Sunshine and blue skies were the order of the weekend at Knockhill Racing Circuit in Fife as the field assembled after a two-month break for rounds 5 and 6 of the Scottish Formula Ford Championship.
Having endured a “messy” start to the season in their own words, the team were looking to make progress with a clean weekend to show what they were capable of on-track. To that end, Saturday practice went very well as setup refinements in every session showed steady improvements as the day wore on, with the team quietly optimistic about their competitiveness for race day.
Sunday morning arrived and first-up was the 15-minute qualifying session. A slow start eventually boiled into a familiar battle for pole between Jordan and reigning champion Ross Martin. The two were never separated by more than 0.1 seconds during the session, with Marin marginally ahead. However, a last-lap improvement from Gronkowski put the team onto pole position for the first time in 2018 by just over 0.05 seconds.
“Wow, that was a surprise!” Said Jordan afterwards. “I seemed to be stuck in second place for the majority of the session and I felt the car going off slightly towards then end so I didn’t think we had enough in the tank to improve. When you can feel the grip going away you tend to start over-driving in a vain attempt to counter-act it but things just get worse so I just calmed myself down, drove a little smoother and allowed the car to flow more. Then the lap time came but when I saw it was only 0.1 seconds up on my previous best I didn’t think that would be enough. It wasn’t until I was sitting in scrutineering and mum and dad came around to the door with a ‘P1’ on the pit board that I knew we’d done it. What a fantastic feeling!”
Starting from pole position, Gronkowski’s initial getaway from the lights was good but a slight drop in revs during the second phase of the start meant Martin was alongside into turn one. The pair tried to out-do each other on the brakes, the result being both drivers sliding wide in unison over the crest of Duffus, Martin re-joining in front. Gronkowski was immediately on the attack to re-gain the lead, with a look up the inside at Clarks before Martin firmly shut the door to close-off the move. With both drivers again defensive into the hairpin, Seb Melrose drew level with Gronkowski around the outside under braking but there was no way through as the trio raced up the hill to end the first lap.
Flirting with the inside into Duffus for lap two, Gronkowski tucked back in behind Martin for the corner before jinking to the inside after Leslies and out-braking Martin into McIntyres to re-take the lead. The move put an end to the frantic first lap and-a-bit as Gronkowski’s pace was immediately clear; the gap visibly increasing after just a few corners. The team’s race looked ever-better as the laps unfolded, Gronkowski’s lead growing by an average of 0.5 seconds on each circuit, before things started to unravel…
A retirement at the hairpin brought out the safety car, which eliminated Gronkowski’s lead. At the restart, his getaway was good enough to keep the position and after some initial pressure from Martin and defensive driving, it looked as though the race may still be safe.
Lap eight was the beginning of the end for the team’s hopes. On the main straight, what turned out to be a loosening gear linkage joint caused Gronkowski to miss the change from third to fourth gear, allowing not one but three cars through as he scrambled in neutral. Having gotten going again, Gronkowski wasted no time in getting back into the action, passing Neil Broome into McIntyres in a similar move to that on the second lap. Melrose ahead was the next target, with Gronkowski closing rapidly before pouncing, again into McIntyres, the next lap around. This time, however, the driver ahead kept turning-in, making wheel-to-wheel contact at the apex and sending both cars into the gravel trap. Melrose was beached before the tyre barrier but Gronkowski’s trajectory was such that he couldn’t avoid the wall, burying the front-left corner into the tyres and ending not only the race but the weekend with terminal damage to the car.
Martin would go on to win the race as well as the afternoon’s second event – largely unchallenged by anyone else.
“It’s frustrating.” Said Jordan. “The weekend was going so well after we made steady progress yesterday, put the car on pole and then after an exciting start we were pulling away and controlling the race. The safety car boards are not what you want to see when you are leading by a decent margin but we dealt with that and I was happy that I had the lead covered until the issue with the gears. That was such a sinking feeling to have three cars fly past you like that but we again showed how quick the car was this weekend getting immediately back up to third and able to make the move for second just one lap later.”
"On viewing the footage multiple times, the Clerk confirmed that he had no problem with my manoeuvre and it was Seb who caused the collision"
“I was obviously disappointed and upset with Seb for the contact but for me there is no point in screaming for penalties or punishments because that doesn’t help our result or the damage we have. After looking at the footage I decided to go to the Clerk of the Course simply to get his opinion as obviously from Seb’s side he was blaming me and I wanted to get the official view of the Stewards. On viewing the footage multiple times, the Clerk confirmed that he had no problem with my manoeuvre and it was Seb who caused the collision by not leaving me room when I had done enough to earn the corner, so at least we have the satisfaction of knowing we didn’t do anything wrong. Again, I didn’t see the point in pushing for a punishment as it doesn’t change anything so we just have to move on."
"I’ve spoken to Seb and whilst we still don’t agree on blame, we do both want to put it behind us so let’s move on.”
“Ultimately the weekend, from a development point of view, has been a resounding success. We haven’t been this competitive in dry conditions with this car before and so it’s a good validation of the step-by-step approach we’ve been sticking to for developing the setup and the pace. The good news for us is that even in qualifying the car wasn’t perfect in some areas – my pole lap in general was a bit messy – so we know there is more speed to unlock and we’ll be working on that at the next pre-race test in August. We’re getting there!”
“A massive thank you to everyone who makes it possible for us to be up here and fighting – family, My RaceSpace members and every single one of our amazing sponsors. The results today were pretty bad but the story of the weekend as a whole is very encouraging. I for one can’t wait for the next race!”
Photos courtesy of Alex Ireland
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