Emma Kimiläinen overtook the top two drivers in the W Series championship standings to win a breathless fifth race of the 2021 season at a rain-soaked Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps and move into title contention.
The 32-year-old (Ecurie W, FIN) started fourth on the grid, but earned the second victory of her W Series career by passing defending champion Jamie Chadwick (Veloce Racing, GBR) and Alice Powell (Racing X, GBR) to score a dominant victory by 8.4 seconds in Belgium. Emma is now third in the championship standings on 60 points, 31 behind leader Jamie with three rounds remaining. Jamie finished second to extend her advantage over Alice – who finished fourth – to seven points at the top of the table.
Marta Garcia (PUMA W Series Team, ESP) came home in third to stand on a W Series podium for the first time this season. Reserve driver Caitlin Wood (PUMA W Series Team, AUS) was fifth on just her second appearance of the campaign and Jessica Hawkins (Racing X, GBR) finished sixth. Fabienne Wohlwend (Bunker Racing, LIE) staged a fine recovery drive from 13th on the grid to finish seventh, as Nerea Martí (W Series Academy Team, ESP), Miki Koyama (Sirin Racing, JPN) and Abbie Eaton (Ecurie W, GBR) completed the top 10.
As a result of a six-car accident during qualifying on Friday, 16 drivers started the race. Four of the six drivers involved – Sarah Moore (Scuderia W, GBR), Belen Garcia (Scuderia W, ESP), Abbie and Fabienne – were cleared to race. Ayla Agren (M. Forbes Motorsport, NOR) and Beitske Visser (M. Forbes Motorsport, NED) did not receive clearance, though both drivers are determined to return for the sixth race of the season at Zandvoort, Netherlands, next weekend (4 September).
A four-place grid penalty meant Nerea started seventh, while Bruna Tomaselli (Veloce Racing, BRA) lined up 12th after receiving a two-place grid drop. The start of the race was delayed by one hour due to a red flag during Formula 1 qualifying, and heavy rain throughout the day meant the opening 13 minutes took place behind the safety car. It was worth the wait, as the remainder of the 30 minutes plus one lap race was full of wheel-to-wheel action.
The pole-sitter had won each of the first four races of the season, and that run seemed set to continue when Jamie pulled out a 2.6-second advantage over Alice at the end of the first flying lap. Emma was a further three seconds back in third at that stage after passing Caitlin who ran wide at Eau Rouge and was then overtaken by her team-mate Marta.
With less than 10 minutes remaining, Emma and Marta pulled nine seconds clear of Caitlin and took two seconds out of the leading pair on the next lap as the chasing pack began to find some drier sections of track. With eight minutes to go, Emma overtook Alice for second place at Blanchimont before setting off in pursuit of Jamie who was five seconds up the road.
Emma set the fastest lap with five minutes left, posting purple times in all three sectors to go three seconds faster than Jamie and reduce the Briton's advantage to one second. On the next lap, Emma went later on the brakes to pass Jamie for the lead around the outside before easing clear in the closing stages to win by almost nine seconds.
Marta overtook Alice at Turn 15 with 30 seconds remaining and, although Alice fought back hard on the final two laps, Marta held on to score her first podium finish of the season. Fabienne put Nerea under extreme pressure on the final lap and passed the rookie with just a few corners remaining to complete a fine comeback.
Emma Kimiläinen, 32, Finland, Ecurie W, said:
"This is such an amazing feeling! I had a really good car and I have to thank my engineer, driver coach and mechanic for getting everything spot on today. The Ecurie W team is rocking and this track is just amazing – it's great to be here and race in front of this lovely crowd. More wins are what I'm aiming for in the remainder of the season. It hasn't been the easiest start to the year for me, but anything can happen from here and I'm still aiming for the title, that's for sure. If you want to win, get the Finn!"
Jamie Chadwick, 23, UK, Veloce Racing, said:
"I had no answer to Emma [Kimiläinen] today. She was really impressive and just seemed to be able to use better parts of the track for the tyres. From my point of view, it's still a good day for the championship because I finished ahead of Alice [Powell] and, all things considered, I'm just happy to come through that race unscathed because it was pretty tricky out there. I wanted to go racing when we started behind the safety car, but we managed the situation well and Emma [Kimiläinen] simply did a better job today so all credit to her."
Marta Garcia, 21, Spain, PUMA W Series Team, said:
"After such a hard start to the season, it feels great to be back on a W Series podium and I want to thank everyone for their support. I was struggling when I was behind Alice [Powell] because I was faster than her but it's really tough to overtake in the rain, so I tried to keep the pressure on and managed to finally do a good move at Turn 15. I hope this is the first of a few more podium finishes this season."
Beitske Visser, 26, Netherlands, M. Forbes Motorsport, said:
"It was, of course, a very bad accident during qualifying on Friday - the worst I have been involved in in my career so far – but I'm glad I'm relatively okay. I still have pain, but luckily there are no fractures and that is a great relief.
"I was going towards Eau Rouge and then it suddenly started to rain. I saw two cars in front of me lost the rear and had already come off the gas but, because it was so wet, I couldn't hold the back end either. I was praying I wouldn't hit the others, then I saw several cars coming towards me and I was praying they wouldn’t hit me too hard.
"When I first saw the footage, I was shocked. In the car, I immediately realised it was a bad crash, but I didn't realise how bad it was until I saw the footage. Fortunately, those images showed that I could get out of the car myself and that was nice because I could only call my family 40 minutes later.
"These cars are absolutely safe, although I was lucky this time. I was hit three times hard from different angles and still managed to get out of the car on my own, so I think someone was with me – I had an angel on my shoulder.
"It's perfect to be back in the car at Zandvoort next week – I'll definitely be there. After such a serious crash, I think you should get back in the car as soon as possible."
Ayla Agren, 28, Norway, M. Forbes Motorsport, said:
"I'm a little sore and bruised after the accident in qualifying yesterday [Friday] but, luckily, I have everything intact. My knees banged together and the right one is quite bruised, so it's not the best now but I'll be fine in a couple of days.
"It happened so fast. I came through Eau Rouge and saw Abbie [Eaton] locking up and thought: "that’s going to be a big one". Then I saw Beitske [Visser] going around and I knew I was going to do the same. My rear started snapping and I braced myself for the impact before waiting for the next few drivers to arrive. It's one of the scariest accidents I've been involved in because I was sitting there waiting for someone to hit me. I'm just happy that everyone's okay.
"Massive thanks to everyone at the circuit and at W Series for their help. Everyone was calm and very thorough and kept my family updated throughout. I wanted to race today and I passed the neurological tests but, according to the medics, I'm not quite ready to drive and they've been so professional. My aim is to be back in the car next week at Zandvoort and I'll be trying to get lots of tips from Beitske [Visser] before we get there!"
Provisional race results and championship standings after round five of the 2021 W Series season are below. For full W Series results and session timings from the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps visit wseries.com