Mega Megan wins reverse-grid race at Assen ‘Cathedral of Speed’

This morning at Assen, Netherlands, W Series experimented with a non-championship reverse-grid race. All 20 drivers lined up in reverse order of their positions in the current championship standings, 18-year-old Megan Gilkes (CAN) therefore assuming pole position and championship leader Jamie Chadwick (UK) lining up at the very back of the grid.

Megan, the youngest driver in W Series, scored a brilliant win after retaining her lead for the entirety of the race, despite coming under intense pressure in the closing stages. Getting off to a strong start, she immediately pulled away from the pack at Turn One, retaining her lead through two Safety Car restarts and an epic nose-to-tail battle with Alice Powell (UK) in the frantic final moments of the race, a battle she won by three-thousandths of a second, securing a well-deserved first podium finish of the W Series season in so doing. Alice, too, drove brilliantly, posting her second podium finish of the weekend after a spirited display of deft overtaking manoeuvres that propelled her all the way from 17th position at the start to second at the finish.

Third place went to Sabre Cook (USA), who forced her way to third place from eighth early on, and, despite relentless pressure from various drivers throughout the race, held onto to that position to take her first W Series podium finish, clocking the fastest lap of the race en route (1min 35.850sec).

Yesterday’s winner, Emma Kimilainen, came out fighting again, muscling her way from 15th to fourth, just ahead of Jess Hawkins (UK). Jess drove an aggressive but controlled race, pushing relentlessly forward from her P7 grid slot to second place, in Megan’s wheel-tracks, in the closing stages. But, in her determination to wrest the win from Megan on the final lap, she left the door open to Alice behind, and ended up fifth, albeit just seven-tenths behind the winner.

Championship rivals Jamie Chadwick (UK) and Beitske Visser (NLD) continued their rivalry for much of the race after starting alongside each other on the back row of the grid. Beitske pulled ahead of Jamie early on but it was Jamie who finally finished ahead, climbing her way from 20th to eighth. Beitske ultimately finished 14th, following midfield contact with Esmee Hawkey (UK), after which the flying Dutchwoman’s car began to handle imperfectly.

Shea Holbrook’s (USA) and Gosia Rdest’s (POL) races were both somewhat disappointing. Shea started the race from P3 but, under pressure from a line of cars behind, spun off into the gravel. Soon after, Gosia and a pumped-up and fast-closing Fabienne Wohlwend (LIE) touched wheels, a coming-together that fired Gosia into the gravel and sent Fabienne to the back of the field, a position from which she failed to improve.

All in all, despite its being a non-championship event with no points on offer, this morning’s race will live in the memory of all who saw it and will be a great confidence boost for the drivers who had not previously had a chance to shine in W Series but who will now look forward with renewed optimism to the season finale at Brands Hatch in three weeks’ time (Sunday August 11th).

Catherine Bond Muir, W Series CEO said:

“I defy anyone who is a fan of motor racing to have watched this morning’s reverse-grid W Series race and not to have loved every minute of it.

“It was an absolutely fantastic spectacle – for those lucky enough to have been here at Assen and for those watching the live stream at home. After half an hour of wheel-to-wheel racing all the way down the field, just three-thousandths of a second separated first from second, and just seven-tenths of a second covered the first five.

“We all know why Megan was on the pole – the grid was formed in reverse order of the current championship positions – but she kept her head while all about her were losing theirs, and she was the only driver on the front three rows of the grid not to slip back into the clutches of the quicker drivers coming through from the grid slots behind. As the youngest driver in W Series, at just 18, she deserves enormous credit for that, especially as she came under tremendous pressure from first Jess and then Alice in the final laps.”

Dave Ryan, W Series Racing Director said:

“I’ve watched a lot of motor races in my time, but that really was one of the most entertaining I’ve ever seen.

“It had everything – ultra-close running, wheel-to-wheel battling, brave overtaking, desperate defending, and an utterly delighted first-time winner.

