Having boosted his confidence with table-topping times in the recent World Series by Renault group test at Paul Ricard, James Walker gave himself another lift by claiming an unlikely victory in the final race of the inaugural Superleague Formula season.
Having not even expected to be on the grid after initial reports suggested that his car could not be rebuilt following an accident - not of his making - at the previous round, Walker defied the fact that he missed every practice and qualifying session at Jerez to take the chequered flag in the Borussia Dortmund machine.
Having previously tested for the Liverpool team and raced for Rangers - taking a brilliant fourth place finish at the Nürburgring in September - the Briton received his second Superleague call-up to replace Enrico Toccacelo in the striking yellow-and-black car, only to find that Zakspeed, which runs it, had decided that it had been too badly damaged in the previous race. Just as Walker thought he was set for a weekend relaxing in the sun, however, a spare car was made available and it was all hands to the pump in an effort to make the weekend's two races.
It was a close-run thing, and the WSbR racewinner still had to start race one from the pit-lane as the car's steering column came loose on its way to the grid. Quick repairs got it underway again, and Walker he set off in pursuit of the field, achieving a commendable 14th-place finish as he used the opening race to learn the unfamiliar Jerez track as well as dialling the car into his liking.
With the acclimatisation process out of the way, however, race two was an entirely different story. Starting from third on the reversed grid, Walker lost a place at the start - and then another to ex-F1 driver Antonio Pizzonia - but settled into his run and held onto fifth place before pitting early and getting back out onto a clear track.
Banging in some fast laps, he was able to jump the guys ahead of him as they pitted, and was up into second spot as the field sorted itself, and working hard to close the ten-second gap to leader Alessandro Pier Guidi.
Having reduced the gap to nothing, Walker went for the 'push-to-pass' button in an attempt to take the lead on the back straight - only for the Galatasaray driver to spin and hand him the place anyway! Although he then came under pressure from Pizzonia in the closing stages, the Jersey native kept his head and finished the race comfortably ahead of the Brazilian.
“When you consider that, this time yesterday, we weren't racing at all, to come away with a win is incredible," Walker enthused, before dedicating the win to a friend, Alex de Gruchy, who died last week, "I am especially delighted as I have never even been to Jerez before, and I want to thank Zakspeed for giving me the opportunity to race today."
The Briton is now hoping to carry his momentum into the off-season, with the aim of a leading seat in the World Series his goal for 2009, and will be back on track in preparation for the new season before too long.
"This win consolidates all the hard work we have done this year, and it shows that my improved performance in the latter half of the World Series was the real deal," he pointed out, "Hopefully, this result will now encourage people to get behind me for 2009. I
know I can do it, so let's hope I can get the support I need to win again next season.”