August means the start of the second half of the 2018 Scottish Formula Ford Championship and what better way to mark the occasion than with a triple-header meeting incorporating the prestigious David Leslie Trophy? The jewel in the crown of the Scottish season – the team looked to the event targeting a turnaround in fortunes following a roller coaster year to-date.
Practice on Saturday morning was a challenging affair as Jordan struggled to find a balance in the car, leaving some head-scratching head of qualifying in the early afternoon. Conditions were at least constant for the team’s analysis work as rain between practice and qualifying had dried up before they returned to the track.
In the 15-minute session itself Jordan pitted early, still unsatisfied with the handling of the car and unable to improve on his best lap time set earlier in the running. It wasn’t until the completion of the session that surprising news filtered through to the team – they had qualified 2nd on the grid and only missed-out on pole by 0.06 seconds!
“That was a major surprise!” Said Jordan. “The car wasn’t great and I couldn’t get close to what we estimated the pole time was going to be so I came in early to save the tyres pretty despondently. We didn’t have access to the live timings during the session so we had no idea where we’d ended up but I was sure we’d be mid-pack somewhere. They to get the news we were second and less than a tenth from pole position was definitely a welcome surprise!”
Reigning champion Ross Martin made the most of his pole position to lead into Duffus, with Jordan’s mediocre start going unpunished due to mechanical problems for guest driver Josh Smith in third who would struggle to get off the line and then retire after a couple of laps due to a rotor arm failure. With things stable at the front, the lead pair started to pull away from the pack but it slowly became clear that Gronkowski was the faster of the two as the gap between them closed. The pair were never separated by more than half a second for the majority of the race, Gronkowski unable to quite get close enough to pounce and the order at the finishing line was Martin from Gronkowski and Seb Melrose nine seconds adrift in third. During his pursuit of the lead, Gronkowski posted the fastest lap of the race, meaning the race ended with the team’s first podium since April and first fastest lap since last October.
Jordan was understandably pleased with the result; “What a fantastic feeling to be back on the podium again! It’s been far too long since we were up here and to also set the fastest lap is the icing on the cake. We’ve been through some ups and down so far this season and again it was a bit disappointing this morning for the car to be such a handful in qualifying but we made some changes for the race and it’s made a big difference – the car was back to where it should be and we were able to take the fight to Ross. Now let’s see what we can do in the final two races tomorrow starting from second on the grid again.”
Sunday morning dawned bright and dry for the final day of action and the opening Formula Ford exchanges were certainly entertaining for the track-side crowd. At the lights, Martin made his usual solid getaway to lead the pack into Duffus but Gronkowski was immediately on the defensive against Melrose who tried the outside line. The pair ran through wheel-to-wheel through the first corner but Gronkowski’s inside line to McIntyre’s gave him the position. Another defensive line into the hairpin was required to fend-off the attack before he broke away and set after Martin on lap two.
Gronkowski’s pace in the early laps was impressive as he closed the gap quickly before making his move into Clark corner – taking the lead on lap three. For the next lap it looked as though the team were building a commanding lead before Gronkowski snatched a brake into the hairpin and slid wide, allowing Martin to close again. The following lap out of McIntyres, Martin swung past again into the lead. Gronkowski’s problems then went from bad to worse as first Melrose and then the recovering Smith passed on the main straight, relegating the team to 4th. The action wasn’t quite over however as Melrose and Smith emerged from the hairpin side-by-side on lap eight but with neither driver giving way the pair touched sending Smith airborne and Melrose sideways. Gronkowski, despite being in close contention, read the situation well and managed to avoid contact, slipping back through to second place which he held to the chequered flag in the shortened race following the incident.
"I saw it (the crash) coming to be honest, so I stayed back a bit and was able to react in plenty of time to avoid the carnage."
“That was certainly eventful.” Commented Jordan. “A race where you go from second to first, then back to second, then down to fourth and end up second again pretty much speaks for itself! The car was fantastic early on and we managed to catch Ross quickly then get into the lead, which was great. It was looking good for a while and then I made a small mistake on the brakes which allowed him to close again and eventually slip past. It’s annoying but something I will learn from certainly. We were lucky in the end to get back up to second after the incident. I saw it (the crash) coming to be honest, so I stayed back a bit and was able to react in plenty of time to avoid the carnage.”
Race 3 (David Leslie Trophy race)
And so to the final race of the weekend – the jewel in the crown of the Scottish Formula Ford season – the David Leslie Trophy Race. With Melrose and Smith relegated to the back of the grid following their collision, all eyes were on Gronkowski and Martin on the front row. The start was straight-forward for both drivers and Martin lurched into an early lead over the opening couple of laps. The story of an intriguing and tense race then started to unfold as the pair streaked away from the chasing pack, pushing each other to deliver new levels of speed and consistency. As the race progressed, it was clear that Gronkowski again had the faster car, but only by a tiny margin as the gap between the two leaders gradually, lap-by-lap, ever so slowly, got smaller and smaller. With three laps to go, Gronkowski’s nose was on the gearbox of Martin’s car and the later made a small mistake at the hairpin, locking the inside front tyre and sliding wide. For a few dramatic seconds, the pair were side-by-side as Gronkowski took the inside line. Inches apart and neck-and-neck, the drag-race up the main straight went the way of Martin who held onto the lead – only just. The remaining two laps saw battle resume, culminating in another side-by-side moment into the hairpin on the final lap, but it wasn’t quite to be for Gronkowski, with Martin taking the David Leslie Trophy by just 0.318 seconds at the flag. The recovering Smith took third, some 7 seconds adrift of the leaders.
Underlining the team’s impressive performance all weekend, Gronkowski again posted the fastest lap of the race.
"... to come away with three second places, two fastest laps and what amounted to a 36-lap, 3-race-long battle for the lead is an awesome feeling."
“What a race!” said Jordan afterwards. “Firstly massive congratulations to Ross on winning the David Leslie Trophy. It was so intense out there and he drove perfectly to keep me behind. For my part I massively enjoyed the race. I really gave it everything and I think we got the maximum out of our package, not only in this race, but this whole weekend. It’s very satisfying to be back where we want to be – fighting for race wins and I owe a huge thanks to my team, sponsors and supporters for helping us to get back to this level. The weekend as a whole has been fantastic and to come away with three second places, two fastest laps and what amounted to a 36-lap, 3-race-long battle for the lead is an awesome feeling. Times like this really remind us why we love the sport so much!”