MOTOR SPORT: Oliver Clarke had to dig deep to score a career-best Formula 4 United States Championship finish in Atlanta.
Returning for a second year in the ultra-competitive single-seater series with Velocity Racing Development, the 16-year-old West Norfolk racer scored a career-best finish of fifth place in the third and final encounter of the weekend – capping a memorable comeback.
After refining the car during both practice sessions around the 2.54 mile circuit, qualifying looked set to be a frenetic session.
However, Clarke and the rest of the grid were unable to take to the track to duke it out for pole position after heavy rain, strong winds and lightning caused flash floods and qualifying was cancelled.
It meant grid positions for the season-opener were based on the fastest times from practice – meaning Clarke lined up ninth.
Clarke enjoyed a strong start to the seven-lap encounter, however, his aspirations of the podium were dashed when an engine failure forced him to grind to a fiery halt.
With substantial damage to his rear-wheel-drive machine, his team worked overnight to ready the No.62 car for race two the following day.
Clarke repaid his team’s hard work with a scintillating performance.
Starting from the pit lane, the former karting ace underlined his overtaking prowess as he scythed his through the order, securing one jaw-dropping overtake after another.
Dispatching a handful of drivers on the opening tour, Clarke soared into the top 15.
Hounding the back of Ryan MacDermid and Wyatt Brichacek in the closing laps, the teenage sensation narrowly missed out on the top 10 at the chequered flag, having to settle for 12th place.
By virtue of the starting grid for race three being based on the fastest lap times from the previous race, Clarke lined up on the outside of the front row for the final encounter in second place.
Lacking rear tyre temperature, Clarke lost a handful of spots as the lights went out but was soon back on the tale of the leading pack. He was unable to find his way past those ahead of him but crossed the line in fifth place.
Clarke said: “We made lots of improvements throughout testing and lined up for race one feeling confident.
“Sadly an engine fire put paid to our chances of making an impact towards the front of the field.
“The team were brilliant and a lot of credit must go to them as they worked through the night to ensure we could get back on the grid.
“To go from the pit lane to 12th in that second race was fantastic and set us up for a strong final race.
“Wheel spin off the line and then being pushed wide early on scuppered our progress but we bounced back and brought the car home in fifth.
“I’m confident we will be firmly in the mix towards the front of the next round. We can take a lot of positives from the opening event.”
Clarke sits ninth in the Drivers’ Championship table ahead of the next event at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex on June 21-23.