In a race riddled with incidents, it was Hunter Ryan who pulled 3 overtakes in a lap, allowing him to go on and win his first race of 2017. Further back, a remarkable 5 out of the 8 retirements were gearbox related issues, including big names like Viktor Ostberg and Rodolfo de la Fuente
The Top 6 drivers on the grid all got virtually equal starts and held their positions as they negotiated the first sequence of corners. Further back however it was Rodolfo de la Fuente who made the best start of all, moving up 3 places from 10th to 7th. On the other side of the stick, Andrey Kerzhakov made the worst start, dropping 3 places from 17th to 20th during a relatively cautious opening few laps.
Zander Brynildsen became the first casualty as his gearbox became the first of many to fail their driver. It has been a disappoint season for the Norwegian driver. His only points finish has come from his win at Jerez's Sprint Race.
Only 2 laps later however he was joined on the sidelines by James Thompson. He was one of the few to not be forced out of the race with a gearbox issue. Instead he called on the radio that his brakes were 'going to the floor', and his team took no chances on him as he retired from 14th position.
Another driver who could've wished his brakes were slightly more in sync was Otso Toivonen. As he was cruising in 6th place, he locked up going into Brooklands and ran off the circuit, dropping him back to 7th just, as Alvarez took avoiding action allowing Ellenor Haugland to squeeze in between the 2 drivers.
Toivonen on dirty tires then went on to lose the rear of his car exiting Luffield, allowing both Haugland to pass through Woodcote, then Alvarez with a more opportunistic move, going up the inside of Copse Corner. As a result of what went down the Finnish driver dropped 3 places in the space of 4 corners.
It was at the same corner on the next lap however where Hunter Ryan began his charge to victory.
The action began with Vasquez making a daring move up the inside of Zozulya to take the lead. The move however bunched up the front 4, including Perez and Ryan. Zozulya held up his Kannan teammate enough at Turn 3 that it allowed Hunter Ryan to make his first overtake of the lap in Turn 4 on Perez.
Through Turn 5 he still had the traction to get back onto Oleksandr Zozulya's rear wing. Despite the Ukrainian's best efforts in defence, Ryan was able to fling his car around the outside of Brooklands and get up the inside of Zozulya at Luffield, promoting him to second place.
By this stage, Vasquez had built a small gap over Ryan, but a snap of oversteer for the race leader going through Maggots and Becketts was all Ryan needed to be able to get the slipstream down the Hangar Straight, and in doing so, managed to catch out Vasquez and take the inside line. The Colombian tried as best as he could to force him right to the edge of the road, but the Aussie had what it took to get the job done at Stowe to go from forth to the lead in 1 lap!
It turned out to be perfect timing. As at Club just ahead the yellow flags were out as the gearbox gremlins had hit Niklaus Holzberg, who was down in a lowley 17th position at the time, putting a dint his challenge to win rookie of the series.
Just as halfway distance approached, Steven Kasami suffered a snap of oversteer and it cost him positions to Johnson and Ikram Aliyev, dropping him out of the reverse pole at the halfway mark, with the field as follows:
Just after halfway, 2 more gearboxes packed up for the day. First it was Lucio Valente as he stopped on the inside of Brooklands, whilst on the next lap Viktor Ostberg had to pull out and come into the FV2 pitlane to retire his car as he reported being stuck in 5th gear. Both drivers were visibly disappointed since Valente was on for P2 if he stayed in 12th for the sprint race, whilst Ostberg's poor luck and form continued in 2017.
Valente where he stopped however forced the marshalls to take a longer than desired route to get his car out of the way, forcing the use of double waved yellows. Drivers remained cautious, and then Haugland rocked up and almost went past at as if he were going through pitlane. Alvarez took the opportunity to complete the bizarre move on Haugland, which race control somewhat controversially decided not to investigate.
The race then died down for a few laps. The only action happening in that time was an overtake from Andrey Kerzhakov on Elnur Aliyev at Stowe Corner.
With 4 laps remaining however, Ikram Aliyev and Brittany Johnson crossed the line with the Azeri driver right behind her gearbox. In an attempt to make overtake of the year he tried to take the inside line into Abbey Corner. Despite getting alongside, the American showed her intentions of keeping the position, as it was also for reverse pole. The drivers bumped tyres as they crossed the start finish line, and it all went down hill from there.
Aliyev still maintained the inside line on Johnson, however clipped the curb at Abbey on the inside. He could only become a passenger afterward as his car jolted to the left and into Brittany's car, who was keeping him on the tightest line possible at the time. The resulting contact damaged both of their cars and they both speared deep into the gravel trap with heavily damage suspensions.
Before the incident, Steven Kasami was sitting in the reverse pole position. With the chain of events he now ran 11th, with a train consisting of van der Straten, Dimitrov, Elnur Aliyev and Andrey Kerzhakov all covered by 2.3 seconds. Dimitrov was now the man sitting in reverse pole.
Kerzhakov was the first driver to make a move on the same lap as he got past Aliyev with relative ease on the Wellington Straight. Kerzhakov was rewarded with an extra position however to go into the reverse pole position as one last driver fell victim to gearbox troubles up ahead.
It was Rodolfo de la Fuente. The Spaniard who was running 5th with a handful of laps to go, could only put his hands over his visor as he pulled over at pit entry just after Copse corner. With the race winner at Austria robbed of another strong finish, it left Sergio Alvarez running 5th for the second time in 2 races.
Whilst Hunter Ryan up front had now built up a 3 and a half second lead over Vasquez, the Colombian was now coming under serious pressure in the closing stages from Zozulya. Setting the fastest lap of the race didn't help Vasquez because Zozulya managed to still go faster and close to within half a second as they entered the penultimate lap.
Through Abbey, Village, Farm they went. Vasquez had no intentions on relinquishing 2nd to Zozulya. He survived as they got to Brooklands, Luffield, Woodcote, and through Copse. The whole time Zozulya stalked the Colombian, ready to pounce at a moment's notice.
Both cars flew through Maggots an Becketts almost in perfect harmony. It was the Chapel curve however where Vasquez ran a fraction wider than he would've really liked. Zozulya immediately pounced but he had to go around the outside down the Hangar Straight. It was perilously close going into Stowe but Zozulya came out with the chocolates to take 2nd place!
He was no chance however to go on and catch Hunter Ryan, who became the 8th different winner in 9 races this season. It is shaping up to be a cracker of the year. As the first 4 and a half rounds have shown, anybody can win. Kerzhakov will lead Dimitrov and van der Straten off the line tomorrow, but you can never quite know for sure what can and will happen in this championship. Full results below:
* Reverse Pole