Briton Jake Hughes gave Dragon HitechGP a double victory on the team’s Asian debut, winning Races 1 and 2 of the brand new F3 Asian Championship Certified by FIA at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit.
Hughes’ team mates, 16-year-old Charles Leong of Macau and Briton Raoul Hyman, ensured podium domination for the team as the series opened a new chapter in F3 competition with the impressive Tatuus Autotecnica F3 car.
Fourth in both 25-minute races on the 5.543km F1-standard track was American Jaden Conwright, racing alongside Malaysian team mate Akash Nandy at Absolute Racing. Race 1 saw heartbreak for Nandy when he retired on the final lap while running fourth.
Young team Chase Owen Racing also made their mark, with American team owner Owen finishing fifth in Race 1 and seventh in Race 2, while SVC Asia’s Jeremy Wahome took sixth in the second race of the day. BlackArts Racing’s Louis Prette and Pinnacle Motorsport’s Daniel Cao of China were two other drivers who showed enormous promise as the field took to the track in anger for the very first time.
In the Masters Cup, it was two wins for Super License driver Takashi Hata, followed across the line by ZEN Motorsport’s Yin Hai Tao of China and B-Max Racing principal and former Japanese F3 National Champion DRAGON in both races.
With two victories, Hughes leads the Drivers Classification on 50 points after two races, ahead of Leong and Hyman equal on 33 points in second. Behind the trio are Conwright (24 points), Owen (16 points), and Wahome (12 points). Hata tops the Masters Classification on 50 points, with Yin 14 points behind and DRAGON a further six adrift.
As the light went out on the first races of F3’s new era, Hughes got away well from pole but Leong was right on his tail, getting alongside his team mate. Hughes withstood the spirited attack from the 16-year-old, holding the advantage into the first two turns before shaking off his challenger.
“I’m very proud to have won the first F3 Asian Championship race,” Hughes said of his race. “For both myself and for the team. It’s the team’s first race in Asia, and my first in an Asian championship. One, two, three is really good. Charles [Leong] challenged me until turn 5, and then I was able to pull away.”
Akash Nandy, meanwhile, got a tremendous start, passing Hyman, getting in behind Hughes and taking a look at Leong. However, as the field thundered clear of the first series of turns, Hughes was out in the lead and pulling away chased by Leong, Nandy, and Hyman.
Another man on the move was Absolute Racing’s Jaden Conwright, eighth on the grid and up to fifth behind Hyman by the end of the opening lap. Further down the field, Pinnacle Motorsport’s Daniel Cao was making his mark, gaining three places and limbering up for what was to be an eventful race for the Chinese driver. Super License driver Tomoki Takahashi spun on the opening lap but controlled the car well to continue, while lightning reactions from the chasing pack saw the field skillfully avoid contact.
As Hughes continued to extend his advantage at the front, Hyman had Nandy firmly in his sights, getting by on lap three to restore the Dragon HitechGP podium lockout. Next Nandy had Absolute Racing team mate Conwright to contend with, the young American determined to make his mark.
Midfield, a cat fight was developing between BlackArts Racing’s Presley Martono, SVC Asia’ Jeremy Wahome, Takahashi and Cao. Takahashi, having made a robust recovery from his earlier spin, was eighth at the half way mark ahead of Wahome, Martono and Cao. The scrap between the Indonesian and Cao continued, producing some truly heart-stopping moments, the Chinese driver ultimately prevailing to cross the line ahead of Martono. Chase Owen Racing’s James Yu and M-Sport Asia’s Akash Gowda stayed right up with the battling duo, waiting in the wings. However, such was the caliber of skill on show that Cao and Martono raced fast and fair all the way to the flag.
The closing stages were not without drama. Takahashi continued his strong comeback, getting by BlackArts Racing’s Louis Prette in the dying moments to take sixth behind an impressive Chase Owen and Conwright. On the final lap of the race, having worked hard to hold on to fourth, a technical issue saw local hero Nandy retire on the last few meters to the chequered flag.
It was a triumphant Hughes who took the historic win, with a sizeable margin worthy of his experience, over team mate Leong, with Hyman completing the perfect podium finish for Dragon HitechGP. Conwright and Owen both proved they are a force to be reckoned with and will become an increasing threat as they gain experience.
Super License driver Takashi Hata took the win in the Masters Cup class ahead of ZEN Motorsport’s Yin Hai Tao of China and B-Max Racing Team principal DRAGON of Japan.
As well as drama, the opening race of the new championship was also notable for its low rate of attrition, just two cars failing to complete the full 13 laps. ZEN Motorsport’s Zheng Jianian, who received a five second penalty for a pit lane speed infringement, was a mid-race retirement along with Nandy’s last lap stoppage.
With the fastest laps set in Race 1 setting the grid for the second race of the weekend, Hughes was once again on pole alongside Leong, with Hyman and Takahashi on row two.
Having set a stratospheric bar in Race 1, Hughes was once again off like a rocket as the lights went out but again, young pretender Leong was right on the chase, tucking in being into turn 1. There was early drama when Takahashi remained stationery on the second row of the grid but, testament to the superb handling of the new F3 car as well as the talent throughout the field, all the following drivers managed to avoid the stranded Super License car.
Wahome was also on a charge off the start, dicing through the field from ninth on the grid up to sixth. However, all eyes were once again on the mid-field, where a battle royal was unfolding between Martono, Cao and Gowda, with the Chinese driver emerging from the fray in front after some tremendous wheel-to-wheel racing.
Meanwhile, as Hughes pulled away in the lead, Hyman was reeling in Leong, making a decisive move on the final lap to which Leong had no answer to deny his team made a second runner-up finish. It was late-race action in the Masters Cup too, when Hata made a thrilling move on Yin, class leader from the start, to steal victory.
While Takahashi had joined the race, albeit several laps down, his bad luck was not over, retiring several laps after hitting an unsuspecting lizard, the Japanese driver unable to avoid the reptile.
The final race of the opening round of the F3 Asian Championship Certified by FIA starts at 11:45 local time (GMT+8) on Sunday and will be live streamed on www.f3asia.com and the championship’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Live timing is at https://livetiming.getraceresults.com/sepang#screen-results. Hughes starts from pole, but this time Nandy has his best chance to make his mark for Malaysia by starting alongside the Briton. Hughes’ team mates Leong and Hyman make up the second row, ahead of Conwright and Takahashi.
Fastest Lap: Jakes Hughes/Dragon HitechGP/2:03.809/Lap 5
Fastest Lap: Jake Hughes/Dragon HitechGP/2:05.128/Lap 5
F3 Asian Championship 2018 Drivers Classification after Race 2
F3 Asian Championship 2018 Masters Classification after Race 2