Shane Kelly maintained the pressure on his Sunoco 240 Challenge rivals thanks to a consistent F3 Cup outing at Snetterton last weekend, while Jessica Hawkins announced herself as another potential candidate for 2018’s Rolex 24 At Daytona support race seat after impressing on her Mini Challenge Cooper class debut at the same venue.
With none of Sunoco Whelen Challenge’s categories in action all eyes were on Norfolk where a strong performance would have helped Kelly pile pressure on the 240 competition’s early pace-setter, Bradley Smith.
The weekend began brightly enough for F3 Cup’s championship leader who sealed pole positions – and the 20 Sunoco Challenge points that go with each of them – for all three races. However, a fourth and two second place finishes, as well as a fastest race lap, actually reduced his average score to 112.5. While that remains a good total at this stage, it’s still 7.5 points fewer than Kelly began the weekend with and drops him one place to third behind British GT’s Jon Minshaw.
Such a solid weekend would have been good enough for most drivers but in this instance highlighted the Sunoco Challenge’s unique points structure that rewards speed and consistency across an entire season. Indeed, only an utterly dominant 2017 Radical Challenge campaign will allow early leader Smith to maintain his current 140-point average.
Smith and the rest of this year’s Sunoco 240 Challenge protagonists will certainly be keeping one eye on the progress of Jessica Hawkins who dominated the opening round of this season’s Mini Challenge Cooper category last weekend.
The 22-year-old former karting champion has made the switch from junior single-seaters to tin-tops this season and immediately demonstrated her potential by claiming pole position for all three races. Two victories and a third place in the same championship that propelled Max Bladon to the 2017 Sunoco 240 Challenge title helped Hawkins notch up an initial average score of 111.67, enough to occupy fifth overall right behind British GT4 champion Graham Johnson and just 7.5 points adrift of second-placed Minshaw.
Hawkins’ arrival sees Henderson Insurance Brokers LMP3 Cup championship leader Alasdair McCaig and British GT3 Am Rick Parfitt Jnr both drop back a place. Meanwhile, Johnny Mowlem and Reece Barr move up one place each without turning a wheel courtesy of Jacopo Sebastini’s solid but ultimately winless F3 Cup outing.
Mini Challenge Cooper’s Richard Newman is the only other new name to feature in the overall top-20. His average score of 75 leaves him 13th, albeit just nine points behind eighth-placed Mowlem.
He and McCaig both have a chance to make inroads into Smith’s lead when GT Cup and LMP3 Cup stage their second rounds of the season at Brands Hatch this weekend.
Upcoming Sunoco Challenge-eligible events:
May 20/21 Brands Hatch – GT Cup, LMP3 Cup
May 26-29 Snetterton – British GT, Mini Challenge JCW
Spa-Francorchamps – Radical Challenge, European SR8 and SR3
June 02/03 Silverstone – Mini Challenge Cooper, F3 Cup