James Walker's F3 season came to a conclusion at Thruxton this weekend with plenty of drama but not of the type that James had in mind. Prior to the first qualifying session on Saturday, James was looking forward to a great weekend of racing. Historically the Hitech team has gone well at Thruxton and recent testing times showed James to be on course for some top results.
The team came straight to the Hampshire track from last week's race at Silverstone and didn't make any changes to the cars, aside from the usual Thruxton set-up changes, before qualifying commenced. As soon as James and his team-mate, James Jakes, took to the track it was apparent that something wasn't as it should be.
Both Hitech cars were significantly down on power, struggling with engine management problems. The first qualifying session was the first opportunity for the cars to run so there was nothing for it but to go out and post a time. By the end of the frustrating session James had qualified in 20th place for race one, without even completing a full flying lap in the 30-minute session. James Jakes wasn't far aheadin 16th position.
The gap between the two qualifying sessions gave the Hitech engineers and their Mercedes counterpart time to find the problem and fix it. When the second session got underway it became clear that the problem had gone from Jakes' car but James was still suffering and would only manage to qualify in 16th place. The Hitech team had a late night on Saturday, working into the night to get James' engine running as it should for Sunday's two races.
"The first session was worse than the second," said James. "The engine just kept cutting out and the top speed was way down. And on a super quick track like Thruxton, that really hurts a lot. I spent most the time trying to sort out the problem, rather than being able to set a quick time and that's a bad way to end the year. Hopefully I can make another good start in both races and take advantage of the overtaking opportunities here to score some points."
Race day dawned under grey skies at Thruxton and torrential rain before the start of the race forced the organisers to take the precaution of starting race one under the safety car. As James headed out to go to the grid he found the engine problem was still there; he pitted to let the team look at the car and ventured out to start the race from the end of the pitlane. James completed one lap of race one and pitted again, his engine still not running properly, much to his frustration. He sat quietly in the car whilst the team burst into action, trying everything they could think of to get James back out on track. The race was already over for James but it was vital to get him out on the track to effectively use the final laps of the race as a test session. He rejoined with ten minutes to go and was delighted to report that the engine was running as it should. Race two was looking like a much better prospect.
The weather turned again just as the F3 cars formed up on the grid for race two. A heavy downpour prompted the teams to quickly bolt on wet weather tyres just before the formation lap. It was debated whether or not James should take a gamble and start on slicks but, with the rain getting heavier, it was decided that was too risky. James made a good start from 15th on the grid, rising to 13th by the end of lap one. After that it was a straightforward race for the Jerseyman and he came home in 11th place.
"We took the decision to switch to wets on the grid," said James. "We did consider going back onto slicks but in retrospect we were right to stay on the wets as the slicks didn't come in until well over half distance. I was keen to enjoy my last race and didn't want to end it by sliding off a wet track on slicks! The rear of the car was unpredictable which made it a bit of a handful but other than that it was ok. The weekend was really over for us yesterday so it was a case of just going out there and enjoying it this afternoon."