F3 Cup at Oulton Park – a wet weekend of highs and lows
Race Report by Dom Dangelillo - twitter.com/dangewrites
Images by Andi Rusyn - www.andirusynphotography.com/UWR-Race-weekend-03
Following UWR’s disappointment during the last round at Snetterton, Shane Kelly declared “I know we can nail it at Oulton Park”. It’s traditionally been a circuit where the skillset of both the car and driver combine to create strong results and despite some minor setbacks, the results from this weekend’s meeting at the Cheshire circuit confirm that.
The unforgiving rain that has tainted most of June was an ever-present threat from the get go. Friday testing was as wet as the rest of the week that preceded it, giving Shane and the student team ample opportunity to familiarize themselves in the tough conditions, but a series of red flags meant it was tough to get any real track time. Despite that, the team and Shane were confident in their abilities and their car set-up.
Saturday morning was dry, and with several competitors suffering damage in Friday testing, the depleted grid looked like an ideal means to build some strong championship points. However, lady luck wasn’t on the side of UWR once again. As Shane headed out for qualifying, he was caught out around a tight hairpin; a combination of both cold track and tyre temperatures forced him off the track and into the barrier, damaging the front left wishbones.
As the damage was done before setting a qualifying time, UWR would have to start both races from the back row of the grid. This was made worse by championship rivals Cian Carey and George Line both qualifying towards the front of the pack (2nd & 6th respectively). Meanwhile, Stefano Leaney, now confirmed for the season making him eligible for points, had secured 3rd.
The student team had its work cut out to get the repairs done and get the car out in just 60 minutes before the beginning of Race 1. The UWR garage became a hive of activity, a valuable lesson in working to deadlines, problem solving and communication for the motorsport engineers of the future.
As time ticked away and the frantic repair work neared completion, a sudden downpour caused carnage in another championship race on the bill. The Mini’s, who are usually entertaining in one way or another, had been caught out by the rain, with one unfortunate driver ending up in the same barriers Shane had found himself in earlier that morning.
A red flag and unabating rain turned into an early lunch, which turned into more delays, giving our primary school visitors a chance to explore the circuit and meet the team [more on this later]. With the barrier unable to be repaired, race control opted to use the shorter Oulton Park layout and restart racing, albeit with safety car starts and race times reduced from 20 minutes to 18..
With the team doing a fantastic job to get the car repaired, despite the setbacks and confusion, it was over to Shane to do what he does best. And with the track now drenched, wet tyres meant anything could happen. Driving under the safety car means that no driver can overtake another to gain places. The grid stays in formation as they follow the safety car, with no driver knowing exactly when the safety car will pull in and racing can begin. As the minutes ticked away in race one, George Line pulled up on track, and while this delayed competitive racing, it handed Shane a position and an advantage over one of his championship rivals. By the time the track was clear, there were only three laps of racing possible, but Shane and the UWR car managed to gain 2 further places, finishing in P6. As Shane described, “it was a bit of a non-race, really”, but every championship point was desperately needed.
If race one was a non-race, then race two was ‘the’ race of the day. Once again starting from the rear and behind the safety car, Shane had a lot to do, but with the rain having finally stopped and the track drying, several drivers opted to switch onto slick tyres, gifting UWR a couple of places. Knowing the track well, Shane and the team had stuck with wets, stating, “both turn one and the Island hairpin, don’t really dry well”, and that knowledge showed. Cian Carey, current championship leader and one of Shane’s closest rivals, hit a wet patch coming through turn one and couldn’t keep hold, ending up rear first into the barriers. Meanwhile, Shane continued picking off places one by one, finding himself in P3 with half of the race to go.
The students had worked their magic on the car and now Shane was working his on track, lapping seconds faster than George Line in P2, taking out chunks of time with each circulation. What was a 12 second deficit was now mere tenths with only a handful of laps left and as the pair started the penultimate lap, Shane took the inside line through turn one and continued the run down the hill, sealing second place through the notoriously tricky Cascades corner, much to the delight of the on looking students and sponsors.
In clean air Shane starting to gain an advantage, but there was too big a gap to close to eventual winner Stefano Leaney who celebrated 2 wins from 2 at Oulton Park.
In a weekend that couldn’t have started much worse, Shane and the team did a sterling job in not only making sure the car could race, but ensuring that it did so competitively.
A P6 and P2 might not seem like the greatest of weekends, but a combination of the conditions and his rivals’ finishing positions meant that UWR gained critical ground in the 2019 championship, likely retaking the number 2 spot with 10 rounds to go.