Chris van der DriftYet another weekend full of issues for Kiwi race car driver Chris van der Drift, but more importantly the speed in his Formula Renault 3.5 car showed an obvious improvement in pace over that experienced in the season to date. The gap in lap times to that of the front runners closed over the weekend, the 23 year old New Zealander now hoping that he gets a bit more luck in the next event to be held in Portugal. At the French circuit of Le Mans, Van der Drift lost his front wing when an errant driver came back on track un-expectantly in his path in race one, and in race two he received a 10 second penalty which he felt was unwarranted.

The progress the team had made since the previous race weekend was highly noticeable. From the first moments of the Friday collective test, Van der Drift was able to push and this resulted in the seventh fastest time of the day. With a feeling of anticipation, the New Zealander began the Saturday qualifying session, hoping to finish at least sixth fastest to go through to the superpole. While the gap to the front runners had shrunk considerably, this was not to be. “It’s a real pity we came so close to making superpole, but at least it is now only some 4/10ths off the best time. Earlier this season it was a good second off”, said Van der Drift.

Starting from 14th grid, the 2008 Formula Master champion had a fantastic race one start climbing up to eighth position after a couple of corners, and challenging for seventh with Marcos Martinez. However this short conflict finished badly for both drivers and saw the opportunity for points vanish, Van der Drift having to seek the pits for a new front wing and Martinez with a flat tyre. “We both braked late, but he left the track in doing so. As he came back on track he caught my front wing damaging it”, said the disappointed driver. After pitting for the front wing, the New Zealander found himself completely at the back of the field, but after a solid drive in the remainder of the race finally finished in 15th position, with lap times being close to those running at the front of the field.

That gave hope for the second race over 44 minutes plus a lap, and a compulsory pitstop, to be raced on Sunday. At the start of that race the New Zealander promptly gained four positions moving up into twelfth spot. Until the pitstops began, the Kiwi held his own in this position, racing as high as fifth before pitting himself for the mandatory change of two tyres. Once clear of all the pitstops the Epsilon Euskadi driver was in tenth position, and shortly later had ninth position.  However a set back was to occur in this race also. A car exiting pitlane just in front of the Kiwi had both drivers braking heavily going into the first corner, both leaving the track and cutting through the chicane. “We both went straight through the chicane, but only I received a ten second penalty. Race control wasn’t consistent today as more drivers missed a part of the chicane and they only received a warning”.

At that particular moment a time penalty would make no difference as the gap between the Kiwi and the next driver was more than ten seconds. But Van der Drift, together with the driver in front of him, caught a small group of drivers whose pace was slower than their own, meaning that those following also had a chance to draw closer. Eventually the New Zealander crossed the line in ninth, but was relegated to eleventh due to the penalty.

Despite the problems he had, the New Zealander had a good feeling over what was achieved over the weekend. “As regards race speed we are much better. I need to thank the team for that, we are finally near the pace of the front guys and we will now take what has been learned with us to the new circuit in Portugal. We have had enough problems, now we need to qualify for the superpole so that we can begin races from more in the front of the field. That should improve our chances and avoid the sort of problems we had this weekend”, said Van der Drift.

The following World Series by Renault races are to be held over the weekend of 1-2 August at the circuit in Portimão, Portugal.

Van der Drift sincerely thanks his sponsors: Racing Pool, National Meats Ltd, BMW Ekris, Arai Helmet and Oakley.