It was a classic case of 'so near, yet so far' for the team at Knockhill for the final race weekend of the year as they chased an unprecedented third David Leslie Trophy title in mixed conditions.
The dry Saturday practice allowed the team to focus on changes made after the previous race, where they had been fast but unsuccessful at the same circuit. More questions than answers were uncovered however, as Jordan reported unusual car behaviour and never felt quite at one with his machine throughout the day. The team had a lot of work to do overnight to uncover the issues and it resulted in them working by torchlight into the darkness at the circuit making adjustments for Sunday.
Despite forecasts to the contrary, race day itself dawned wet and drizzly. The mixed and unpredictable conditions would prove a decisive factor in the day's action.
As the formula fords prepared for their 10-minute qualifying session, a dry line had started to appear on the circuit. As a result, everyone gathered in the holding area with dry setups on their cars. However, an incident in the previous session meant a long delay - during which the drizzle returned. By the time the drivers were released onto the track, conditions were wet and slippery again - making the session extremely tricky for all.
As the time ticked-by, it was Gronkowski and Neil Broome who became the clear contenders for pole position, the pair trading fastest laps. With only a couple of minutes left on the clock however, Gronkowski moved 1.7 tenths of a second clear, cementing the team's 3rd pole position out of 4 races in 2020. Broome took 2nd, with Logan Hannah 3rd.
"It was so tricky out there.' said Jordan. 'The car was very nervous everywhere and I had to be so delicate with the throttle owing to the fact we were on a dry setup in the rain - but then it was the same for everyone I suppose. Luckily we were able to get the fastest time in and take the pole, which is the important thing."
With conditions improving slightly for the first race, but still remaining slippery, it was a tense grid that lined-up for the first race of the day. Broome suffered a gearbox issue on the way to the grid, meaning his grid-slot remained empty and Gronkowski lined-up ahead of Hannah directly behind. At the lights, Gronkowski converted his advantage into a comfortable lead as the field streamed through Duffus for the first time.
From there, it was clear that the team's recent wet-weather prowess had returned with a vengeance. The close nature of qualifying was quickly forgotten as Gronkowski started lapping over a second clear of Hannah and the rest of the pack behind. Consistently pounding in lap times which were in a different league to anyone else on-track, Gronkowski eventually crossed the finish line after 10-laps to take a dominant win, over 12-seconds clear of Hannah in second.
"It feels fantastic to be back on the top step again!' said a delighted Jordan afterwards. 'We made a good start and after that the car really came alive in the tricky conditions. Much better than in qualifying thanks to us getting the setup right this time! I just focused on trying to find the limits everywhere and putting in consistent laps to keep building the gap because you never know when something unexpected can come along. Luckily the race went completely to plan and we took the win!"
Race 2 - David Leslie Trophy Race
With four hours between the first race and the coveted David Leslie trophy race in the early evening, the circuit conditions were the main talk of the formula ford paddock as time passed. Sometimes drizzle, sometimes patches of blue sky, sometimes overcast - it was never clear what condition the circuit would be in.
The circuit had taken on a narrow dry-line in most places, but it was treacherous elsewhere as the temperature plummeted and light began to fade into the evening. Eventually, the moment arrived to race. Gronkowski lined-up alongside Hannah and the five red lights went-out to signal the start. Gronkowski lead into Duffus, but Hannah was close behind.
Gronkowski quickly opened-up a small lead by the railway straight, but at the hairpin, Hannah was back on his gearbox. Gaining all the way up the main straight, she moved to the inside at Duffus, but backed-out as Gronkowski closed the door.
A lap later and Gronkowski had again stretched his lead onto the railway straight, but as the leaders screamed down it and around the hairpin, Hannah was again within striking distance. This time she closed earlier, forcing Gronkowski to either allow her to take the inside into Duffus, or defend and force her the long way around. He chose the latter, but such was Hannah's speed that by the corner she was slightly ahead and able to capitalise on the drier line, making the move stick. Gronkowski stayed glued to her gearbox through the twisty sections, slingshoting back alongside into Clark corner. The inside line was wet though, meaning he had to slide into the corner. Hannah gave him space as the pair avoided contact and Hannah narrowly kept the lead onto the railway straight.
