Luke Browning scores podium on European debut
Rising star Luke Browning was able to celebrate a podium finish from his European racing debut after the new F4 Italian Championship powered by Abarth season kicked off at Paul Ricard.
The reigning British F4 champion was competing at the home of the French Grand Prix in his first meeting with the US Racing team, having agreed a deal that will see him compete in selected rounds of the Italian series alongside a full programme in ADAC F4.
As part of a bumper field of more than 35 cars, Luke showed solid pace in qualifying to secure sixth on the grid for the opening 30 minute race of the weekend, which would start behind the safety car after sprinkles of rain fell shortly before the scheduled start.
Luke would battle hard for position throughout the opening race, most notably during a frantic side-by-side fight with Victor Bernier, and was running in eighth spot when the action was neutralised in the closing minutes when one of his rivals suffered a spin and stalled on the circuit.
Race two on Sunday morning would see Luke lining up third on the grid and he as lucky to avoid fellow Brit Oliver Bearman when the lights went out and the polesitter failed to get away from the line.
Slotting into second behind team-mate Tim Tramnitz, Luke found himself under pressure from Sebastian Montoya – the son of F1 race winner Juan Pablo – through the early stages but then started to edge away from his rival when the Colombian-American came under pressure for third from race one winner Kirill Smal.
Luke’s hard work to edge away from Montoya was undone when the safety car was deployed and closed the field up, but a solid restart saw Luke retain his place before the race went back under caution again.
There would be less than five minutes on the clock when racing resumed, with Luke under huge pressure on the restart, with Smal having moved into third spot behind. However, Luke was able to fend off the challenge of the Russian through the closing laps to secure second spot behind Tramnitz in a one-two for the US Racing squad.
From fourth on the grid for the third and final race of the weekend, Luke got away well to move ahead of Bearman into third at turn one and then set about trying to take second from Montoya; sweeping ahead to take the place on lap three.
With Tramnitz having been able to break away from the squabble for second, Luke set about trying to reduce the gap to his team-mate and posted the fastest lap as he edged closer to the leader, whilst also building a gap over third place behind.
The safety car was deployed however with little more than ten minutes remaining and there were less than two minutes left on the clock by the time the race resumed, with Luke coming under pressure from countryman Bearman for position.
Bearman made a move round the outside at the end of the Mistral Straight on the penultimate lap, and slight contact between the pair was enough to unsettle Luke’s car and forced him to run wide. Dropping down the order as a result, Luke would end the weekend with a sixth place finish.
“Although the way it ended in race three was unfortunate, it’s been a really good weekend for my first time racing in Europe,” he said. “Considering that the circuit was new to me and given how competitive the grid is, it was really pleasing to secure a podium finish and I think I definitely had the pace to win this weekend if things had been a little bit different.
“On a personal level, I’m happy with three top eight finishes and some silverware from the weekend, and it was great for the team to have a 1-2 finish in the second race. I’m enjoying working with everyone at US Racing and now my focus turns to the opening round of the German series in a few weeks time, where hopefully I can pick up some strong results to start my championship campaign.”
Luke’s next outing will come at the Red Bull Ring – home of the Austrian Grand Prix – on the weekend of 11-13 June as his ADAC Formula 4 programme kicks off