The opening round of the F1000 UK series saw 130R Performance-supported driver Rob Welham open his campaign as reigning champion with a win and a second place in the day’s two races. The National layout of Silverstone hasn’t traditionally been a happy hunting ground for Rob in terms of overall race wins, so to begin the season with such a strong result gave a welcome early season boost regarding the aim of fighting for and retaining the title.
Rob goes into a fifth season of F1000 in a relaxed state but also with renewed enthusiasm, having achieved his long term racing goal of a first series championship win in 2022. With the title under his belt Rob now feels free to continue his and race engineer Darren’s philosophy of consistent performance which worked so well last year, and attempt to become one of the few drivers to defend an F1000 title win. Over the off-season we enjoyed working with Rob going back to basics and getting out testing in a Rotax kart to mitigate his winter downtime, which you can read about here.
The eagle-eyed will have noticed that Welham has switched from his usual race number of five to enjoy proudly running the number one this season, befitting his status as the defending champion. The Jedi race car wrapped in the distinctive matte blue and orange Rob Welham Racing livery certainly suited it well. We couldn’t put it better than the words of Max Verstappen, who when questioned on the significance of why some drivers switch numbers as champion famously said, “It’s the best number out there, and you don’t know when you might get to use it again… so why wouldn’t you?!”
The National circuit layout at Silverstone hasn’t always been a favourite venue of Rob’s, with a perception that the long straights and few corners leave less for the driver to influence over outright car performance than other more technical tracks such as Oulton or Cadwell Park. Despite this, he had a positive Friday test and was feeling optimistic heading into the race weekend.
A 15 minute qualifying session on Saturday saw Rob qualify in third place for race one, with the time gaps between the front runners being typically and encouragingly small around the fast 2.639 km circuit. Race one saw pole sitter Dan Gore stall on the start line, leading to a scary near miss where an unsighted Rob had to take to the edge of the circuit in avoiding action. After a red flag and restart, the fifteen minute race time was further shortened by a safety car interruption when another car stopped out on track, leaving little time to make progress. Despite this, Rob managed to apply pressure to the leading two drivers from his third position, tenaciously continuing to push right to the end to make a late pass and take a fine second place at the flag.
Race two later in the day featured a reverse grid format of the top ten finishers from race one, meaning that Rob started ninth and had a lot of work to do in the short sprint race. For someone who if asked will modestly say that he is ‘not so great at the start’ Rob made a phenomenal getaway to work his way through from ninth to second position after only the first half of the opening lap. He then made a further pass on the race leader into the Brooklands complex on lap two, and despite pressure from last year’s title rival Tom Gadd from behind, he maturely managed the gap to take an impressive race victory. Taking fastest lap in both races was further evidence of the fact that Silverstone National need no longer be on his ‘B-list’ of favourite circuits, and the weekend overall was the perfect way to open the 2023 championship campaign.
The F1000 series now heads to Brands Hatch Indy for their next round on the weekend of May 21/22, a track that Rob has always enjoyed and taken several wins at in previous seasons.
All photos by Jonathan Elsey Motorsport Photography