Hitech GP driver Rinus ‘Veekay’ van Kalmthout clinched the inaugural Asian Winter Series title in a dramatic season finale at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit.
“I expected to learn a lot in this winter championship which I did,” said a jubilant RInus Veekay. “I made a few mistakes, which you have to make to learn from them, so I’m happy that I could really learn in this learning season, and also win the championship as a bonus. It was super nice to be able to drive in this championship. I had a good team, Hitech GP, and they did their utmost to make me win. That worked out and I’m just super happy and I think I will be a better driver coming to the United States [Indy Lights) next month.”
The ninth and final race of the three round series was won by Sri Lankan Absolute Racing driver Eshan Pieris who deftly stayed out of trouble to lead home Pinnacle Motorsport Frenchman Victor Martins, taking his second podium of the weekend, and Veekay.
“I had a pretty good start and I managed to gain two positions at the start itself,” said Eshan. “Then, somehow, I managed to gain one more into Turn 2 and was running P2 for a bit. Yifei was of course quicker than me, so he managed to get me after a couple of laps. After that, I did my thing – hit my markers, my braking points and everything and focused on my own race. Once the collision happened, it was emergency mode straight away because I couldn’t see the cars and I think I almost had contact with Doohan. I avoided the incident and was leading the race, and just kept calm. It feels really good to win.”
Eighteen-year-old Pro Mazda Champion Veekay kept his cool to win the title by 29 points from closest challenger, Absolute Racing’s Ye Yifei of China. Ye’s championship aspirations ended after a challenge on race leader Jack Doohan ended with both drivers crashing out of the race.
In the final Asian Winter Series points standings, Veekay, who now embarks upon his first season in Indy Lights, topped the leaderboard with Ye in second. Third was Veekay’s team mate Ghiretti, who had remained in championship contention right up to the final round. Fourth was talented Japanese driver Tomoki Takahashi of Super License ahead of Hitech GP driver Pavan Ravishankar and Pieris.
B-Max Racing Team’s Tairoku Yamaguchi had already clinched the Masters title with one race in hand, while team mate Motoyoshi Yoshida, who joined the series from the second round onwards, finished second ahead of team principal DRAGON.
Hitech GP took the Asian Winter Series Teams championship from Absolute Racing, with Pinnacle Motorsport third ahead of Japan’s Super License.
With everything to play for, Veekay lined up for the final race of the Asian Winter Series knowing that if Ye continued his extraordinary run of three consecutive victories, he had to finish third or above in the points to secure the title.
Despite starting from pole, Ye lost his advantage almost immediately to a hard-charging Doohan who catapulted off the grid and dived into the lead. Behind them, Veekay also made a good getaway and managed to pull alongside his championship rival before the Chinese driver dived deep into the corner. Ye dropped to third after the fracas, while Veekay fell back down to seventh. Pieris, meanwhile, deftly avoided the battling pair to climb up to second behind Doohan, who was already pulling away from the chasing pack.
Ye recovered quickly, diving past Pieris to claim second and setting his sights on Doohan up ahead. He reeled in his prey, and the white-knuckle, cat and mouse battle for victory in the final race of the Asian Winter Series commenced.
Further down the order, Veekay set about getting back into championship contention, first passing non-points scoring guest driver, Pinnacle Motorsport’s Christian Lundgaard, and then – more crucially – Ghiretti. Veekay had only to hold his position in fifth overall and third in the points to win the title.
Ye and Doohan were still locked in a fierce battle for the race win, with the Chinese driver now aware that Veekay was back in position to lift the crown. Two abreast, Ye finally inched ahead of the Australian, but Doohan was not ready to concede. Side-by-side into Turn 4, the pair made contact and, in a heart-stopping second, it was all over for both drivers. For Doohan, it was disappointment but, after two superb second place finishes on his series debut, the 16-year-old had done more than enough to show his scorching talent. Ye, meanwhile, had pushed to the max and demonstrated once again his steely racing instincts and will to win.
With just five minutes remaining, Pieris led the field towards the chequered flag for the final time, crossing the line more than two seconds clear of Martins with the series’ first champion taking the final podium spot. Behind Veekay, Ghiretti crossed the line ahead of team mate Ravishankar, Takahashi and local hero Nandy.
Motoyoshi Yoshida took the Masters win for B-Max Racing Team after team mate and newly-crowned class champion Yamaguchi retired mid-race.
It was a sensational conclusion to what has been a fascinating debut Asian Winter Series, one where the cream of European and Asian junior single seater talent has gone head-to-head at two FIA Grade 1 race tracks across nine superb races.
Asian Winter Series
Results – Race 9
Fastest lap : Ye Yifei/Absolute Racing/2:02.037/Lap 5
Asian Winter Series Final Driver Classification
Asian Winter Series Final Team Classification