize second from his rival. Further back, Dane Nicolai Kjaergaard pulled off a great move around the outside of Jamie Chadwick at the Deene hairpin to take seventh, putting her into the clutches of her Double R Racing team-mate Guilherme Samaia.
Das soon regrouped though and, with a succession of fastest laps, cut the lead down to just over half-a-second but Ahmed was able to respond as the race moved past its halfway mark and edge out the gap once more. Meanwhile, Jamie Chadwick was involved in a fierce battle with Samaia for the all important eighth place which gives pole position for race two, fending off a number of lunges from the Brazilian into the Deene hairpin.
As the race headed into its closing stages, Ahmed pushed his lead to over one second and after 14 laps, was greeted with the chequered flag to continue his perfect start to the 2017 season. Das came home second ahead of O’Keeffe in third with Hingeley fourth and Pull fifth. Omar Ismail took sixth with Kjaergaard seventh, whilst Chadwick held off Samaia to claim eighth and pole position for race two at Rockingham tomorrow morning. Samaia was ninth and Lanan Racing’s Toby Sowery completed the top-10.
Speaking on the podium after receiving his trophy from BRDC member Jonny Adam, Ahmed said: “I’ve known we’ve always had a good car around here. We took a bit of a risk in qualifying by waiting until the last five minutes of the session to set our quick times but the red flag came out and that didn’t help me. Without that, I think we should have been on the front-row at least. At the moment, I’m not focusing on the championship positions; I’m just trying to rack up as many points and wins as I can.”
Ahmed now holds a 42 point advantage over his team-mate Das, who moves ahead of the third Carlin car of James Pull, who is just two points in arrears to his American stablemate.