Gustavo Menezes put on a spectacular show for the appreciative home crowd in last weekend’s 1,000 Miles of Sebring – round six of the fiercely-disputed 2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) – but mechanical woes ultimately denied the talented young American a popular podium result.
Jaden Conwright is remaining level-headed as he prepares to make his debut in the inaugural F3 Asian Championship certified by FIA at Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia this weekend (13-15 July), after lapping an encouraging second-quickest in the official pre-season test.
The first driver to commit to the all-new series back in May, the American teenager will compete for Absolute Racing behind the wheel of a high-performance, 270bhp single-seater, with a grid of 17 drivers representing ten different teams confirmed for the fast-approaching curtain-raiser. Conwright – a former World Speed Motorsports Rising Star Award recipient, rookie class podium-finisher in the fiercely-disputed Italian F4 Championship and Carlin Academy member – tested for Absolute Racing in Shanghai last winter, impressing the multiple race-winning outfit with both his strong work ethic and pace.
The 19-year-old carried that eye-catching form over to this week’s group test at Sepang, lapping inside the top four more often than not and placing an excellent second in the final session – arguably the most representative given that all competitors were on new tyres at the same time. The only driver to go quicker was Jake Hughes – a man with race-winning credentials in both the GP3 Series and FIA Formula 3 European Championship – leaving Conwright feeling quietly confident ahead of the opening round.
“It was good to finally be back at a race circuit as a driver, and now I can’t wait to return to the cockpit for the weekend,” the Californian enthused. “I’ve always followed Asian motorsport closely, and I’m really happy about what the FIA has managed to pull together in just a few months. The car looks amazing and the championship itself is going to be very competitive. The overall level of the teams is very high and most of the drivers have a lot of experience, with some of them arriving from really prestigious series.”
“That is a great source of motivation for me and for Absolute Racing. We share a common goal – since my first test with them, I had no doubt this was the best team for me at this stage in my career. They are ultra-professional and extremely structured and efficient, and we felt a great chemistry and synergy straightaway.
It’s still too early to fully assess where we are at the moment, but the team have been working like crazy to put the cars together so I’m pleased we didn’t encounter any issues during the test and now the guys can rest a little before the weekend. I literally cannot thank them all enough for the support they have given us. We spent the two days learning the car and seeing how it behaves in different weather conditions. There were some ups-and-downs, but at the end we managed to produce some good performances, which is obviously positive. It was cool to see my name in second position between drivers like Jake Hughes and Raoul Hyman, but this is only testing and we need to keep our feet on the ground.
I will enter the first race weekend aiming for a strong result, but not expecting it. The championship will be very strong and very close, so remaining focussed and continually looking for ways to improve will be the best approach. There are a lot of uncertainties with a brand new series and a new car, but the objective has to be to hit the ground running from day one.”
The 2018 F3 Asian Championship will take in 15 races spread across five rounds – to be held at Sepang as well as China’s Ningbo International Speedway and Shanghai International Circuit between now and the end of November.
The region’s first F3 series to be officially sanctioned by world motorsport’s governing body will form part of the FIA’s new open-wheel ladder of progression, with the top eight drivers in the final standings all earning points towards qualification for a Formula 1 superlicence. In evidence of its stature, competitors will accrue the same number of superlicence points as their counterparts in the likes of the DTM, Super GT and World Touring Car Cup.
Having nurtured Conwright through the formative stages of his career in America and Europe, Williams-Harfield Sports Group Director Chris Harfield is convinced that his highly-rated young protégé has what it takes to make a real name for himself in the burgeoning new series.
“We were already considering a programme in Asia for Jaden in 2018, and when we heard about the inaugural F3 Asian Championship, we had no doubts this was the path to take,” he explained. “The new engine and chassis package is a big step forward for the series, and championship organiser Top Speed has demonstrated a solid understanding of the motorsport industry.
The FIA has pushed a lot with this project and we believe we will see more and more drivers and teams racing in this part of the world. The Asian market is currently booming and we haven’t yet seen its full potential.
Since we started working with Jaden, he has grown and developed both on and off the track and we cannot wait for this exciting new adventure to begin. During the last two years, Jaden focussed on the consistency of his performances, while always aiming higher. Collaborating with top-flight teams and organisations has given him the opportunity to compare himself against some of the best junior drivers in the world and he is ready for this next chapter.”
“A new championship always brings with it new challenges, but we are confident that both Jaden and Absolute Racing have the hunger and determination to make this season a success.”