Oz: Winning end to campaign for Winslow
1 January 1901
New Kumho Tyres Australian F3 champion James Winslow ended his time in the series on a high with a victory during one of the most prestigious races of the 2008 season.
Although not part of the championship campaign, the Surfers Paradise event gave the F3 field a chance to perform in front of both the visiting US IndyCar Series and the national V8 Supercar Championship, both potential future career options for the Briton
The F3 runners were making a welcome return to the Gold Coast after several years off the programme, and that meant that very few drivers had any previous experience of the tricky street circuit. With just 20 minutes of practice before qualifying, it also meant that hitting on the best set-up would be vital for success throughout the weekend.
Winslow was among those making his first visit to Surfers but, as he had through-out the season, quickly found himself at the top of the timesheets. The Team BRM driver held P1 for much of the opening practice session, only for a fuel pump failure to drop him down the order, and, when he also missed valuable track time in the second session, qualifying on the front row represented a fine effort by the Briton.
“The Surfers Paradise circuit is awesome – one of the best I have ever raced on – but it is very bumpy and requires a lot of 'kerb-hopping', so track time is vital to learn it properly,” he noted. “Having the fuel pump fail and lose time in both practice sessions was a big blow, but we managed to overcome that and give ourselves a good chance in the races.”
Despite lining up outside Australian favourite John Martin, Winslow got the jump at the start of the first of the weekend's three races, leading into the opening corner and pulling out a small lead.
He remained in front until the halfway mark, when the safety car appeared to clear up an accident, and, with the pack bunched up, the BRM car came under immediate attack at the restart, with Martin taking advantage when Winslow was forced wide. Almost dropping to third, the Briton recovered after a bout of wheel-banging, but Martin had already built a gap, and he had to settle for second place.
Despite an overnight officials' decision that left Winslow and BRM on the back foot - with just one set of tyres to use for the remainder of the weekend while the rest of the field had more rubber at their disposal - the Briton showed his usual reaction to adversity by recording another solid second place in race two. With racing beginning on Thursday for the F3 runners, however, the third event - in front of the IndyCar and V8 teams and a massive crowd – was 'the big one' that everyone wanted to win.
Once again, Winslow made a good start, and was side-by-side with Martin into the opening chicane. Holding his nerve, the Briton braved it out around the outside and squeezed through to assume the lead.
Finding his set-up much improved after early weekend problems, the Team BRM driver was able to attack the circuit properly for the first time and quickly pulled out a comfortable advantage over the rest of the field. However, just when it appeared that the elusive victory might be his, Winslow was again slowed by the safety car, which turned the race into a one-lap shoot-out.
Expecting a dogfight with Martin, the Briton found himself side-by-side with the Australian several times in the race to the chequered flag, but was in front when it mattered, giving him one final victory in a successful season.
“We were finding it almost impossible to hop over the high kerbs in the first couple of races, which was costing us as much as seven tenths,” Winslow revealed, “We decided that we had nothing to lose by making big changes to the car for the final race and, although it was potentially a very risky option, the set-up was much better and you could see what a difference it made.
“Everything was looking good until the safety car came out again, and I knew that John would be trying everything to get in front of me on that final lap. We must have been side-by-side five or six times, but I managed to keep in front even though it was all going on.”
Victory capped a dramatic Australian F3 campaign for Winslow, in which he overcame a constant search for sponsorship to clinch the title at the final round. However, winning at Surfers Paradise, in front of some influential individuals, was an equally important achievement for the Briton.
“I'm really pleased to have won here,” he admitted, “It's been a great weekend and, even though we didn't have the best car at the beginning, it's been great to have to really fight hard to get to the front and win the final on one of the best street tracks in the world.
“The team did a good job to work through the initial problems and give me a car to compete for the win, and it's a great way to end my Australian F3 Championship-winning season.
“It's also great preparation for what I hope will be my final F3 event, when I tackle the Macau Grand Prix next month. That will be an altogether different challenge, but I am ready for it after this.”