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.