- Dan Mason
John Bennett Showcases Speed In Spectacular Spa-Francorchamps Fightback
GB3 Championship rookie sensation John Bennett produced a spectacular fightback drive to fifth place as he travelled to Belgium for the latest three races of the season at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend (23/24 July).
Bennett made a detour from the UK circuits for the GB3 Championship's one and only overseas outing of the campaign, sitting in a creditable eighth place in the standings after an impressive start to his maiden year in single-seater racing.
The Elite Motorsport driver, backed by J5C Management Limited, StreetSharp Ltd and The Accounting Centre Ltd, put aside any questions over his experience once again in Friday testing at the picturesque 3.5-mile Formula 1 venue, climbing to the top of the times for a period of running to outline his potential.
The Motorsport UK Academy star hoped to transfer that pace into a promising grid position for the first two races of the weekend, with a short qualifying session this time taking place on the Friday afternoon ahead of two races the following day.
Sitting inside the top 10 initially, Bennett had planned a late final run to maximise both tyres and optimum track conditions, but his strategy was abruptly halted by a red flag for a stricken competitor, negating the final run and leaving him 12th on the grid for race one when a place in the top three looked on the cards.
With pace to burn, Bennett set his sights on recovering the lost ground in Saturday's two races. The first of those proved to be a frenetic one to say the least, as the Elite Motorsport youngster dramatically avoided a four-car accident directly ahead of him to climb into the top 10. Fighting with Marcos Flack and Callum Voisin in the final stages, the latter's late-braking sent him across the front of the innocent Bennett who lost his front wing in a three-abreast moment at Les Combes, sending him to the pits and an unrepresentative 17th.
From 10th on the grid in race two later that afternoon, the Thornton Ltd, Lonetree Limited and Lewco Holdings Limited-backed driver was quick to put the disappointment behind him and produced one of his drives of the season.
The Salisbury racer recovered from an early wide moment at Les Combes as he was squeezed out, but instantly fought back to the top 10 after overtakes on several cars including a good lunge for ninth place at La Source on Nico Christodoulou.
Bennett's charge continued with a move on Alex Connor at the Bus Stop chicane on lap three, a passing place he soon became familiar with after disposing of Javier Sagrera also on lap six. Seventh soon became sixth with a daring run around the outside at Les Combes to dispose of Matt Rees, completing a charge from 13th to sixth by the chequered flag.
He was later promoted to fifth after a post-race penalty was applied to a driver ahead, and his chances would not end there however, as Bennett returned the following morning for one final thrash around Spa-Francorchamps in the reverse grid contest, starting from 11th place.
Looking to better his best result of fourth so far this season, he found himself in the middle of the action in what proved a chaotic race, dropping to 17th after a spin at La Source attacking another car up the inside.
Due to an incorrect race restart procedure following a red flag in the race though, the results would later be amended back to the end of lap one. John was therefore promoted back to 11th, while the much shortened race distance meant half points were awarded across the grid.
John Bennett: "Overall, a very exciting weekend for me personally to get to race at Spa-Francorchamps. It's a fantastic circuit and a real honour to drive it flat-out in a car such as this.
"Our pace from the very start of the weekend was very good until the red flag in qualifying which was a big shame. We had good pace in testing finishing the final session in fifth, but we went out to qualifying late to try and get clear track and reduce tyre wear. Unfortunately, it meant when the red flag came out I only got two push laps, which was super frustrating as the time that got P2 was definitely achievable.
"That put us into recovery mode being in the middle of the pack for all three races, and I was unlucky in race one on the outside, going three-wide into Les Combes but Voisin braked too late and came across and took off my front wing.
"Race two was mega! I got pushed off into the gravel trap on one and fell back to 12th, but then pace was so good and we made loads of overtakes, coming back to fifth. I'd say it was my strongest race of the season, and lots of fun fighting throughout the race."
Bennett's Saturday heroics means he remains P8 in the championship standings and closes the gap to the drivers immediately ahead of him as he heads back to Silverstone for the next three GB3 rounds this coming weekend (30/31 July).
Image from Jakob Ebrey Photography.