James Calado bounced back from a disappointing British F3 debut weekend by taking a pair of victories and guest driver Alexander Sims won the other as the series became the first open-wheelers to race on the new Silverstone Arena layout.
Sims was one of three invitational drivers from the ART Grand Prix squad in F3 Euro Series who joined the British F3 regulars for the second meeting of the season as Carlin looked to continue their dominance from Oulton Park.
Jean-Eric Vergne won two of the races there and Rupert Svendsen-Cook took the other, but neither managed to impose themselves at Silverstone as Calado proved the cream of the Carlin crop.
Vergne fastest in free practice
Vergne did manage to top the combined timesheet at the end of Friday’s free practice sessions, beating the fastest time of Hitech’s Gabriel Dias by just two hundredths of a second.
His team-mate Adriano Buzaid ended the day in third while Raikkonen Robertson racer Daisuke Nakajima was fourth-fastest overall. In fifth was Calado with Fortec’s Oli Webb sixth-fastest and the only other driver to put in a sub-1:54 lap.
Sims was the quickest of the invitational drivers, setting a seventh-best overall time of 1:54.213, and T-Sport’s Menasheh Idafar was the top National class contender, beating Liuz Razia by nearly a second and a half
Qualifying: Calado takes double pole
Following his unpromising start at Oulton Park Calado managed to find his form and grab pole position for two of this weekend’s three races after ending qualifying a tenth of a second ahead of his nearest rival.
Fortec’s Webb ran him close for second with Hitech’s Will Buller claiming third, Raikkonen Robertson’s Felipe Nasr in fourth and team-mate Nakajima narrowly behind him in fifth. Dias completed the top six.
Calado said: “It all came together perfectly. I was quite happy with my time on my first set of tyres, but we had a bit of understeer and I asked the team to make some big changes. Then on my second set of tyres the car was absolutely transformed, completely perfect.”
Despite dominating free practice Calado’s team-mate Vergne could not convert that result into grid position. Trouble with tyres saw him set to start round four in eighth place.
Idafar was quickest again in the National class while Mexico’s Esteban Gutierrez was quickest of the three invitational class runners in 13th overall.
Round four: Calado wins first race on Silverstone’s Arena circuit
Calado created motorsport history by claiming his maiden F3 win in the first-ever race held on the new Silverstone Arena circuit as he held off Webb in a close-fought contest.
Webb was as close as four-tenths of a second at some points of the race but, by the time the chequered flag fell, the gap had increased to one second.
Nakajima gained third on the opening lap and kept the place to the end, while Vergne had to settle for fourth and see his championship lead over Webb cut to 12 points.
Svendsen-Cook in tenth was the next highest-placed Brit with Sims 11th and Buller claiming the final championship point in 12th.
Calado said he had enjoyed racing on the new 3.67-mile track opened just two days previously: “It’s my new favourite circuit, and it’s a great honour to be the first Arena GP winner. It’s a fantastic result for me.
“We struggled a bit in testing yesterday but I put in two perfect laps in qualifying, which was really important for me; we got the car right and I got two poles out of it. I got a great start in the race, was able to keep the lead and to start edging away from Oli.”
In the National class an accident gave T-Sport’s James Cole a shot at his second class win of the season.
Round five: Sims makes the most of wet track for win
Sims came from 11th on the grid to win by an eight-second margin, beating Dias into second despite the Brazilian starting from pole.
The ART driver had struggled in qualifying and during round four, but was able to shine on the wet track to pass six cars on the opening lap and a further three on the second, attaching himself firmly to Dias’ tail.
He took the lead on lap five, driving around Dias at Copse only to make a slip a couple of corners later and hand the place back. But he was able to secure the place with another pass at Vale on the same lap and take the first victory this season for a Mercedes-powered car.
Sims thus became the fourth different driver to claim a win in five races as well as setting the fastest lap by a margin of nearly a second.
He said: “The conditions were perfect for us. It was a big ask to come here and get on the pace with everyone in just two 30-minute test sessions, but this morning it was a level playing field for everyone and I had the perfect opportunity to take advantage.
“Maybe the others were a little more apprehensive of the conditions or perhaps their cars were not set up quite as well as mine. I was able to drive with a big smile on my face.”
Because Sims entry was in the Invitation class Dias took the maximum 10 points from the race. Nakaijma was third overall, ART’s invitational driver Esteban Gutierrez fourth and Vergne took fifth after Calado span. He eventually finished ninth.
Idafar, recovering from a shunt the previous day that earned him a £1000 fine, claimed National class victory ahead of Cole and Luiz Razia.
Round six: Calado hangs on for determined second win
Calado led the race from pole to flag for his second win of the weekend and promotion to third overall in the championship standings.
Another strong start saw Calado build a lead while his pursuers – led by Webb – worked their way past Buller. A safety car period wiped his lead out but he was able to defend successfully against everything Webb threw at him.
He said: “It was a very, very tough race. Oli drove brilliantly. I just can’t seem to get away from this guy – he’s fast. I kept it together, tried to drive neatly to conserve the tyres, but I also had to fight Oli. We were side by side a few times. It was a fantastic race and I’m really, really pleased.”
The result meant Webb had finished runner-up four times in six races, putting him second in the championship. He said: “It’s not a bad start to my year. The car felt good, the long races seem to suit us. It was a good fight with James and I’m sure it was great for everyone to watch, but unfortunately I couldn’t quite find a way past.”
Felipe Nasr took third while fourth went to Sims, fighting his way up from 14th on the grid. Buzaid and Verge were next, with Cole winning the National Class race.
Of the other British drivers, Buller managed the best finish with an eighth place in race three after finishing 10th and 15th in the previous contests.
Daniel McKenzie was 13th, 10th and 12th, Alex Brundle 11th, 9th and 15th, Jay Bridger 14th, 12th and 18th, and Hywel Lloyd finished 17th, 14th and 11th.