Round 1 of the 2023 GB3 Championship gave us three first-time winners: rookie Joseph Loake waltzed to victory in Race 1, James Hedley stormed from fourth to first in Race 2, and Daniel Mavlyutov made the most of his reverse-grid pole to take victory in Race 3. Following a rollercoaster week at Oulton Park, Feeder Series caught up with Race 2 winner James Hedley to get an insight into everything that went into that weekend.
By George Brabner
James Hedley was confirmed to be joining Arden VRD for the first round of the GB3 season, just three days prior to the weekend’s first session and one day prior to the beginning of scheduled testing.
At surface level, it looked as though he was simply given a late call-up to fill Arden VRD’s third car, but the situation couldn’t have been more different.
After testing with the British-American outfit during the winter and setting his sights on a seat with the team for his second full year in GB3, budget restrictions meant Hedley came close to not making the grid for Round 1.
“It was a rollercoaster of emotion,” Hedley told Feeder Series.
“I was quite depressed on, I think, Monday and Tuesday because it’s what I’ve always been wanting and I’ve always told myself and believed that I will be racing. It normally happens late, but not that late, and then it was like reality kicked in,” he explained.
“I was like, ‘Well hold on, it’s literally race week and you still don’t know if you’re racing’. It was absolutely amazing that we managed to do it. Full thank you to Gary [Horner] and Arden and my sponsors. It’s just incredible.”
Arriving at Oulton Park on the back foot
While the beginning of a new year usually provides ample opportunity for drivers up and down the grid to get settled in with their new machinery, the uncertainty surrounding Hedley’s GB3 return meant his track time was much more limited.
The entire GB3 grid hit the track on Thursday and Friday prior to Round 1, but missing official tests in March and a lack of private testing put Hedley at a disadvantage heading into qualifying.
“The session right before quali, we weren’t in a good window, and so expectations went down a bit because we had no time really to tweak the car and get any laps in,” he said. “Other teams have been there all week just pounding around and they didn’t really have to change anything.
“So I think we did well. I’m still disappointed with the P5 result [in qualifying] – I think we could have done a bit better than that,” he explained. “But as the team pointed out, it was good to bounce back from a difficult practice session before quali because normally, those are the ones that are crucial.”
Despite the setbacks, there was a lot riding on Hedley’s results, for he had only just secured the sponsorship to make it onto the grid.
“I knew I had to do well really. My sponsors and the team, especially the ones last minute, I always knew that they are only doing it for a reason, so I’ve got to prove my worth,” he explained. “This weekend [was] probably going to be the biggest weekend because that’s going to decide if we can get more money and be racing for the year. I definitely knew I had to perform.”
Rain on Monday opens the door for more
Hedley took fourth place in Saturday’s race after battling with Hitech Pulse-Eight’s Souta Arao throughout the opening portion of the contest.
He was a little off the pace compared to podium finishers Joseph Loake, Matthew Rees and Callum Voisin but kept Tymek Kucharczyk in his mirrors.
As Monday came around, so did the rain – something Hedley saw as an advantage.
“When it’s wet, it’s anyone’s game. There’s a lot more overtaking and the field is a lot more equal. A wet setup is not really too much of a thing, it’s more down to the driver than the car,” he said.
“Obviously, the car is important as well, just less important than in the dry, and the team gave me a good car and I was happy.”
Starting fourth, he passed Arao and Voisin off the line following carnage on the grid which saw the heavens suddenly open and teams rush to put their drivers on wet tyres as a result.
“I’ve always seen myself as a racer, and in the wet, you get to be more of a racer. Even though I love single-seaters, the Ginetta Junior days of proper hardcore racing, especially in my second year, that really taught me how to race,” Hedley explained.
“It’s a shame you don’t really get to do that that much in single-seaters, but that’s where it does open up more doors in the wet.”
Passing Loake to take his maiden victory
After overtaking both Arao and Voisin, only Race 1 victor Loake sat between Hedley and his first GB3 win.
With a clear pace advantage, he was able to slip past Loake on lap two after beginning his move at Hislops – five corners prior to where he secured the lead.
“I was just making sure I was getting good exits, keeping him under pressure. In the wet, you just need to be slightly off-line on the rubber – just a slight position is huge on traction,“ Hedley explained.
“To be fair to Loake, he did well to defend the first time, and then the second time, I knew [Lodge Corner] would be my overtaking point and just adapted from what didn’t work on the first lap to the second and started the move a bit earlier,” he said.
With the lead firmly in his hands, Hedley would go on to open a gap of almost two seconds, taking the chequered flag without pressure from behind.
“My motivation to get past was all of the spray as well. I knew I was faster than him to start with – I think that was obvious – but I wasn’t too fussed about getting past initially.
“But then I thought ‘Do you know what? This rain’s not that nice! I’d be even faster if I could see a bit more!’ I think that’s a good advantage to have in the wet.”
The emotion of winning amidst budget restrictions
Hedley’s convincing victory was his first since 2021 when he won for Fortec Motorsport in British F4 also at Oulton Park.
A tough debut season in GB3 one year ago paired with the struggles and uncertainty leading up to Round 1 made this victory even more emotional for Hedley.
“It was amazing. I am so happy. It’s been so long since I’ve won a race, you know. I almost always win a race at least no matter what I do, but 2022 was just not our year, for sure. From everything that happened in that year and also back at the end F4 as well, to get that win…
“It was emotional for a couple of seconds. A tear did leave my eye because I was just so happy! It was all I ever wanted last year, especially at the end of the year, just to get a win and to prove myself, and I finally got the chance to do that,” Hedley said.
The efforts behind the scenes to make Round 1 possible were also huge, particularly from his father, as well as the faith put in him by his sponsors.
“My dad works night and day. … He beats himself up for not having the money because all of the other dads that are there have the money and he doesn’t. He thinks I’m the best, so in his eyes, it’s unfair.
“I guess it is kind of unfair, but also there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s just ‘if you don’t have the money, find the money’. It is what it is,” Hedley explained. “I’m so lucky to have my sponsors and my dad.”
What will the rest of 2023 bring?
Only announced for one round of the GB3 season, Hedley is still looking for the sponsorship and budget to continue racing with Arden VRD for the rest of the year. But things are looking up.
“We’re still looking for more money for the season,” he said.
“Nothing is confirmed yet, but I think more likely than not we will be doing Silverstone. We’re kind of in the same position for the rest of the season as we were for the first race. But definitely, taking that result at Oulton was key to finding more sponsorship and getting the results to stay with the team.”
“Things are definitely positive for the rest of the season, but still no news. But, from what we’ve got, we’re going in the right direction.”
Header photo credit: GB3 Championship
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