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Chase Owen completed his debut round of the 2017 BRDC British Formula 3 Championship at Oulton Park this Easter weekend, collecting his first championship points despite wet conditions and a mechanical handicap in qualifying.
On the back of a comprehensive winter test programme, Owen arrived at Oulton Park on good form for the pre-weekend test events on Tuesday and Thursday. Driving the #21 car of newly merged outfit Hillspeed with Cliff Dempsey Racing, the American driver set competitive lap times within the Top 5 of the 19-car field, just +0.376 off the lead time of second-year BRDC F3 driver Enaam Ahmed.
Owen continued to set the pace within the team on Friday alongside fellow teammates Jordan Cane and Nick Worm, ending the day sixth fastest out of the 4 practice sessions of the day – this time with a gap of +0.397 to front runner Toby Sowery.
Rain clouds returned over the hills at Oulton Park on Saturday morning resulting in a damp qualifying session. While Owen did his best to put in some push laps, a mechanical problem with the actuator of his #21 car caused gearbox issues which left Owen struggling to change gear. The issue led to a grid position of P14 for Owen's first race of the season.
Saturday's Race 1 was postponed to Monday following an incident earlier in the day involving a GT5 support race which required barrier repairs by the circuit. The 3 races of the BRDC F3 were subsequently crammed into Monday.
Race 1 was another damp affair with all cars opting for either intermediate or wet tyres. Owen got away cleanly on the opening lap and fought for position, but could not improve upon P14 by the end of a fairly processional race.
Owen would start Race 2 from his Race 1 position of P14 and the American made a good start, avoiding contact on the exit of Turn 1 as a 4-car tangle occurred ahead of him. Needing to take evasive action onto the grass, Owen maintained control and rejoined the track in P9. He would later make up another position before the race was determined by a 4-lap sprint after the red flag to finish P8.
Unfortunately, a torn front wing at Turn 1 on the opening lap snatched away any chance of Owen moving up the field in dry conditions for the third and final race of the weekend. Starting from P9 on the grid and taking an inside line into the fast right-hander with 2 cars on his outside, Owen swept past the apex of Turn 1 but was clipped by a crossing car on the exit of the corner. With aero damage to the car, Owen could not maintain competitive lap times and ended the race P13.
Speaking about his tough weekend, Owen said:
"It was a very challenging weekend for me, to say the least. After finishing mostly within the Top 5 in the pre-race testing days, I was fairly confident going into the 3 races of the weekend. However, a mechanical failure during qualifying turned the weekend into a huge uphill fight for us. We battled through constantly changing weather conditions, aggressive tyre and setup combinations, and an incident in the last race that left me with no front wing after the first corner."
"I've personally never been through such a challenging race weekend in my racing career thus far, but I can say that the team at Hillspeed with Cliff Dempsey Racing was resilient in their support for me and for each other and I've come away with a greater respect for the sport and for my competitors. I believe I showed everyone that I have the pace to run at the front, and I hope to get the chance to prove it in our next race."
Owen's manager Henry James added:
"Motorsport can bite sometimes and Chase sadly had to experience that at Oulton Park this weekend. Qualifying well is extremely important to the overall outcome of a race weekend, but a mechanical problem with Chase's gearbox came at the worst possible time."
"Although the championship points are only earned on race day, Chase was very quick during the tests and practice sessions against some competitors with far more racing experience than him. This performance hasn't gone unnoticed and certainly bodes well for Chase at the upcoming rounds of the season. Together we will analyse this weekend and continue working on how best to manage the wide ranging pressures of a F3 race weekend."
Owen has been selected for a GT test at Silverstone this week and his next round takes place in just over a week at Rockingham from 27-30 April.