James Winslow overcame the final hurdle in his toughest season to date to claim the Kumho Tyres Australian F3 Championship, his third international motor racing title in as many years, at Symmons Plain in Tasmania on Sunday, and immediately proclaimed it the best of the lot.
The Briton has struggled to raise the finance for each round since losing a major sponsor at the start of the season, but refused to give up on his goal of adding the Australian title – and the prestigious Gold Star Award - to those he secured in Asian F3 and Renault V6 in 2006 and 2007 respectively. The Kumho Tyres series also represented unfinished business for Winslow, who was in the running for last year's title when he was forced to decide between that and pursuing the V6 crown.
The Team BRM driver headed into the final double-header round of 2008, the Country Club Superprix at Symmons Plain, with a one-point lead over main rival Leanne Tander and, having once again managed to raise the finance to compete, repaid the faith shown in him by immediately increasing his advantage with the bonus points for pole position in each of the two qualifying sessions, despite rain interfering with both.
Race one opened with Winslow involved in a slip-streaming battle with Tander and the surprising Matthew Radisich, but eventually pulled clear after breaking the tow with three laps in the books. However, just as he appeared set for a comfortable victory, after leading for 17 laps, the safety car was deployed, wiping out a five-second cushion and allowing the pack to close in.
To make matters worse, the rain returned as the field prepared to restart, and allowed two cars to tow past the BRM machine as they got the green flag. With everyone still on slicks on the wet track, however, Winslow knew that running in the pack posed the biggest threat to his title ambitions and, with the bonus for fastest lap already in his pocket, pushed hard to reclaim the lead.
“I knew that maximum points would be enough to clinch the championship, so I pushed as hard as I dared in the very slippery conditions and managed to get past the two cars on the final lap,” he said, “Taking the win and the championship in such a hard-fought way made it the best race of my life. It was a great feeling.”
Sadly, there was to be no celebration run in the second race of the weekend, the second-ever Country Club SuperPrix for the John Bowe Trophy. Again, Winslow was leading on lap three, but the clutch failed on the BRM machine and he was forced to retire.
Winning the championship not only gave the Briton the CAMS Gold Star, which has been claimed previously by the likes of IndyCar star Will Power and V8 Supercar champion Rick Kelly, but also rewarded him with $80,000, creating an ironic twist to a season dominated by his battle to raise the funds to compete.
The collapse of financial institution Opes Prime not only cost Winslow a chance to perform on the international sportscar stage, but meant that he was in danger of seeing his F3 ambitions collapse at any moment.