The fickle finger of fate pointed straight at South Africa’s Tasmin Pepper at the weekend when she was forced to retire from the penultimate round of the W Series at Assen, Netherlands, on the opening lap of the race that saw a new name take the top step of the podium.
This leaves the championship wide open going into the final race at Brands Hatch in three weeks’ time and, even though Pepper dropped to ninth on the points table, a good result in the UK could move her closer to the top.
Pole-sitter Emma Kimilainen (FIN) took the top step of the podium, securing her first W Series win. The Finnish driver had a challenging start to the season after a collision at Hockenheim, which forced her to miss the next two races, but at Assen she projected herself from 11th place to sixth place in the series standings.
Alice Powell (UK) made a welcome return to the podium, finishing second after stealing the lead from Emma at the start. The British driver, who has had to deal with luckless DNFs in the past two races, fought hard to retain her lead but a small error on her part in Turn One enabled Emma to take it from her with a neat outbraking manoeuvre at Turn Two.
Nonetheless, Alice’s second place pushes her up to fourth place in the championship and leaves her just 11 points behind Marta Garcia (ESP) in third place. Marta, who won the last race at Norisring, Germany, finished ninth today, meaning that she is no longer able to win the championship.
The battle for third and fourth places was fought out by championship leader Jamie Chadwick (UK) and local hero Beitske Visser (NLD). Jamie started from P3 and held her position for the duration of the race, not only thereby securing a place on the podium but also retaining her championship lead, further increasing her chances of clinching the US$500,000 top prize.
Despite starting the race from P4, Beitske went on the attack from the get-go, trying all she knew to wrest third place from Jamie. But Jamie defended well and Beitske had to settle for fourth.
Even so, despite not taking her place on the podium, Beitske will go into the final race in second place, just 13 points behind Jamie.
Farther down the field, Caitlin Wood (AUS) finished fifth, her best result of the year, followed by Gosia Rdesk (POL), sixth, also her best showing so far. Equally crucial to her effort to finish inside the all-important top 12 this year was Jess Hawkins’ (UK) seventh place, who until today had not scored a single championship point.
However, after strong performances in FP1 and FP2, she qualified in P11. She then drove a hard race to climb to seventh, a result that netted her a crucial six points.
It was a frustrating race for Miki Koyama (JPN) and Tasmin Pepper (RSA), who were both forced to retire early after a red flag incident within the first seconds of the race. Equally frustrated will be Fabienne Wohlwend (LEI), who was forced into the pits after suffering front wing damage early in the race, the result of an incident that cost her seven places in the race and forces her down to fifth place in the championship.
Until that, she had had an outside chance of winning the championship, an enthralling battle that will now be fought out solely between Jamie and Beitske in the final showdown in on Sunday, August 11th at Brands Hatch, UK.
Catherine Bond Muir, W Series CEO says: “As regards who’ll finally be crowned W Series champion, we are all delighted our inaugural championship will go down to the wire at Brands Hatch next month. The two championship protagonists, Jamie and Beitske, have both driven superbly throughout the series so far, and it is therefore only right and proper that it should be they who’ll take each other on in the season finale.
“Whoever prevails, history will be made, and the world will be watching.”
“As we say in Finland, if you want to win, hire a Finn,” quipped Emma Kimilainen after the race.
“It was a really great weekend. From the first free practice session I knew I had the speed to win and, after a bad start, I was soon looking for a good moment to take back the lead from Alice.
“After the first race of the season, at Hockenheim, I was hugely disappointed to find out that I had been injured and I didn’t know how long it would be until I could race again. But at the same time, with the help of the best ever healthcare specialists, Hintsa Performance and my own doctor, I was able to come back stronger.
“Ultimately, I’m so glad and so pleased to be back racing – and winning.”
In the non-points scoring reverse grid race on the Sunday, Pepper had a great battle and finished in sisxth place overall – a confirdence booster for the final.