Teams and drivers from three continents hailed the new single chassis, single engine F3 Asian Championship Certified by FIA a resounding success as the opening round at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit saw Dragon HitechGP make a sensational debut in the region, Jake Hughes taking three wins from pole.
As the drivers clock up laps in the new Tatuus Autotecnica Motori F3 car, Race 3 saw the British-based Dragon HitechGP’s dominance challenged by local hero Akash Nandy, who not only gave his Absolute Racing team their first series podium finish, but also kept the experienced Hughes within reach for much of the 12-lap race. Hughes’ team mate Raoul Hyman had to work hard fend off a sustained challenge from quick Super License driver Tomoki Takahashi to claim the final podium place ahead of his Japanese rival. The battle produced some sensational racing, the pair fighting hard but fair all the way to the flag.
In the Masters Cup class, China’s Yin Hai Tao crossed the line first, but was later handed a 20 second penalty for overtaking under the Safety Car. That meant Takashi Hata of Super License took his third consecutive class win, strengthening his lead in the Masters points.
Hughes’ triple victories give him a 27 point lead at the top of the Drivers Classification over Hyman, with their team mate Charles Leong’s unlucky Race 3 putting him third (33 points), five points ahead of Nandy in fourth. Nandy’s Absolute Racing team mate Jaden Conwright lies joint fifth with fellow American Chase Owen of Chase Owen Racing.
“[Racing in my first Asian championship compared to Europe] still requires the same effort to win the race,” said Hughes. “I didn’t at any point this weekend back off; that was my limit. I was pushing the whole weekend and we got the results from it. For sure, Europe is very challenging so if you arrive anywhere else around the world you’re well prepared. That race was obviously a bit more close in terms of the gap. I was pushing a lot.”
All 17 cars got away cleanly as the lights went out, with Nandy tucking in behind Hughes. However, an early incident brought out the Safety Car on the opening lap after DRAGON clipped ZEN Motorsport’s Billy Zheng, tipping the pair into a spin. Zheng was able to recover to complete the race, but it was retirement for DRAGON.
As the Safety Car closed up the pack, an incident between Conwright and Dragon HitechGP’s Charles Leong, third on the grid, saw the Macau 16-year-old drop right down the field. Leong, second in the points at the start of the race after two podium finishes, eventually crossed the line 12th, while Conwright received a 20 second penalty for overtaking behind the Safety Car.
Racing resumed quickly and at the restart, Nandy stayed with Hughes to lead the pack away, but Hyman was looking to make a move on the Malaysian. Nandy, firmly firmly closed the door on the Briton, who then had his hands full for the remainder of the race with multiple challenges from a determined Takahashi.
Speaking of his race, Akash Nandy: “We’ve been working hard all week just to catch up to [Dragon HitechGP]. They’ve had really good pace and we’ve just been playing catch up. We managed to find a bit of pace today. My driving helped to close the gap a bit, and also Absolute Racing and I worked a lot last night to find some pace from the car.”
Behind the four, Chase Owen Racing’s James Yu was up to fifth from his ninth place grid position, a strong performance from the Chinese driver who kept Hyman and Takahashi up ahead well within reach. BlackArts Racing’s Louis Prette separated Yu from team mate Chase Owen.
Up at the front, Nandy continued to chase Hughes, but dirty air was taking its toll on his tires and, once he realized he wasn’t going to be able to get close enough to overhaul the Briton, he eased off on the final four or so laps.
Hughes was then able to sail to the flag, with Akash untroubled by challengers behind him. However, Hyman was forced to scrap with Takahashi every inch of the way, eventually taking a heard-earned third place. “I didn’t notice he was there! I’m joking.” Raoul Hyman said of his race. “Tomoki Takahashi did a great job. He had pace that was pretty obviously a bit better than mine because he could stay really close behind, within half a second or a second, for the entire race. He seemed to be able to just close the gap at will. Not ideal from my side. I usually like to look forward rather than behind. It was quite a pressured race.
“I said earlier that I’d been out of a car for about six to eight months now, so it’s always nice to come back and have a great dice like that just to show that you haven’t lost any of the race craft. Jake’s done a great job this weekend and there’s obviously a bit of a gap between us, so there’s a lot of work to do; investigation into my own driving and so on. Let’s try and come back stronger and challenge at the front and be consistent.”
Behind Takahashi, who set the fastest lap of the race, team mates Yu and Owen crossed the line in fifth and sixth, followed by Prette, BlackArts Racing team mate Presley Martono and SVC Asia’s Jeremy Wahome.
The battle for the inaugural Asian Championship Certified by FIA title resumes at the end of August, this time at China’s 4km Ningbo International Speedway from August 31 to September 2.