After a season of long-distance adventures and a maiden Monaco trip, it was a more familiar setting of Barcelona for the Williams Racing Driver Academy F3 members this weekend, and a successful one too.
The majority of our Academy joined Formula 1 for a second consecutive weekend of racing, and, if the Spanish silverware we walked away with is anything to go by, it could well be a fruitful European summer.
Our F3 quartet secured a 1-2 finish in Saturday's Sprint and a well-deserved P2 in Sunday's Feature Race. Meanwhile, over in America, Jamie Chadwick enjoyed the first of two double-race weekends in Indy NXT as the championship headed to downtown Detroit for Rounds 4 and 5.
A reverse grid pole position had Zak starting in the best place possible for the Sprint Race. However, it was a hotly-contested win for the PREMA racer as our Academy's latest recruit, Luke Browning, gave it his all through the race.
Lap 1 saw a drag race between the pair down to Turn 1, with Zak just edging in front to retain his lead. More pressure followed later as the laps reached the halfway point when Luke's DRS pushing created overtaking attempts, but Zak held on for his second 2023 win.
Afterwards, the young Brit commented on that hard-fought battle with his Academy teammate.
“The pace early on, Luke was quite fast,” Zak explained.
“I think we were side-by-side three times into Turn 1.
“Then, towards the end, I started to open up the gap a bit and it was a bit easier.”
More points came in the Feature Race, with three positions gained on the opening lap from a P12 start. Zak's P8 finish came after thrilling three-wide fights in the later laps.
GALLERY: Spanish Sprint celebrations for Zak and Luke
The highest points-scorer from our Academy this weekend was the Argentine ace Franco Colapinto whose pace in Barcelona showed why so many rate him highly.
A P3 qualification on Friday, just 0.027s off the front row, was a glimpse of things to come as Franco advanced in both F3 races.
The Feature Race had Jenzer Motorsport's Taylor Barnard fending off Franco's early charge for P2 at Turn 5 before a safety car saved him from an inevitable overtake. A DRS pass down the pit straight after the restart secured P2 and a first Sunday podium trip to continue the championship push after solid points in Monaco.
Overtakes in the Sprint Race saw an advance from P10 to P6, with Franco making the most of safety car restarts and keeping his head down while others battled. Two point-scoring races mean it's P6 in the standings as the Argentine’s ascent up the order continues.
WATCH: Franco celebrates P2 finish in Barcelona
A first visit to the F3 podium for Luke Browning is a richly-deserved moment for the rookie racer who continued his record for taking points in every round of the season.
in the Sprint Race, he started Zak alongside on the front row and the Academy pair duelled throughout the race in some brilliant battles while showing each other respect.
Crashes for others triggered a late-race safety car, allowing Trident's Leonardo Fornaroli to close in on the back of Luke's Hitech at the restart. However, he demonstrated his pressure-soaking abilities to keep ahold of P2 to claim his highest-scoring finish in the championship so far.
Sadly, a suspension-breaking collision with Fornaroli in the Feature Race shortened his Sunday running to one lap. Still, Spain marks yet another impressive weekend for Luke.
2023 continues to see Ollie Gray consistently outshine the best barometers for his performance – his teammates. Qualifying seven-tenths faster than the other Rodin Carlin cars meant the British rookie would start P23 for both races and he advanced well through both.
The five positions gained in the Feature Race all came in the opening lap, as Ollie explains:
"I got one car off the line, and then around the outside of T2, I got another one in T4 and one in T5, as well — all around the outside. I just did a Slim Shady, and it paid off!
"I got a really good start, a really good first lap. By T5, I was up five places already. I was sitting in a DRS train after that. That was the maximum I could do."
The Sprint Race saw an eventual P15 classification, some eight places higher than his starting slot. Ollie was responsible for that advancement with on-track passes, but his clean racing helped too, as others crashed out or received hefty penalties from the stewards.
It was a new downtown Detroit track for Jamie Chadwick, who took an equal-best finish in the Detroit Grand Prix's Race 1 with a more challenging Race 2 needing a recovery drive.
Jamie battled in the top 10 positions in Race 1, making the most of spins, damage, and penalties of others while staying out of trouble herself. Fights with fellow Brit Tobey Sowery kept the ex-pats busy in the opening half of the race before a P11 finish was the reward for a hard day's work.
Contact with Kyffin Simpson on the opening lap of Race 2 triggered an early pit stop and a race fighting from the back from four laps down. P16 was the final position as Jamie continued her finishing streak to add further valuable experience to her rooky Indy NXT campaign.
While F1 heads over the Atlantic to Canada, our F3 quartet can regroup in June before a frantic July that stages four of the remaining five rounds, with Austria first up on July 1-2. Meanwhile, Indy NXT will resume on June 18 at Wisconsin's Road America for Jamie to tackle Round 6 of the 2023 season.
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