Car racing rookies Jack Barlow and Matty Graham starred for SWR during the opening race meeting of the 2013 BRDC Formula 4 Championship season at Silverstone over the weekend, 27th/28th April – Barlow winning only his second ever car race and Graham taking a maiden podium in round three.

Marking a sensational start to the brand new championship for the Chipping Norton team, Barlow’s stunning victory on the full Grand Prix Circuit in round two on Sunday was book-ended by top six finishes in races one and three. The 17-year-old from Hastings, therefore, concluded the event an impressive fourth in the points table, as well as being the highest placed single-seater newcomer.

“To get a win from the first weekend is amazing”, said Barlow, “I’ll come away from Silverstone now thinking about the championship, not just trying to get on the podium which was the aim before the weekend started. I never, ever expected to come out on top, it’s a fantastic start to the season.”

Team-mate, and fellow karting graduate, Graham rounded off his debut weekend in cars with a richly deserved third place finish in the final encounter. Making significant progress throughout the event, the Edmundbyers 16-year-old finished ninth and sixth in the two preceding races and ended the event sixth in the championship.

He also posted the fastest lap in race two and that ended up being the quickest racing lap of the weekend, earning Graham the BRM Rapide Award which he received from FIA Formula One World Championship star Mark Webber.

“I didn’t think a podium was possible really on the first weekend, I was hoping for the top five after seeing how competitive it was in testing”, commented Graham, “To be in the top three is amazing to be honest, I started on pole and was quite nervous and didn’t get the best start but to hold third was great. Our pace has been good, walking away with a trophy too and some prize money is nice!”

Chinese racer Zou Sirui, making his UK race debut this weekend at the home of the British Grand Prix, faced a tough challenge due to almost no pre-season testing and an electrical fault in qualifying which placed him at the back of the grid for the first race.

Fighting his way through into the top 15 in round one, the Guangzhou driver took an improved 14th place in the second encounter but then had the misfortune of contact early on in round three which resulted in retirement to the pits at the end of lap two.

“It wasn’t my weekend really, in qualifying we had the problem so I started from behind for the first race but it was OK in the end and quite a good race”, said Sirui, “In race two I should have been P10 or something like that but I made a couple of mistakes. I had a good start to the third race, I was up to like P10, but then on the second lap I got hit on the rear wheel – that was it.”

SWR rookies make major impression as F4 gets off to superb start
Having qualified an excellent fifth fastest for round one on Saturday, Barlow made a good initial launch from the third row of the grid but was shuffled back to the tail of the top 10 through Copse and into Maggotts. Battling back up to seventh place on lap two, he ran just ahead of team-mate Graham – up from ninth on the grid after a good, clean first couple of laps for the Durham racer.

At mid-distance, Graham had been pushed back to ninth and then had to defend as well as trying to attack as part of an ultra-tight four car scrap. Although unlucky to slip back to 10th, Graham regained ninth on the final tour while Barlow also moved up a place on the last lap to take sixth. Sirui made good progress early on, motoring into the top 15 by lap three where he stayed to the flag.

Round two was the clear highlight for Barlow and it all started superbly as the SWR racer sliced his way through into the lead at the exit of Copse from third on the grid. Despite immense pressure from experienced single-seater racer Seb Morris, Barlow held the lead impressively but on lap three at Village he slipped to second.

Undeterred, Barlow applied pressure of his own during the second half of the race and out of the Maggotts and Becketts sequence of corners on the penultimate lap he managed to get alongside on the exit to move through into the lead once again which he brilliantly held to the chequered flag.

Graham, starting ninth, also made a great getaway and took seventh on lap one before slipping to eighth. Regaining seventh on lap four, he zeroed in on Charlie Robertson ahead and sensationally posted the fastest lap of the race in the process before grabbing sixth on the penultimate tour.

Team-mate Sirui again put together an impressive first lap and climbed from 15th into 12th before slipping back to 14th place. Moving into 13th on lap six, ahead of Russ Gunn, Sirui had to give best to his rival a couple of laps later and so finished in a, nonetheless highly creditable, 14th position.

By virtue of his round two fastest lap, Graham started the final race from pole but slipped to third on the opening lap. Barlow, who started in fourth, pressured his fellow SWR runner into lap two and the pair traded places with some very close, yet very fair, racing. Graham was back ahead by the start of lap three and as the race entered its second half he made the podium place secure.

In the tight battle for the top six, Barlow found himself elbowed to the tail of the lead group and although re-taking fifth from Matt Bell on lap eight the experienced single-seater competitor moved back ahead just over a lap from the finish. Sirui was an outstanding 11th at the end of lap one, up from 15th on the grid and on course for a potential top 10, but the lap two contact ruled him out.

Barlow, Graham and Sirui will be back on track for the second event of the BRDC Formula 4 season, rounds four, five and six, on 18th/19th May at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in Kent, where the category will run as support to the DTM ‘German touring cars’.

2013 Provisional BRDC Formula 4 Championship Driver Standings (after Rd3):
4th Jack Barlow, 60pts; 6th Matty Graham, 47pts; Zou Sirui – Does Not Score