After their Formula 4 South East Asia Championship (F4/SEA) – certified by FIA outing last August at Sepang, the young drivers were back faced with the challenge of a brand new circuit at the Clark International Speedway in the Philippines. Proceedings for the country’s first FIA-certified race event commenced with a compressed schedule on Saturday with the free practice and qualifying in the morning ahead of the two races later in the afternoon.
Claiming first ever front row start after storming to his maiden F4/SEA pole position, Indonesia’s Presley Martono (INA, Car #32) was poised for a strong outing in Race 1 later that afternoon. The honours would however go to India’s Akash Gowda (IND, Car #33) who claimed his maiden F4/SEA race victory in the mid-day Race 1. The Indian ace went one better in Race 2, claiming a hard-earned win to claim the double on the first day of proceedings.
Race 1 (10 laps)
With rain threatening the horizon just prior to the start of the first race of the weekend, the 10-lap race did begin in dry conditions with Martono and Gowda occupying the front row on the grid. Unfortunately, the race did not keep to its script with drama unfolding immediately after the start with the front two penalised for a start procedure infringement. With both Martono and Nalwalla serving their penalties, it was Gowda who inherited the lead of the race with Kahia in P2. The pair would hold on to their positions all the way to the chequered flag. It was the young Indian’s first race-win of the season following his podium finishes in Sepang last August.
Meanwhile, the battle for the final podium spot witnessed a two-way battle between Khalid Al-Wahaibi of Oman (OMN, Car #8) and Malaysia’s Chia Wing Hoong (MAS, Car #68), a duel that went down almost to the wire, with Al-Wahaibi holding on to the position to claim his maiden podium finish in the championship. Narrowly missing out on the podium was Malaysia’s Isyraf Danish (MAS, #19) who finished in fourth place.
Race 2 (13 laps)
With the start positions for the second race determined by the drivers’ fastest lap times in the first race, it was Race 1 winner Gowda who would claim the top spot on the starting grid for the Saturday afternoon race. Starting beside Gowda was Martono who was all fired up to make up after a disappointing first race. Lining up behind the pair were Kahia and Nalwalla, the latter also keen to make up ground after a challenging race. However, the dry conditions from the earlier race did not extend into the second race, as rain began to descend onto the 4.189km Clark International Speedway circuit just before the start of the 10-lap race.
Despite the challenging conditions, Martono made a brilliant start on the grippier side of the track to jump Gowda for the lead, pulling out a big gap to the field by the end of the opening lap. Behind him, a poor getaway at the lights saw Gowda drop down the order to P8. After adjusting to the conditions, the Indian ace was able to gain on his competitors, overtaking several drivers to move himself up into P3 by the mid-way point of the race. It did not take long before he began hunting Gabriel Cabrera (PHI, Car #51) down for second position by the closing laps of the race. With two laps remaining, a mistake by race leader Martono brought both Gowda and Cabrera into contention for a three-way thriller to the flag. A gutsy move by Gowda into the first corner saw him jump Martono for the lead, which he held on through to the finish en route to his second consecutive win of the weekend.
Home favourite Cabrera wrapped up a gutsy drive in third position, his first F4/SEA podium finish and making up after a disappointing Race 1. Malaysia’s Chia Wing Hoong (MAS, Car#68) finished just outside of the podium in P4 after successfully defending his position from Kiwi Kahia.
Akash Gowda- winner of Race 1 and 2: “That was a good Race 1 and I am so happy to finally claim my first race win in my first season in the F4/SEA championship. The start was a bit tricky but after the front-runners had a penalty, I inherited the lead but knew that I could not let my guard down with Faine (Kahia) behind me. But, I managed to maintain a gap to him throughout the race and claim the victory, which I am delighted about!”
“I am really delighted with the win in Race 2, which was definitely more interesting. I was a bit nervous going into the race, which did cost me at the start, as I dropped down to P8. After that, I settled my nerves and kept my head down. By lap 2, I was better able to adapt to the track and the conditions and caught up with everyone ahead of me. I managed to overtake Gabriel (Cabrera) and not long after that we were able to catch Presley (Martono). Presley made a small mistake and I managed to overtake him in to the first corner near to the end. After that, all I had to do was concentrate and keep my head down to get the job done.”