Charlie Eastwood concluded his Porsche Carrera Cup GB campaign in style with a first-ever win at the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit and third in the points standings. The Northern Irishman’s maiden triumph also came from his first series pole position in a lights-to-flag domination that will give his rivals pause for thought ahead of the 2017 campaign.
Having been confirmed as the rookie class champion a round early at Silverstone, Eastwood came into the weekend with no pressure on his shoulders and the carrot of outright second in the standings dangling in front of him if he could outscore Dino Zamparelli by 14 points.
The Porsche Scholar got off to the best possible start in pursuit of that goal during Saturday’s rain-affected qualifying session, skimming over the puddles quicker than everybody else to land himself on pole for the first race and third for race two.
“The whole track was fully wet, but there’s a lot more grip out on the Grand Prix track than on the Indy circuit, so you had to pretend that it’s two different tracks. Fortunately we were able to pop in a great lap at the end for our first pole of the year which put us in the best possible position to start”
Eastwood wasted no time on formalities and shot off the line into the lead at the start, before a Safety Car bunched the pack back together again. Although he was now in unfamiliar territory, the Northern Irishman showed no sign of nerves and controlled the race from the front, pulling enough of a gap over the chasing Dan Lloyd that he could focus his attentions on managing the tyres in the event of another Safety Car.
In the end, he needn’t have worried and crossed the line with a comfortable 1.3 second margin.
“It wasn’t so much that I was nervous, but there was a fair bit of pressure on it because you know you’ve got one chance to get the win, otherwise you’ll spend the whole of the winter thinking where you could have done a bit better. There were so many people there and everybody was pulling for me to win, but in the end it went perfectly. We got a great start and we were able to manage the gap, if he got close we could always pull a bit more. It was really controlled and an amazing feeling when I crossed the line.”
The emotional victory in front of the Porsche GB top brass reduced Eastwood’s deficit to just nine points going into the season finale, but any hopes of getting on terms with second-placed Zamparelli were dashed on lap two, when Jonas Gelzinis levered open the door at the fast Hawthorn Bend.
Despite setting a fastest lap just 0.068s off the outright quickest of the entire race, it took Eastwood until lap 15 before he returned serve at the same corner. However, he had run out of laps to catch Zamparelli and would have to settle for third, his tenth podium visit from 16 races
“We were really trying to pressure Dino as we could still get second in the championship, but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. As soon as I got Gelzinis back, we were able to chase down the leaders, but it was just a little too late, but we showed we had the pace again.”
Whilst it came just too late to have much of an impact on his position in the 2016 standings, Eastwood’s debut win has given him huge confidence lift for next year, where he hopes to fight for the title outright – regardless of whether reigning double champion Dan Cammish chooses to return.
“It’s a real monkey off my back, we were so close on so many occasions now we’ve got that first win, it stands us in a really good stead for next year. If Dan isn’t there then we should be very confident, but even if he does come back, he should push him from the start as we showed in the second half of the year. Now that we know that we can get the job done, hopefully we can hit the ground running at the start of next year.”