DEMPSEY SNATCHES HISTORIC VICTORY Peter Dempsey took a breathtakingly dramatic win in the first round of the revitalised UK Formula Ford Championship at Oulton Park, only claiming the lead on the final lap, and then holding off ...
DEMPSEY SNATCHES HISTORIC VICTORY
Peter Dempsey took a breathtakingly dramatic win in the first round of the revitalised UK Formula Ford Championship at Oulton Park, only claiming the lead on the final lap, and then holding off challenger Nathan Freke in a virtual dead-heat at the finish line.
The national FFord series had dwindled in popularity in recent years, but the switch to the new, lighter, Duratec engine for 2006 has already catalysed a revival. The 25-car field that lined up at Oulton was the largest UK FFord grid seen for several years, and that increase in quantity was matched by a commensurate rise in the quality of the driving talent in the field.
Having graduated to FFord's senior level as a multiple FF1600 champion and Ireland's Young Driver of the Year, Dempsey was among the pre-season favourites. He duly put his Irish Ferries/Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray GRS06 on pole position for the first round, although he was mildly peeved to be only 0.2 seconds faster than second-placed Freke.
The first race start for the new generation of cars was bound to be something of voyage of discovery. Dempsey did not judge it quite as well as Freke, using too many revs and having to relinquish the lead at the first corner. He immediately counter-attacked and put Freke under tremendous pressure, but then a minor slip at the start of the third lap proved costly.
"I just missed a gear and went into the first corner in neutral," Dempsey explained. "The guy behind couldn't help hitting the back of my car and knocking me wide."
By the time Dempsey had rejoined the racetrack he was down in sixth place, and the incident had allowed Freke to build a substantial lead over the chasing pack. Most drivers would be out of contention for victory in such circumstances, but spectacular recovery drives are something of a Dempsey speciality. Within two laps he had already passed four cars and retaken second place.
"I was quite lucky in a way because people kept making mistakes as soon as I got up behind them," said Dempsey. "It didn't take long to get back to second, but I could see Nathan was a long way ahead, and I never thought I could catch him."
Freke had a four second advantage when Dempsey reclaimed second place. Although Peter was sceptical about his chances of catching the leader, he still put on a charge, repeatedly smashing his own lap record as he tore 0.7-1.0s per lap out of Freke's margin. Yet with two laps remaining, it looked like he would just fall short. Then Freke made a slight error at the first chicane, and suddenly Dempsey was right on his tail. As they began the final lap, Peter surged down the inside at Old Hall and snatched the lead, sending the crowd wild.
"I honestly would have been happy with second after making that balls-up, but when I had a chance to go for the lead I wasn't going to say no," said Dempsey. "If Nathan hadn't made that mistake, I couldn't have caught him. I think he just lost concentration a bit when he saw how close I was getting."
The race wasn't quite over, though.
"Freke got a really good run through Druids so I had to defend the inside at Lodge," Dempsey recalled. "He braked very late and I probably braked a bit too late, because he was able to cut back in and go up the inside as we went onto the straight. I tried to squeeze him a little, and luckily I just pipped him over the line."
Dempsey's final victory margin was a tiny 0.034s. The thrilling race - and its rousing conclusion in particular - got the revised UK FFord Championship off to the best possible start, but Dempsey is hoping to make round two on Easter Monday a little less entertaining.
"I really couldn't have driven any faster than that," he said. "I didn't want to have to work that hard! Hopefully in the next one I can just get away in front and not make any mistakes."