British F4 shootout ahead of Brands Hatch
Title rivals Zak O’Sullivan and Luke Browning split the victories on an eventful F4 British Championship certified by FIA – powered by EcoBoost weekend at Snetterton to draw level in the standings with three races left to run in 2020.
Fortec racer Browning arrived at the 2.96-mile Norfolk circuit aiming to halt O’Sullivan’s momentum, the Carlin driver’s recent run of five consecutive podiums – including two victories – having shrunk the deficit from a high of 57 points down to just 13.
Qualifying set the theme for the weekend, with both drivers taking a pole position apiece, and Browning duly led away from the start in the opening race.
The decisive moment came at Oggies as O’Sullivan pounced to Browning’s inside; the pair ran side-by-side through Williams and the Carlin racer emerged ahead, but forced Browning wide heading onto the Bentley Straight and was penalised by the officials post-race to reverse the positions.
Browning had also dropped behind Arden’s Alex Connor and JHR’s James Hedley in the same incident, but a further penalty for Hedley after contact that spun Connor out at Nelson meant – in a roundabout way – Browning eventually secured a sixth victory of the season.
Magnanimous in defeat, O’Sullivan’s response was swift. A blistering start from the third row of the partially-reversed grid promoted him into third by the end of the opening lap, and subsequent moves on Roman Bilinski (Arden) and Casper Stevenson (Argenti) elevated him to the top step of the podium once again, with Browning fourth.
With no threat of judicial action this time around, that set up a fascinating front-row shootout between the two rivals in the ITV4-televised final race on Sunday.
It proved to be a relatively straightforward lights-to-flag victory for O’Sullivan in the end, a small mistake from Browning into Riches with six minutes left on the clock giving him some breathing space en route to a 3.6-second winning margin.
Crucially, that reduced the arrears between them to zero, setting up, in effect, a three-race shootout for the 2020 crown at Brands Hatch in mid-November.
Stevenson also remains in mathematical contention to make it three Ford-powered rising stars in with a shout of the honours, but despite a consistent weekend amongst the top-five, now sits 48 points off the summit with only 75 left to play for and will need results to fall strongly in his favour.
Despite falling out of the title picture, JHR’s Hedley and Arden’s Connor now have a battle for fourth and fifth respectively to channel their efforts towards.
Hedley made his first return to the podium since Silverstone behind O’Sullivan and Browning in race three; his charge through to second from ninth before receiving a penalty in the opener had been remarkable, whilst Connor – quickest in practice prior to the event – was only prevented silverware of his own by bad luck.
His team mate Bilinski added another third-placed finish to his trophy cabinet, with Carlin’s Christian Mansell – still top in the Rookie Cup stakes heading to the Brands Hatch showdown – also returning to the overall top-three for the first time since his victory in Kent back in August.
Mansell could theoretically have wrapped up the Rookie title on Sunday, but a composed drive to a sixth victory of the year for Frederick Lubin (Arden) means their battle will go down to the wire in three weeks’ time, the gap now 44 points.
The battle between Lubin, Abbi Pulling (JHR), Mansell, Argenti’s Reema Juffali and Carlin’s Matias Zagazeta in the final race will undoubtedly go down as one of the on-track fights of the season.
Pulling eventually got the upper hand to secure sixth on the road through the Bomb Hole, with a notable equal-best career result for Juffali and a double Rookie podium for Zagazeta rounding out a busy weekend of headlines in Britain’s FIA Formula 4 series.
In the Teams Cup, Carlin have leapfrogged Fortec Motorsport to establish a 28-point buffer heading to the final round, whilst just 25 points now blanket JHR, Arden and Argenti in the race to finish third through fifth.
Brands Hatch’s Indy circuit hosts the much-anticipated season finale on 14-15 November, 2020.