“Megan did a truly superb job, making a perfect start from pole position, never losing her lead throughout the next 18 laps, and finally finishing half a metre ahead of a hard-charging Alice, who had carved her way from 17th at the lights to second at the flag.

“Third, having driven the fastest lap, was Sabre, while fourth was Emma, repeating the strong race pace we saw from her yesterday in storming from P15 to P5. And fifth, just seven-tenths behind the winner, was Jess, who had forced her way to second and had been all over Megan in the final laps until she herself was passed by Alice.

“But it was that kind of race – fast, furious and brilliantly exciting.

“Finally, I’d like to thank DTM for working so collaboratively with us to make an extra W Series race possible this weekend.”

Megan Gilkes (CAN), Race Winner said:

“I’m so happy. I couldn’t possibly imagine a better day.

“I made a very good start and led the pack cleanly into the first corner. Then I just put my head down and went for it.

“After the second Safety Car restart I knew I’d have to put up the biggest defence I’d ever done – and it really was. First, Jess put me under huge pressure – she was ducking left and right in my mirrors all the time – but then I saw that suddenly it was Alice behind me and I thought ‘Oh my goodness, could I have a more experienced driver pushing like crazy to get past me?’.

“But, again, I kept my head down and battled on. As we crossed the finish line, initially I didn’t think I’d won because it really couldn’t have been closer. I hear the gap was just 0.003sec – about half a metre. I’ll never forget today – I had an absolute blast out there – and of course I’m absolutely thrilled to have won.

“This win has boosted my confidence no end. After yesterday’s race I felt I hadn’t driven as well as I could have done, but after today’s race I’m now really looking forward to Brands Hatch.

“Last but not least, I’ve never tasted champagne before – I’m not legal in Canada [Megan is 18] but I’m in Holland so it’s OK. I only had a tiny sip, and it wasn’t what I’d expected, but when you win you have to taste it, don’t you?!”

Alice Powell (UK) said:

“I got a fantastic launch off the start-line. It was the best start I’ve ever done I think, but actually most of my starts have been OK this season.

“So I made up about half a dozen places by the time I’d got through Turn One, and after that I managed to pick them off one by one. Towards the end I’d worked my way up to Jess, who was busy trying to get past Megan for the lead, and I think that helped me slip past her. Then I attacked Megan just as hard as I could, and I so nearly got past her on the final drag to the finish line. I celebrated just in case I’d won but then I was told I was second. But that’s OK – I had great fun out there.

“We have plenty of data now and I’ll be looking at it all really closely going into Brands Hatch. Overall this weekend – both yesterday and today – has given me great confidence going into the final race of the W Series season.”

Sabre Cook (USA) said:

“I had a great start then, a few laps in, my engine shut off. But the problem seemed to resolve itself and I was then able to reduce the gap and get close to Sarah [Bovy] (BEL) after the Safety Car restart and defend Emma’s attack in the last few laps.

“I’m getting more confident with every race, particularly in high-speed corners. Finishing well at Brands Hatch is going to be important, but as long as I focus on doing a good job I’ll be happy.”

Full classification

Position  No.  DriverNationalityLaps Best Time
149Megan Gilkes Canadian181:36.211 
227Alice PowellBritish181:36.325
337Sabre Cook American181:35.850
47Emma Kimilainen Finnish181:36.532
521Jessica Hawkins British181:36.188
631Tasmin Pepper South African181:36.766 
799Naomi Schiff German181:36.797
855Jamie Chadwick British181:36.557
911Vicky Piria Italian181:36.257
1026Sarah MooreBritish181:36.732 
1158Sarah BovyBelgian181:36.168
1220Caitlin Wood Australian181:36.794
1319Marta Garcia Spanish181:36.783
1495Beitske VisserDutch181:36.857
1585Miki Koyama Japanese181:37.125
162Esmee HawkeyBritish181:36.673
1777Vivien Keszthelyi Hungarian181:36.956
185Fabienne Wohlwend Liechtenstein181:36.300
DNF3Gosia RdestPolish131:36.509 
DNF67Shea HolbrookAmerican81:37.053