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CLEAN SWEEP AT SEASON OPENER

Thomas Fleming's Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo

"My first race of the year was a quick trip across the English Channel to the South of Portugal in Estoril. The historic F1 venue was the hosting ground for the second round of the GT Winter Series, but my actual first race of the year.

The track is featured on the Ferrari European Challenge calendar later in the year, so it was a perfect opportunity to gain some track knowledge and data, as well as some more time in the seat for me.

QUALIFYING- SLIPPERY STUFF

Weather come race day was a mixed bag. The early hours of the morning lead to a downpour on the circuit, which meant that both qualifying sessions were wet.

The downpour of rain made the first qualifying session of the year pretty tricky, as some parts of the track still had puddles around the course. However, I managed to overcome these slight obstacles, thanks to my previous experience of driving in similar conditions and claimed P1 in class in both qualifying sessions. A great start to the Year!

I also lined up P10 overall in Sprint Race 1 and P9 in Sprint Race 2. The average of these two results would mean I would start P10 overall in the Endurance race out of 40+ cars.

Sprint Race 1 - Safety Cars a Plenty

Race 1 was host to a large quantity of accidents by fellow drivers. Some of which must have been just dusting off the new year rust. An early Safety Car on Lap 1 neutralised the race for a long period of time due to a multi-car pile up on the exit of Turn 3.

On the restart however, I managed to catch an unsuspecting Porsche Cup driver and made the move stick into P9. Not even a full racing lap later, the Safety Car was brought out once more and with only seconds on the clock by this point, the race was ended by Race Control prematurely. 

 

It was not the ideal racing scenario for us, however,

we still managed to make progress up the field and claimed a win in the Ferrari Challenge Class.

 

 

 

Sprint 2 was a race in which the field could truly stretch their legs for some proper racing. Starting P9 overall, we had some glimpses of what we could achieve in our raw pace. It seemed like P5 would be the ultimate outcome on speed alone.

As lights went out and the field got underway, I was able to edge my way up to P6 within only a couple tours of the circuit. Another Safety Car was brought out shortly after. With an LMP4 car, 3 Porsche Cup cars and a GT3 car right in front of me, a possible Safety Car restart charge could land me in the hot seat for an incredible overall podium. And that is exactly what happened! 

From the get go, I made instant progress and slotted my way up into P5, after ducking out the slip stream. With only two cars separating me and my outlandish overall podium, I set myself to chase down my target. Several laps later, I was able to make my move for P3 stick and with some great lap times afterwards, held on to take an amazing result for both myself and FF Corse.

Unfortunately a Post Race Penalty was handed due to overtaking at the Safety Car restart before the Start/Finish line. The decision was made on a matter of millimetres, however, despite the penalty, we still held onto the win in the Ferrari Challenge Class. 

 

 

 

 

The endurance race was the final event of the weekend. 60 minutes of what could be action packed racing. Lining up P10 on the Grid again, I wanted to make up for the pilot error which had cost me and FF Corse the overall podium earlier on in the day. So the target was to do just that.

As lights went out, I set about trying to hoist myself to the front of the pack as quickly as possible. Within only a couple of corners, I found myself five positions higher than my starting one, up in to P5. P4 was claimed only a couple of laps later and the charge was set for P3. Unfortunately, third place and above were all occupied by much faster machinery, so it seemed like P4 would be the absolute maximum we could achieve.

After a round of pitstops, we come out in P6 with two (slower) Porsche's in front of me. After reclaiming one position for P5, an accident on the apex of Turn 3 occurred. It was 3rd place! - they had been in an unfortunate accident with lapped traffic and brought out the Safety Car. 

This promoted me into 4th place and closed the gap between myself and now 3rd place in the race. With only a handful of laps remaining and the tyres getting worn by this stage, I knew there was no room for error on the restart. On the restart, I dove into the slipstream of P3 and dove out at the last second to make a move up the inside of Turn 1 and made it stick.

Qualifying lap after qualifying lap made the gap behind grow quite substantially and gave me a sizeable amount of breathing room at the final lap. I coasted round to take yet another overall podium finish and this one wasn't to be taken away from us.

Overall it was an incredible weekend for myself and FF Corse. I finally got to race in some proper machinery and I loved it. FF Corse did an amazing job all weekend to provide me with the best possible tools for the job. I am extremely grateful for the belief they have in me to use everything they've got to get the job done.

The next race on my personal calendar is the fourth round of the GT Winter Series in Valencia and the last race before the opening round of the Ferrari European Challenge." 

-TF

Be sure to watch TF's latest Youtube video to get a visual insight to the weekend:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thomas Fleming's Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo
Thomas Fleming celebrating with Development Manager Ed Barton-Hilton after winning in GT Winter Series

Endurance Race - Drive for Redemption

Thomas Fleming celebrating with FF Corse.

Sprint Race 2 - A charge through the field

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