Natasha Firman Takes Formula Woman Championship Title - Round Six Overview | Part Two

Round Six

Natasha Firman went to Brands with a 13-point lead over Margo Gardner, with Emma Hayles in third and Lauren Blighton close behind. However, the double points format handed a serious chance of a Championship win to many of the girls further down in the drivers’ standings.

To add further tension to the occasion, the Formula Woman organisers had decided to let 17 drivers compete in the two races, giving Karen Andrews, a stand-by driver for the 2004 championship, a chance for glory.

The leading drivers knew a poor finish could mean their points-haul from the previous rounds could be quickly overhauled. The pressure was on to qualify well, and then to bring the cars home intact and as close to the front of the pack as possible. Firman put in a blistering qualifying session to claim pole position in the first race of the day, edging Scotland’s Margo Gardner into second place by just 0.319 seconds with Lorraine Pinner taking third and Lauren Blighton in fourth. The scene was set for a thrilling encounter between the main Championship contenders.

The pressure initially seemed to tell on the drivers, with the four at the front of the grid making a very a cautious start, holding station for the first three of the scheduled 20 laps. However, behind them a determined Juliette Thurston was storming through the race order. She had started in eighth, but by lap four had taken fourth place from Blighton.

These two drivers continued their own private battle until a major shunt put Blighton out on the next lap. The incident flowed from an error by Gardner who had eased off through Paddock Hill Bend, causing her to spin and come to a rest on the racing line, facing in the wrong direction. Under constant pressure from Thurston, Blighton was left with nowhere to go and drove straight into Gardner, wiping out the front of both cars.

Gardner got herself out of the car shaken but unscathed, while Blighton was taken to hospital for precautionary checks. Fortunately she was later given a clean bill of health.

The crash brought out the red flags at Brands Hatch, stopping the race while the two stricken Mazda RX-8s were towed away. Once the track was clear, the circuit officials decided allowed a restart but limited the drivers to just 10 laps, with the grid positions dictated by the race order at the time of the collision. That put Firman on pole, followed by Pinner, Bev Tyler and Emma Hayles. As the sixth round of the Championship got under way for a second time, Firman failed to exploit her favourable track position and quickly dropped down to fourth. That left Pinner to take the lead, with Tyler claiming second and Amy Handford surging through to claim third.

A few laps later and Firman outbraked Handford to move up to third, but she was too far behind to worry Tyler who spent the rest of the race just a few feet from Pinner’s rear bumper. An elated Pinner took the chequered flag, closely followed by Tyler whose second place was her best result of the Championship. Firman came home third and the result meant that only Pinner would now have a realistic chance of catching her in the final dash for the series crown.

continues... | Part Three
Published 27 July 2004 Melanie Carter

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