- Race 1 podium [Copyright: Anand Philar]

Friday:

Bent Viscaal of the Netherlands pulled off a fine win in Race-1 of the FIA-approved MRF Challenge at the Bahrain International Circuit here today, pushing pole-sitter German David Schumacher to second spot with Denmark’s Valdemar Eriksen completing the podium.

The originally scheduled 10-lap race was reduced to nine laps of which five were run behind the Safety Car following a crash at the start involving Indian-American Yuven Sundaramoorthy whose stalled car and was hit from behind by India’s Chetan Korada. Both were forced to retire from the race.

The lengthy Safety Car period effectively reduced the race to a hectic sprint. Viscaal, having moved from second to first with a great start, held position and also posted the fastest lap of the race which earned him a further two points, while Schumacher overcame a poor start to finish second.

Eriksen started sixth on the grid, but made four spots to move to second in the very first lap before being passed by Schumacher. Behind the trio, there was a hectic scramble for positions as Australian Dylan Young moved from eighth to eventual fourth ahead of Britain’s Joshua Mason, Japanese-American Reece Ushijima, who had qualified third, championship leader Michelangelo Amendola from Belgium, Denmark’s Largim Ali and Jordanian Manaf Hijjawi, in that order.

“I made a good start to get to P1, but about four laps behind the Safety Car meant I didn’t get enough of racing which was a shame. I think we have taken a big step forward with the car and I thank my race engineer and the team,” said the 20-year old Viscaal.

Schumacher, 18, was disappointed with his start and said: “I didn’t get used to the clutch which is very hard. So, I nearly stalled the car when the lights went out. The race was also not quick enough. Let’s see what we can do in the next race.”

In contrast, Eriksen, only 16, was happy with his podium finish. “I had a great start, moving from P6 to P2, but on re-start after the Safety Car period, I was passed by David. Thereafter, I just cruised home. Hopefully, I will do better in the future,” he said.

Earlier, the 30-minute qualifying session in overcast conditions with wet patches in some of the corners following overnight rains, witnessed a straight shootout between Schumacher (01:59.765) and Viscaal (01:59.918), both of whom ducked under the two-minute barrier, thus bettering last year’s pole position timing of 02:00.248 set by Max Defourny.

At one stage, Viscaal looked set for pole position with about seven minutes left on the clock, but Schumacher, who was quickest in last night’s Free Practice-2, came up with a hot lap, about four minutes from close of the session to upstage the Dutch youngster.

One of the surprises of the session was Ushijima (02:00.815) who moved up the grid to third spot with a late flier while Hijjawi (02:00.905) came in fourth to complete the second row. Sundaramoorthy (02:01.000) did well to finish fifth ahead of Eriksen (02:01.034), and the pair was followed by Mason (02:01.174), Young (02:01.243), Amendola (02:01.264), Ali (02:01.608) and Korada (02:03.218).

Saturday:

Dylan Young of Australia showcased his vast experience to chalk up a fluent win in the final race of the second round of MRF Challenge, a support-event for the FIA World Endurance Championship, at the Bahrain International Circuit.

The 30-year old Young, a regular in the MRF Challenge, while scoring his second win in the championship following his success in the first round at Dubai last month, ended the Bent Viscaal-David Schumacher domination.

Viscaal, from the Netherlands, had won the first and third races while Germany’s Schumacher, son of former F1 driver Ralf, had taken the honours in Race-2 under lights late last night. The results notwithstanding, championship leader Michelangelo Amendola of Belgium, who had won three of the five races in Dubai, maintained his top position on the leaderboard despite a poor run here in Bahrain when he finished no higher than sixth.

He took his tally to 143 points, followed by Young (127) and Joshua Mason (Britain, 115). The title will be decided in Chennai which will host the final round at the MMRT on February 14-16 next year with a six-race card. The last race of the round saw Viscaal and pole-sitter Amendola colliding. Viscaal was forced into retirement while Amendola limped home in seventh.

Up ahead, Young shot off the blocks as the lights went out to pass Amendola and kept his position for a victory. Behind him, battles raged up and down the field with positions being swapped on almost every lap. Eventually, Schumacher, who had started fifth on the reverse grid, came in third behind Jordan’s Manaf Hijjawi who gained two spots to finish behind Young.

Earlier, it was a comfortable win, his second in three outings, for Viscaal in Race-3 as he slipped past pole-sitter Schumacher immediately after the start and then put in two back-to-back fastest laps to effectively seal his win. He then clocked the fastest lap of the race in Lap-5 to further extend his lead over Schumacher who had to be content with a second place finish.

Behind the duo, 16-year old Indian-American Yuven Sundaramoorthy made good progress from P5 to P3 while Young who shot up from eighth to fourth eventually finished fifth behind Hijjawi who is in his first single-seater season.

“I had a pretty good start today and moved to P3, but couldn’t get past David (Schumacher). Overall, I am quite happy with my second podium of the championship. It’s been a good learning experience, especially racing with experienced F3 drivers. Everyone has been improving and so, the grid is getting more competitive,” said Sundaramoorthy who has his roots in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.

Late last night, in Race-2 that was run under lights and on reverse grid, Schumacher came out on top after having started fifth, in a hectic, nerve-wracking three-car finish as he took the chequered flag just ahead of Viscaal and Young.

The trio went wheel-to-wheel to set up a thrilling finish with leader Young dropping two places in the last lap as first Viscaal and then Schumacher passing him. The two front-row starters, pole-sitter Reece Ushijima and Joshua Mason, eventually finished fifth and fourth, respectively, unable to match the pace of the top three.

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[Image courtesy: Anand Philar]

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