Louis Sharp retakes British F4 Championship lead
Louis Sharp secured a place in the ROKiT F4 British Championship certified by FIA record books with victory as the series visited the full Donington Park Grand Prix circuit for the first time, retaiking a slender lead in the race for the coveted title with one race meeting left to run.
The Rodin Carlin racer went into the weekend on the back of a ninth podium finish of the season at Knockhill, with the talented Kiwi teenager bidding to close down the gap to main rival William McIntyre at the top of the standings.
Second quickest during the pre-event practice sessions, Louis headed into qualifying confident about challenging for pole position but his programme would be hampered by two red flag stoppages, which left him to settle for second place.
Louis more than made amends when the lights went out in the opening race however, with a lightning getaway seeing him get the jump on pole sitting South African Mika Abrahams to lead the field into turn one for the first time on a greasy circuit following morning rain showers.
With points leader MacIntyre having qualified outside the top ten, Louis took the opportunity to make inroads into his advantage with an impressive lights-to-flag victory, overcoming an early safety car period to score a straightforward fifth win of the year – making history as the first driver to taste British F4 victory around the full Donington Park layout.
The second race of the weekend would be the rescheduled seventh round of the year, which had been due to take place at Snetterton earlier in the season.
Lining up in second spot behind fellow Rodin Carlin racer Dion Gowda, Louis got away from the line well but would then find himself caught between MacIntyre and Japanese driver Kanato Le mid-way through the opening lap, dropping him back to fourth.
Louis would waste little time in getting back ahead of MacIntyre into third spot and then set his sights on Le, sweeping through into second with a stunning move at the hairpin on lap six.
From there, Louis chased Gowda home to the flag to take second place on the road, although a track limits penalty would drop him to third in the final results. However, with MacIntyre back in sixth after a similar penalty, Louis headed into Sunday’s races having reclaimed the championship lead.
Race three of the weekend on Sunday morning would be the reverse grid affair, which meant Louis would line up on the final row of the grid, with wet weather only making his chances of a strong result even more difficult.
Despite the challenging conditions created by spray from the cars ahead, Louis rocketed up seven places on the opening lap to sit 14th and had made up more ground to sit tenth when the safety car was deployed to recover two cars from the gravel.
Although that would limit the number of racing laps, Louis was in imperious form as he picked off the cars ahead, working his way through to fourth place by the finish to score an impressive 18 points – ten of which were as a result of the places gained.
Post-race however, Louis was handed a two-place penalty for contact on the final lap, dropping him back to sixth and meaning he once again slipped behind MacIntyre in the standings going into the weekend finale.
From second on the grid, Louis made a strong start to jump into the lead on the run to Redgate only to be overhauled by pole sitter Abrahams when he dived down the inside into turn one.
Eager to avoid getting caught up in an incident that could destroy his title chances, Louis would slip back to fourth place on the second lap and was holding the position on the road when the race was red-flagged after an incident that left a car stuck in a dangerous position.
However, a false start penalty for one of the cars ahead promoted Louis up into third place and with MacIntyre one place behind, the points swung back in favour of Louis who will take a lead of just one solitary point into the season finale at Brands Hatch on the weekend of 7/8 October.
“Qualifying was so messy with the red flags and the lap I set was far from my best as we expected it to be the second or third lap where I would push for the time – and we only really got one lap,” he said.
“It was a bit slippery off the line in the opening race because of the rain, but I was able to make a good start to take the lead into turn one and the first few laps were tricky trying to get temperature into the tyres. I took things a bit easy early on but once I could see where the grip was, I could focus on not making any mistakes and I was able to manage the gap at the front.
“After that victory, it was nice to come away from Saturday leading the championship again after the second race of the day… but could have been better as the car was so quick – our pace was fantastic. I got boxed in by two cars at the start and dropped to fourth, but the car was so good that I was able to get back up to P2 before the penalty, which I wasn’t expecting as I hadn’t seen any kind of warning about it.
“Coming through the field like we did in race three was particularly pleasing, especially considering the conditions, as we scored a good haul of points and going into the final race, I was focused on trying to get another win.
“Although I got the jump off the line, I didn’t defend into turn one and would drop back to P4 as I think I was playing it a bit too safe as I didn’t want to risk too much at this stage of the season. I think we had the car to win, but a podium is still a positive result.
“Looking at the bigger picture, it’s cool to be going into the final round with the championship lead, even if it just by one point, so I need to make sure that I focus well over the next seven weeks and go into Brands Hatch in the best shape possible.”