F3 Cup at Snetterton – a weekend of challenges and grit

Trackside photography courtesy of Andi Rusyn - www.andirusynphotography.com


University of Wolverhampton Racing has always shown fantastic pace at Snetterton in Norfolk, so despite the four-hour journey to get to the circuit, the team looks forward to being there. Sadly, we’ve also had some misfortune at Snetterton, not always able to capitalise on the pace of the Mugen Honda engine through mechanical failures and complications.

With a newly refreshed engine, the team headed for Snetterton, brimming with confidence after their three P2s at Donington Park. Dan Bird, the F3’s Student Team Leader had some clear instructions for the team, and after a late night of preparing the Dallara F308, the bonds between the team members were becoming ever-stronger.

With UWR students from the Morgan and FS teams “moonlighting” in other MSV Racing competitions on the same weekend, the Focus Cup and the GT Cup, the opportunities for real-world experience keep on growing for UWR. It’s certainly a testament to their professionalism, passion and diligence that our student engineers are in increasing demand at the UK’s top circuits.

Stefano Leaney once again joined the grid in his invitational F317. Although for part of the race, his car wouldn’t be eligible for championship points. After a strong day of testing on Friday for UWR, the F3 Cup leapt into action for qualifying on Saturday morning. A light drizzle fell across the circuit for much of the morning, but UWR has normally done well in the wet. In the 20 minute qualifying session, Shane Kelly quickly found his feet and surged ahead of the rest of the grid, taking P1 with a series of quick laps in the damp conditions. With half the session gone, the Honda engine began to misfire, forcing the Racing Wolves into the pits. An issue with the batteries was quickly diagnosed, although with time ticking away in the session, driver and engineers could do nothing but watch and hope they’d done enough to keep pole position.

To the dismay of the student engineers, but the delight of the rest of the grid, the rain stopped and the track began to dry out. Nothing could be done as the other cars began to show faster pace, but Kelly’s time still stood right until the final laps of qualifying as Leaney, Carey and three more cars bested UWR in the dying seconds of the session.
The curse of Snetterton had struck again, putting UWR in P6 for Race 1 and P7 for Race 2, with Race 3 to be decided by Race 2s results.

Undaunted and undeterred, the Racing Wolves had a few hours to replace the battery and get ready for the fight for points. With Snetterton notoriously difficult for passing, a good start was essential and with only 15 minutes available in Race 1, a podium finish would be a tough ask for Kelly. The grid got away smoothly, with Leaney’s invitational car pulling away from the rest of the grid, almost a second per lap quicker than every other car. Carey lead the championship contenders from beginning to end while Wiltshire and Daly touched, ending Daly’s race and dropping Wiltshire down the grid. George Line passed Chris Dittman and it looked for all the world as though Kelly would sneak past him too to steal 3rd place and a podium finish. Sadly it wasn’t to be and Dittman held on down the home straight, taking 3rd place by just 0.133 seconds ahead of Kelly in P4.

It was a scrappy fight back from UWR, full of pluck and endeavour and the team settled in for a long night of working on the car, adjusting the set-up based on Kelly’s feedback and the data analysis from the onboard readings.

Several sponsors came to join the team for Sunday’s action including engine sponsor Securi-flex, new sponsor Bowers Group Metrology, Andi Rusyn Photography while Charles Boneham from Boneham & Turner camped out to stay with us for the whole weekend. Thank you to all our visitors for your support, especially for making the epic drive to the circuit!

Sunday came with clear skies for races 2 and 3 of the weekend. The first of the day would be twice as important as the race results would determine our grid position for race 3 that afternoon.

Starting 7th in Race 2 wasn’t ideal, but Kelly, despite being on the fourth row of the grid, had another good start. Darragh Daly didn’t get away so well, and both Wiltshire and Kelly passed him before the first corner. Kelly and Wiltshire resumed their battle from the 2018 season, Wiltshire holding track position for several laps, despite the UWR’s car superior pace. As the 5th and 6th placed drivers battled for position, the front running cars began to extend their lead: Kelly would have to pass Wiltshire soon to have any chance of challenging for a podium position. It took 3 laps to pass Wiltshire, but eventually the better pace saw Kelly overtake while passing under the bridge. The hunt was on for the podium spot. With 3.5 seconds to make up and 5 remaining laps to do it in, this was going to be a tall ask. Kelly drove the Dallara hard, setting quicker and quicker lap times now that he was free from Wiltshire and with clear track ahead of him. In the end though, there just wasn’t enough time to make a move, the UWR car crossing the line in 4th place (after discounting Leaney) by just 0.27 seconds.

The strong finish in Race 2 meant beginning Race 3 in P4 (once the invitational car of Leaney was discounted). The team would have to wait unil 18:00 on Sunday evening, the last race of the day, to get back on track, but the students kept busy making final preparations, cleaning the car and tyres to help it run at peak performance and re-running checks to ensure there would be no repeat of the failed qualification session.

As the cars went out to Assembly, the students gathered in the pit lane. They could do no more and could only watch as the lights went out and the race began. Getting his best start off the line of the season so far, Kelly leaped from P4 to P2, pushing the Dallara hard, desperate to make up for the disappointments of the weekend. A podium finish as the sun set would certainly be the antidote to a difficult few days. But Kelly wasn’t content with P2. His speed and a bit of clear track gave him opportunities to climb all over P1 man Cian Carey, challenging him through high speed corners in lap 1, desperate to take the lead and score big points. Sadly, as the UWR driver pushed hard into the last corner of lap 1, he ran wide with not enough room to make the turn. His tyres weren’t yet up to temperature and didn’t grip the floor as he hoped. It was a gamble that didn’t pay off, and worse, as the F3 went airborne and landed in the grass with a bump, the impact damaged the front wing and the brake line, ending the race for UWR. It was their first DNF of the 2019 competition and a disappointing end to a frustrating weekend.

After the race, Shane Kelly said: “Sorry to the team, who were faultless from Thursday night through the whole weekend. They overcame so many issues and I owed them a win. The team are fantastic and I know we can nail it at Oulton Park!”

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