Louis Sharp made it nine podium finishes in the 2023 ROKiT F4 British Championship certified by FIA on a weekend where the rapid young New Zealander once again showed his pace on track.
The Rodin Carlin racer made the visit to the Knockhill circuit on the back of a fine weekend at Croft two weeks earlier, where he had fought his way to two dominant race wins to close in on the championship lead.
As expected, a pre-event midweek test at the short, narrow and undulating Scottish circuit indicated what was to come. Sharp was one of six drivers covered by less than a tenth of a second after four busy sessions on track. Things would be equally close in Friday’s two official Free Practice sessions, with Louis leading the way in FP1 and ending the day just 0.019s off the top of the combined timesheets.
That left confidence high going into the race weekend proper, but the fickle Scottish weather would throw a curveball into the mix with the arrival of heavy rain showers at the circuit ahead of qualifying on Saturday morning.
With lap times around six seconds slower than in the dry, the Rodin-backed racer would spend a large part of the session sitting on provisional pole before ending the session in third, with his second quickest lap time ensuring he would line up on the front row of the grid for race one.
Although he would slip behind fast-starting team-mate Dion Gowda on the run to Turn 1 in Saturday’s opening race, Sharp wasted little time in getting back into second spot and would then spend the race putting pressure on title rival Will McIntyre before a multi-car crash at the hairpin just after the rain started to fall saw the action halted.
When the racing resumed in increasingly challenging conditions, Sharp put McIntyre under more pressure for the lead and would make a move for position at Clark’s only to run wide across the gravel – briefly moving ahead before dropping back into second spot just before another red flag was thrown due to a further incident on track and the final result declared.
Sunday morning’s reverse grid second race started with Sharp back in 16th place on the grid, and he was able to make up four places in the early laps before the safety car was called out to allow marshals to replace trackside tyres dislodged by an errant vehicle taking a trip off the circuit.
By the halfway stage, with McIntyre forced into the pits for repairs, Louis had moved into the top ten and seemed poised to close the points gap. Then, however, despite trying to stay out of trouble, he lost the front wing on his car when the trio battling ahead backed each up going into Turn 3, and the unfortunate Louis suddenly found one of his rivals chopping across the front of his car.
Forced to pit for a new nose section, he dropped back to 15th place, leaving him with a single point for the place gained.
From third on the grid for the final race, Sharp lost ground on the opening lap with a trip through the gravel on the exit of turn three, which dropped him down into ninth place, and with work to do to try and claw his way back up the order.
Getting his head down and focusing on the job at hand, he would set some of the fastest laps of the race as he battled his way back up to seventh place to secure more vital championship points ahead of the next event at Donington Park at the end of the month, which will see Sharp make his debut on the full Grand Prix layout.
“The weekend started with a tough qualifying session as all of our running in practice had been in the dry, and then suddenly we were faced with wet conditions,” he said. “It threw a bit of a curveball for everyone, but we showed solid pace and held pole for a while before ending up in P3 after a small mistake on my best lap.
“That still left us in a good position going into the races, and our pace was strong in the opener, particularly when the rain started to come down and we were running in wetter conditions on a slick tyre. I tried to make a move on Will for the lead but made a small error and ran wide, and then the red flag came out to end the race, so there was no opportunity to try and reel him in again and push for the win.
“Race two looked like being really promising for us, and again, we showed our pace to move up into the top ten. I was aware that Will had run into problems and had been forced to pit, so my focus was just on keeping it clean and not doing anything silly. However, someone then cut across my front wing, and there was no option but to bring the car in and fit a replacement, which meant we only picked up a single point.
“The final race was a tough way to finish what promised to be a promising weekend as the pace was there again, but I was out of position after the opening lap and couldn’t make the most of it. We remain a strong second in the points with seven races to go. My full focus is now on making the most of the two weekends left to run and maximising our results.”
With four races at Donington Park and then three on the Brands Hatch Grand Grand Prix circuit in early October, Sharp knows the title fight is heading for a thrilling finale.
He now sits 20 points behind McIntyre ahead of the August 26 round at Donington.
Words & Images: Supplied