New Zealand KartSport KZ2 champion Matthew Payne has narrowly missed out on a podium finish in the final round of the April Isolation Dallara F3 Esport series.
A final-lap final-corner collision between the top three runners in the event’s feature race pathed a way for Emirati-born British driver Ed Jones to steal a surprise victory, having not led no more than the length of the start/finish straight.
Contested on a virtual Road Atlanta course on the popular iRacing platform, a large entry list meant that three heat races would be used to determine the grid for the feature race.
In heat one, Indian talent Muhammad Ibrahim, British karter Joe Turney and title contender Sacha Fenestraz started and finished as the top three.
New Zealand Grand Prix winner Liam Lawson lined up third in his Red Bull-backed livery in the day’s second heat, behind fellow Red Bull junior drivers Dennis Hauger and Jak Crawford.
Crawford established an early lead but eventually slipped behind his more experienced stablemates on lap three of five.
Lawson struggled to match the pace of Hauger and was compelled to be defensive against Crawford and recent F2 signing Felipe Drugovich.
Drugovich would make his lunge on Lawson and Crawford as the trio entered the final chicane on the last lap. But a misjudgment under brakes meant the Brazilian tagged the kiwi, sending the two pirouetting in the middle of the track.
The crash allowed Nico Varrone to follow a fortunate Crawford home in second while Lawson dropped to seventh, though would qualify for the day’s feature race.
Payne impressed in the heat three, finishing the race fourth. Ramez Azzam would ultimately take the victory after a race-long dual with Richard Verschoor which came to an abrupt halt when a netcode error put the Dutchman into the barriers at speed.
NZ Formula Ford front runner Billy Frazer also contested in the heat, finishing in 14th.
The 14-lap feature race proved to be just as chaotic as the heats, with numerous lead changes and accidents marring the event.
Ibrahim started the feature race on pole, ahead of Hauger, Azzam, and Crawford.
On lap four of 12, Azzam and Ibrahim battled too hard through Turn 1 and Ibrahim spun down to 17th while Azzam wrestled on with a wounded car.
Subsequent leader Hauger then become entangled with Crawford as the field began their ninth tour, the pair crashing out spectacularly at turn nine.
Sacha Fenestraz inherited the lead with Azzam and Nicholas Varrone chasing in pursuit.
By this stage, Payne had worked himself into sixth and chasing after Drugovich, though had lost touch with the leading pack.
Having collected the white flag, the top-three became embroiled in a fierce tussle, trading positions on every corner, only to all come together in bizarre accident at the final chicane.
Ed Jones, who had been languishing down in fourth for most of the race slipped past the three and would clinch an unlikely victory.
Drugovich would finish second while Azzam would pip Payne to third, hobbling his damaged car across the line. Places second to fourth would be covered by 0.215s.
Lawson would finish the feature race in 29th after a lap one incident ruled him out of a strong result.