This time at the hairpin, with the order reversed, it was clear to see where Hannah's advantage lay. Rather than gain up the main straight as she had done and attack into Duffus, Gronkowski dropped back as the pair climbed the hill, leaving Hannah with a 3-4 car advantage as the cars approached the first corner.
Gronkowski's pace through the corners quickly closed the gap again as he was right behind once more by the time the drivers came out of the chicane. However, Hannah's speed down the two straights allowed her to stay out of attacking range into the key passing places.
Two laps later, Hannah made a small error through Clark corner, giving Gronkowski an unexpected opportunity. He seized it with both hands, braking from far back on the wet inside line to slide back into the lead through the hairpin.
Hannah once more maximised her straight-line speed advantage and came back at Gronkowski again around the outside of Duffus. This time, the pair slid in tandem, wheel-to-wheel and side-by-side through Duffus, Leslies and into McIntrye's. Gronkowski managing to hold the inside line and the lead once more.
It was only a short reprieve though, as the pair rounded the hairpin Hannah once more gained and moved alongside up the main straight. This time she decisively powered around the outside - the wheels coming within inches of touching - and lead down through Leslies.
With only a few laps remaining, Gronkowski tried everything to retake the lead or pressurise Hannah into a mistake but she held her nerve, defended excellently where she was vulnerable and made the most of her straight-line speed advantage to keep him at arm's length into the key braking zones of the hairpin and Duffus. Time all-too-quickly ran out for Gronkowski and Hannah crossed the line after 10 intensely-contested laps to take her first formula ford 1600 win and the David Leslie Trophy.
"... what is most important is that David's memory has been honoured once again by a fantastic showcase of just how exciting and dramatic formula ford can be."
"What a race!' said a disappointed Jordan after the dust settled. 'I would be lying if I said it doesn't hurt to lose the win and the David Leslie Trophy. That magnificent glass vase and what it stands for means so much to me, so when everything was looking so good all day and then to lose out in the race that really mattered feels cruel. But ultimately we've been beaten fair and square and just have to accept that, learn from the experience and look ahead. The race itself was suitably epic and what is most important is that David's memory has been honoured once again by a fantastic showcase of just how exciting and dramatic formula ford can be.'
'I think it was fairly obvious why we lost the race and couldn't pull away. The car was great through all the corners and sometimes out of the chicane we were multiple car lengths ahead, but it just took the two straights for Logan to get back on me again. It was like driving with the handbrake on - very frustrating.'
"... I think everyone watching definitely enjoyed seeing us fight in such a close, super-hard but respectful way."
'But having said that, I want to take absolutely nothing away from Logan. She drove absolutely magnificently and made the most of the tools she had available. The wheel-to-wheel moments were especially noteworthy. It takes a lot of awareness and talent to drive that close to someone - at one stage through three corners in a row - without touching. She did just that and I think everyone watching definitely enjoyed seeing us fight in such a close, super-hard but respectful way. I certainly enjoyed it massively - if not the end result so much - and this is why we come racing at the end of the day!'
'So congratulations to Logan and to the GBR team on taking the David Leslie title this season. On our side, we have a lot of homework to do over the winter. This position of having a fast car in the corners but not on the straights is probably about the most frustrating place you can be as a racing driver and I vow that we will leave no stone unturned in fixing it for next year.'
'We don't yet know what 2021 will have in store for us - on or off the track - but rest assured that we are fully motivated and eager to get back out there faster, stronger and better than ever when the time comes."
"To finish on a personal note; Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of our official sponsors, #MyRaceSpace members, my dad and our whole team for everything they have done for me this year. It has been an unusual but special season and I am eternally grateful to you all for allowing me to race and hopefully to make you all proud to be a part of our team this year."