Following his strong pre-season testing form, leaving the opening round of the BRDC British F3 Championship in equal ninth points position was not what 19-year-old Australian Thomas Randle could ever have expected.
Randle went into the weekend full of confidence after topping the testing times at the Snetterton circuit on Friday, before a mystery brake condition reared its head during official practice late on Saturday. The braking issue would continue throughout qualifying, with Randle unable to get anywhere near his times from the previous day, eventually lining up for the opening race of three in the seventh grid spot.
Eager to move towards the front during the first race, held in torrential rain, Randle passed three cars on the opening lap before inexplicably aquaplaning off the circuit at high speed. The excursion bent the steering and necessitated a visit to the pits to replace a bent nose wing, dropping him to last place one lap down.
Sunday's final two races were delayed by more than three hours after more wild weather, with both races shortened from their originally intended 12-lap distance. In the first encounter Randle charged through from the rear of the 21 car grid to come home in position nine despite limited green flag running due to a mid-race Safety Car period. The final event saw the Australian Formula Ford Champion lining up in seventh place, with the grid reflecting the driver's fastest race lap time set from the first two races. A solid, risk-free drive to fifth place at race-end ensured more valuable points were secured from what proved to be an extremely tough opening weekend.
"We couldn't have been better prepared going into the opening round but things started to go astray in the last practice session when a vibration in the steering developed and I started to lose valuable braking performance. These cars brake so late and to have this area of the car's performance marginalised meant I couldn't extract the speed needed to qualify any better.
"I really have no idea how I ended up sailing off the road in race one. I was on the same line as those in front of me and it just let go and speared me off the road. After that I just had to try and secure as many points as possible and while Sunday's pair of races were run on slick tyres and being so cold and damp it would have been easy to throw away even more points. I was happy with my race two drive to ninth and we set the third fastest lap time in the last race so we're not too far away."
"There are still 21 races to go and we will do some more testing to try and establish what has happened with the brakes, because they never felt quite right across the race weekend. I'm sure we will get on top of it and bounce back very strongly."
Round 2 of the BRDC British F3 Championship will take place on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit during the weekend of April 16-18.