Juan Manuel Correa went from zero to hero during a thrilling Melbourne Feature Race, with the Van Amersfoort Racing driver’s fortunes changing throughout the 33-lap, all the way to the chequered flag and beyond.
Contact early on with Trident’s Clément Novalak forced Correa to box for repairs and left him languishing way off at the back of the pack. Taking advantage of the first Safety Car, the Ecuadorian completed his mandatory stop early and whilst those around him floundered and made costly errors, he found himself promoted to the final points-paying position.
Reflecting on what was an inconceivable outcome at one point, Correa was pleased to see the unpredictable events of the race ultimately play into his favour and reward his team’s competitive pace this weekend.
“It’s one of the craziest races I’ve done in my life. On Lap 3, I had contact with Clem and so I lost my front wing, had a front left puncture, had to box early and that put us like a lap down. So, at that point, I thought the race was lost. Then I managed to gain half of the lap back under the Safety Car, but I still had a 30-second gap to the second to last guy.
“That was my race for about 15 laps, so I was just pushing hard to at least see what the pace we had was like. Then in the end, another Safety Car came through and somehow that was P11 - that was pretty crazy and unexpected. We made the medium tyres last 26 laps, so that was pretty good, and we still had decent pace at the end.
“The luck gods were generous with us on that one! Overall, a weekend where I think we’ve had really good pace in both races. Also, in Quali in the rain, we were competitive with both cars, we just got destroyed by the Red Flags and Yellow Flags. I think it’s been a messy weekend for the whole grid, we kept it clean except for today in the race, but it was a racing incident.
“I think we’ll take the positives. We did a step forward from Jeddah, we need to do another step forwards and just really focus now on starting more at the front because I think we have the pace to be there and fight for podiums. It’s about putting a whole weekend together.”
Both he and Richard Verschoor put on heroic fightbacks, with his teammate helping to secure a double points finish for the Dutch squad, going from P18 to P7.
Crediting his upturn in form to mix of both self-improvement and the car’s overall package, Correa says his confidence is continuing to build behind the wheel. Whilst having an experienced and knowledgeable pair of hands on the other side of the VAR garage has benefitted his initial understanding in the early phase of the season, the 23-year-old is setting out to find his own path to unlock performance.
“It’s a bit of both. I think I’m really starting to now understand much better how the car works and what I need specifically from the car for my driving style. It’s been a bit of a combination between obviously following Richard – he's the reference, he has a few years of experience in this Championship and he’s quick.”
He added: “But also, our driving styles are not always the same and we’re not suited to the same car, so I’m starting to get an idea of what I need to be more efficient and that’s getting better each race weekend. That’s very positive, but I think so far in every weekend we’ve shown really good potential at some stage, but we just haven’t put a whole weekend together.
"I think the process will continue like this with the team. We have a lot of work to keep on doing to extract the maximum amount out of each other, but it’s going in the right direction.”
Already turning his attention towards Round 4, Correa has set his focus on bettering his one-lap pace on Fridays as he prepares to face the Baku City Circuit. The Azerbaijani track has been a happy hunting ground for him in the past. After scoring his maiden podium there in 2019, the VAR racer is targeting a top 10 time in Qualifying to put him in contention for points on a more regular basis.
“We have been trending upwards and I hope to do another step and I think that step will put us consistently in the points because right now we’re bordering that area. I think as soon as we do a step up in Free Practice and Quali we’ll be in a much better position in the races.
“So far, we haven’t started any races higher than P12, which makes it difficult. You’re in the middle of it, so that’s when incidents happen. We just have to get ourselves into the top 10 in Qualifying and we will be good.”