Bitter sweet Spa-Francorchamps debut for rising star Louis Sharp

Published on Thursday, June 6, 2024

Bitter sweet Spa-Francorchamps debut for rising star Louis Sharp

Rising star Louis Sharp once again underlined his phenomenal potential with an outstanding double podium finish on his debut at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium.


The young New Zealander, who has celebrated his 17th birthday since the last round at Silverstone, arrived at Spa having led this year’s coveted GB3 Championship since his stunning opening race victory at Oulton Park in England. However, Sharp knew he faced his biggest challenge yet competing against more experienced rivals on one of the world’s most testing tracks on which he never raced before. Moreover, with most of the key Free Practice sessions compromised by damp track conditions, the Kiwi entered the crucial qualifying session with very little running on a dry track.


As ever, the Rodin Motorsport starlet was unphased. Once again he displayed impressive maturity with his two fastest lap times securing third places on the grid for both of Saturday’s 20-minute races. His best times only beaten by second and third year GB3 drivers, Tymek Kucharczyk and John Bennett, who had raced at Spa on multiple previous occasions. “Overall it’s been a good day,” confirmed Louis. “It's my first time racing here so I didn't really know what to expect going into qualifying, and also it's been wet the last two days, so we've had a very limited amount of dry running. I think I maximised the most I could really do.”
 

Although the weather had briefly improved for qualifying, the rain returned ahead of the first of the weekend’s three races making for tricky driving conditions on a slippery surface. Sharp made a good start from the second row and briefly challenged for second before settling for his third podium of the season and a very decent haul of points. “It was a good drive,” he reported. “The top three were all pretty similar pace so at the end of the day it’s good points.”
 

Though conditions had dried out, the second race started in a similar vein, with Sharp securing third place off the starting grid and challenging for second. But two Safety Car interventions after midfield incidents resulted in the field finishing in neutralised positions. “We didn't get many racing laps which is a little bit unfortunate, but I can’t complain about a second podium on what’s my first visit to Spa,” said Sharp who had become the only driver on the GB3 grid to post top five finishes all seven of the season’s opening races.
 

With the top 12 qualifiers switched around for Sunday’s concluding reverse grid showdown, Louis lined up in a lowly 10th position. However, displaying incredible racecraft, Louis scythed through the field in the opening laps and was on target for an amazing third podium of the weekend – and to increase his series lead – when his stunning progress was halted by two Safety Car interruptions. As a result of the field being bunched up for the second restart, Sharp now found himself defending his hard-earned third place rather than challenging for second, as he had been before the Safety Car’s deployment. In the ensuing battle, his car was struck from behind by an overoptimistic Noah Ping, not only ending Louis’ race, but also that of his Rodin Motorsport teammate Ugo Ugochukwu.


 

That the American miscreant Ping was subsequently reprimanded by GB3 race officials was of little consolation. Instead of stretching his championship lead, with his first no points finish of the season, Sharp now finds himself demoted to third place in the standings as the teams head to two more F1 tracks in Hungary and Zandvoort. “I know I should be proud of my achievements as a rookie at Spa but, ultimately, I’m very frustrated as it could – and should – have been even better,” admitted Sharp. “Sunday was disappointing as the race was going really well and a win was definitely possible – I already moved up from tenth on the grid to third. I would definitely have had three podiums and have extended my points lead in the championship but for the unfortunate actions of others, firstly bringing out the Safety Cars and, secondly, completely taking me out from behind.
 

“Looking on the positive side, I loved racing at Spa and, after Saturday, we were on target for what should have been a really cool weekend. It goes without saying that I’ll be looking for better luck and to come back even stronger at the Hungaroring where we will all start on a level playing field as GB3 has never raced there before.”       

 

2024 GB3 Championship (after eight of 24 races)
1. Tymek Kucharczyk (POL) 183
2. Will Macintyre (GBR) 174
3. Louis Sharp (NZ) 170 points
4. Ugo Ugochukwu (USA) 155
5. John Bennett (GBR) 140
6. McKenzy Cresswell (GBR) 127


2024 GB3 Championship calendar*
30 March/1 April – Oulton Park, UK
27/28 April – Silverstone GP, UK••
1/2 June – Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
22/23 June – Hungaroring, Hungary
13/14 July – Zandvoort, Netherlands
27/28 July – Silverstone GP, UK
7/8 September – Donington Park GP, UK
28/29 September – Brands Hatch GP, UK

*Three races at all eight meetings
••Silverstone's third race postponed by weather

 

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