Leading BRDC Formula 4 Championship team SWR enjoyed a consistently strong showing during the second event of the year at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit over the weekend, 18th/19th May, with Matty Graham a mere 0.058 seconds away from claiming his second podium of 2013 during round six.
All three of the Chipping Norton team’s F4 rookies, Graham, Jack Barlow and Chinese racer Zou Sirui, produced impressive race performances across the three outings at the 1.2-mile Kent track. Each also had the boost of meeting 2009 FIA Formula One World Champion Jenson Button, who was a special guest at Brands Hatch on Sunday for the visiting DTM touring cars.
“It all turned out quite well for us really”, said team owner Sean Walkinshaw, “Our drivers were quick all weekend, we had some good results and were just a bit unlucky really not to come away with a podium. Matty and Jack scored well, they were seriously quick and Zou did a good job too. All three of them delivered some strong showings.”
Quick from the off during practice on Friday, 17th May, Edmundbyers teenager Graham started the weekend very impressively with the fastest time during the first of the two free practice sessions and went on to qualify sixth fastest for the opening race of the weekend.
In an incredibly close session Barlow was ninth fastest, little more than five hundredths of a second outside Graham’s time, while fellow SWR racer Sirui had to settle for 19th on the grid for race one, even though only 0.5 seconds outside Barlow.
Making a great start to Saturday’s fourth round, Graham moved into fifth while Barlow slipped back to 10th but for Sirui the outing only lasted a few yards when he was forced to pull off the track on the run to Paddock Hill Bend with a technical issue.
Graham edged away from the chasing pack during the early laps and by mid-distance he had managed to latch-on to fourth place. Just 0.2 seconds behind into lap 19, Graham got a good run out of Paddock and dived up the inside into Druids to take the position before closing on third towards the finish. In terms of lap times, he was a mere fraction outside the quickest of the race.
Hastings racer Barlow remained in 10th position throughout, pressuring erstwhile championship leader Seb Morris while at the same time fending off the attentions of Diego Menchaca. With overtaking between the evenly matched competitors proving impossible, only a mistake – which wasn’t forthcoming – would have opened a sufficient passing opportunity.
For round five on Sunday afternoon, Graham held onto fifth position off the start with Barlow retaining 10th place and Sirui making progress into the top 20 from the back of the grid after an excellent first couple of laps.
Graham slipped to fifth on lap three and then, on the fourth tour, Barlow sustained damage to his front wing while dicing with Seb Morris for ninth as the latter moved across to the take the inside line on the pit-straight, which Barlow already occupied.
An ensuing spin for Morris resulted in the deployment of the Safety Car and after the re-start on lap 13 Barlow had to summon all of his skill and tenacity to fend off the cars behind. With a distinct lack of downforce due to his deranged front wing, the SWR driver was elbowed wide through the gravel on lap 19 and although slipping to 12th he somehow clung on to the place despite massive pressure.
Graham, meanwhile, also suffered contact during a battle with Sennan Fielding and although dropping to seventh he remained there to the chequered flag on lap 23. Sirui, determined to make amends for his race one disappointment, had an unfortunate tangle with Rahul Raj Mayer on lap four at Clearways and after pitting he eventually finished in 19th place.
In round six, hopes were high of a potential podium finish for Graham with the SWR racer lining-up on the second row of the grid in third place – having posted the third fastest race lap of the weekend to that point.
Although pushed back to fourth at Paddock Hill Bend, he challenged for third as the race wore on and during the closing stages he piled on the pressure. Trying everything he could, and lapping on the same pace as the podium drivers, he just missed out on third by 0.058 seconds on the line.
Barlow impressed with a great drive through from 16th into the top 10 and although his progress was stunted slightly on lap 15, during a battle with Diego Menchaca and Jake Hughes, he fought through to 10th five laps from the conclusion.
Sirui, lining-up on the back row, faced another tall order but produced an impressive drive to climb into the top 20 at one third distance. Although sporting the scars of slight contact which led to the top plane of his nose cone coming loose, Sirui remained focused and worked his way into 17th place.
“Jack did really well in race two to hold everyone off with a damaged front wing”, said Walkinshaw, “In the third race he overtook four or five drivers which, at Brands Hatch Indy, is quite an impressive effort. Matty was quick enough for the podium but, unfortunately, just couldn’t get past. It was great to see Zou get a good finish as well, we definitely ended the weekend on a high.”
SWR now has a four week break from competitive action with the seventh, eighth and ninth rounds of the BRDC Formula 4 Championship season taking place on 15th/16th June at Snetterton in Norfolk.
2013 Provisional BRDC Formula 4 Championship Driver Standings (after Rd6):
4th Matty Graham, 97pts; 5th Jack Barlow, 91pts; Zou Sirui – Does Not Score
Photo by BRDC Formula 4 Championship/Jakob Ebrey Photography.