W Series made a triumphant voyage to America to crown its 2021 champion, with Jamie Chadwick taking the title that went down to the wire.
Coming into the weekend Alice Powell led the championship level on points with Chadwick, but the reigning champion won both races to clinch the crown from her compatriot.
And another Brit also enjoyed success in the Lone Star State, as Abbi Pulling – initially a reserve in the championship – took pole position and a maiden W Series podium in just her third and fourth W Series rounds.
For Pulling, who didn’t even know if she’d race again in 2021 when her funding for British F4 ran out in September, the third-placed finish was an incredible end to a rollercoaster year and provides her with a springboard to a full-season challenge in 2022.
Aged 18, Pulling was the youngest driver lining up in Austin, but shared the podium of the final race with Chadwick and Emma Kimiläinen, the oldest driver on the grid who had a renaissance second-half of the season to finish third in the championship.
The post-race press-conference had a decidedly end-of-term feel, one of the drivers’ last commitments before they disperse into the off-season. But though they might’ve been counting down the minutes internally, that didn’t blunt the responses given to the virtually assembled media.
F1 Feeder Series was one of those in attendance, and this is the low-down on the talking points from Chadwick, Pulling and Kimiläinen.
Starting from pole in the final race, Chadwick knew she had her destiny in her own hands and duly delivered, leading lights-to-flag while Powell could only manage sixth.
“Today I knew it’d be about the start, obviously I had Abbie who was fast in qualifying alongside me, so I just had to make the most of being on pole position to get the best start possible and from there I could manage the race.
“So yeah I was really happy we did that and after the first lap I just enjoyed it, I just pushed every lap, enjoyed it as much as I could and fortunately the reward was there at the end.”
Lights out was as close as Pulling got to Chadwick all day as the 23-year old made a monster start and always held a gap to the chasing pack, but the second-place was more than enough to cap a dream weekend for Pulling:
“I’m so speechless, it’s been a whirlwind of a weekend, I don’t even know what to say. The highlight was starting on the front row, my first career pole – it was a bit daunting but I tried to soak up the pressure as much as possible and then in that final race, Emma behind me trying to put the pressure on but I think I kept quite composed and maintained my tyres quite well.
“Not as good as Jamie did of course, she had some pace that we couldn’t quite equalise but at the end of the day it’s been amazing.”
Meanwhile, Kimiläinen had to fight up from outside the top five but still recovered to take the final step of the podium.
“Yeah it was really good, I knew that I had to take the start and yeah that’s what I did. I’m usually pretty good with the starts and I knew that I needed to get past as fast as possible and that’s what I did, second lap or so.”
“And then I was just trying to keep the pressure on Abbi throughout the race, I struggled with the aerowash and I wasn’t able to push, I was just hanging in there for if she’d made any mistakes and I would’ve collected it but she drove amazingly and I’m really proud of her.”
As is the nature with these things, as one season ends then thoughts are already turning to the next. The drivers are at various stages of their plans – for Pulling the weekend’s races confirmed Pulling’s seventh-place finish and entry into next year’s championship.
“To finish that far up, it exceeded all of my expectations. I’d have been happy with a top-ten finish, to do only half a season and do what I’ve done, I didn’t expect it.
“And to get the opportunity to come back next year and having that guaranteed spot, it fills me with a lot of relief because we’ve struggled this year with funding in Formula 4 and had to back out so having that, knowing that you’ll be in next year, that’s nice.”
“With a full campaign next year, I think I’ll be breathing down the neck of some of the veterans, like if Emma comes back, watch out I’ll be trying to put the pressure on.”
Chadwick is yet to announce what’s next for her but did tell us some details about where she’s at looking ahead, as she now has 25 FIA super licence points which may provide more opportunities alongside her place in the Williams Driver Academy.
“I don’t know at the moment, of course the opportunity W Series gives us all but particularly for me now as a double-champion, I think it’s huge so I’m going to relish that, take it as much as I can and hopefully step forward into bigger things.”
Asked specifically about any opportunities with Williams, she said: “Not planned yet, but we’ll see. The main things coming up, I’ve got a few other little things that’ll be announced soon – you’re not the first person to ask that.
“And of course Extreme E in the UK which is going to be quite cool. So perhaps get some more off-road testing, get back in a rally car and prepare for that as well.”
Kimiläinen made her announcement during the media call, bullishly stating her aims for next season. Like Chadwick, she’s been part of both W Series to date and improved to third after placing fifth in the inaugural championship.
“Definitely it’s going to be really close when it comes to the title race, I’m definitely going to race it so I’m inviting everyone to beat me at the title race – Abbi and whoever wants to be there to compete, I’m more than happy.”
As the drivers looked ahead next year, there was also time for some reflection on the challenges of the season. With Chadwick being reigning champion, face of the series and under the Williams umbrella, it’s easy to forget the struggles even the most high-profile in the series.
In contrast, Pulling was facing a more existential crisis at times this season, making this result all the sweeter.
“The whole of the F4 season we were firing on all cylinders and I had some really bad luck, especially when it all came out that I couldn’t further my career in British F4 and I didn’t even know if I was going to be driving again this year.
“So for W Series to give me the opportunity in Zandvoort and then again in Austin, it means so much for me. To go from such a low to such a high yeah, it’s overwhelming and I’m so glad to end the year on this high as opposed to that low.”
Photo credit: W Series PR
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