· Victories in Races 7 and 8 see Ye close down Dutchman’s lead to 12 points
· Championship battle goes down to wire between Hitech GP ace and Chinese Absolute Racing talent
· B-Max Racing Team’s Tairoku Yamaguchi clinches Masters title at Sepang
Sepang, Malaysia (February 23, 2019) – Two brilliant victories in Races 7 and 8 of the Asian Winter Series by China’s Ye Yifei has closed his points deficit to championship-leader Rinus ‘Veekay’ van Kalmthout to just 12, with one, title-deciding race remaining. A coming together between the Dutchman and championship contender and team mate Alessandro Ghiretti in Race 7 put an end to the young Frenchman’s title aspirations, lining up a two-way battle to decide the Asian Winter Series’ first-ever champion between Veekay and Ye.
The two races saw standout performances from several drivers, foremost amongst them series newcomer Jack Doohan, son of five-time MotoGP champion Mick. The Red Bull Junior finished second in both races on his series debut. Third in Race 7 from seventh on the grid was Pinnacle Motorsport’s Victor Martins, the Frenchman denied a second podium in Race 8 by Veekay.
With guest drivers ineligible to score points in the final round of the series, held at the 5.543km Grade 1 Sepang International Circuit, Veekay picked up points for second despite being sixth over the line in Race 7, following up with a third place in Race 8 to stay 12 points clear of Ye. Ghiretti currently lies third ahead of Super License driver Tomoki Takahashi of Japan, Hitech GP’s Pavan Ravishankar, and local hero Akash Nandy. With his fifth Masters win of the season in Race 8, B-Max Racing Team’s Tairoku Yamaguchi clinched the class title with a race to spare.
The final round of the 2018/19 Asian Winter Series begins at 10:20 on Sunday, February 24. All races will be live streamed via www.f3asia.com and on the series Facebook page.
As the lights went out on the epic, 13-lap race there were plenty of upsets to the grid order.Ye got away well but Doohan was right on his tail off the grid after a similarly lightning start. Championship contender Veekay launched like a rocket from the third row, diving past Ghiretti and up to third. Absolute Racing’s Eshan Pieris, who had started alongside Ye on the front row, got caught up in the melee of the opening lap and dropped down to sixth behind Martins.
The opening lap saw the first of two safety car periods after a coming together between Masters driver Yamaguchi and Vivien Keszthelyi at Turn 6. Ye masterfully controlled the restart, immediately pulling clear of the chasing pack and setting a scorching lap time. Behind him, Doohan was three tenths clear of Veekay, with the Dutchman’s Hitech GP team mate Ghiretti never far behind in fourth.
By the end of lap 5, Ye had pulled an advantage of more than 2.5 seconds from the chasing pack, a gap he had increased to almost four seconds by the end of Lap 7. However, that lap saw the second safety car intervention after Pieris and Nandy came together at Turn 15, ending the race for both drivers. Once again, Ye’s advantage was wiped out and he had it all to do once again.
With less than 10 minutes remaining on the clock, the safety car pulled off and Ye made another flawless restart, breaking the slip stream for his rivals and setting off on the hunt for his third victory.
Behind Ye, having bided his time behind the Australian newcomer, Veekay attempted a move down the inside of Doohan but, seconds later, came together with Ghiretti at Turn 4. Side-by-side, the pair ran wide and made impact, but Veekay was able to rejoin to cross the line in sixth and collect 15 valuable championship points. Ghiretti was not so fortunate, and his race – and his championship aspirations – ended there.
That incident promoted Pinnacle Motorsport driver Martins to third in the order and a podium finish ahead of Takahashi and Lundgaard.
In the Masters classification, Yoshida took the win after Yamaguchi’s early retirement. B-Max Racing Team newcomer, female driver Miki Koyama finished tenth behind F3 Asian Championship Certified by FIA 2018 driver Leong.
With just two races remaining, the championship title battle was now between Veekay, whose points advantage had been reduced to just 19, and Ye. Ye had driven another flawless race, setting the fastest lap and securing pole position for the start of the penultimate showdown of the inaugural Asian Winter Series.
Another brilliant start from Ye saw him storm off in pursuit of his fourth win in eight races. Doohan, starting from third on the grid, made a move on Veekay off the start, snatching second. Other drivers on the move were Absolute Racing’s Pieris and Pinnacle Motorsport’s Nandy, climbing to fourth and fifth respectively.
Lap 4 brought drama for Keszthelyi when the Hungarian BlackArts Racing driver pulled into the pits which technical issues. The team had done a superb job to repair the damage sustained in Race 7 and get her out on track in time for the start of the second race of the day. Happily, BlackArts Racing were able to get her out on track again, and she was eventually able to rejoin and finish the race
As Ye pulled away at the front, there was action further down the tightly packed field. Leong made a successful move on Pavan Ravishankar, before Ghiretti found his way past Nandy to go sixth behind Ghiretti on Lap 7.
With a little over 10 minutes remaining on the clock, Ye was untouchable having pulled out a lead of almost 5.5 seconds, and advantage that was only to increase before the flag.
In the closing minutes of the race, Martins ploughed past Pieris to go fourth, but there wasn’t enough time on the close for him to challenge for a second podium.
After quick work from his B-Max Racing Team after damage sustained in Race 7, Yamaguchi took his fifth Masters win of the season to clinch the title. Team mate Motoyoshi Yoshida finished second in class.
Driver Quotes: Race 7
Ye Yifei (Absolute Racing)
Winner Race 7
“I was watching in my mirror, so after the second safety car restart,I saw that [Veekay] collided with his team mate. I think the race overall was very good. At the start I also had pressure from behind as I saw Doohan did a very good start. He came very close and I had block right off the line. After that, I realized immediately that my pace is better, so I just kept going easily without taking any risks and I managed to pull out a good gap. Then there was a safety car and I tried to push hard to create that gap again then, towards the end, there was another safety car and the collision happened between [Veekay and Ghiretti]. At the end I just took it easy. I already had a good lap time for the starting position in the second race.
I will just do everything I can to win the two races in the best condition and see what happens in the championship.”
Jack Doohan (Hitech GP)
2nd Race 7
“Yifei’s very fast, so I think everyone has a bit of work to do. I have some pretty quick team mates, so in there I think there’s going to be a few tenths if not more within us all, just putting our sectors together and trying to eliminate the lap like Yifei is. We’ll be working hard and trying to challenge Yifei in the final two races.
I’ve been trying to work on [fitness] over the summer in Australia. I’ve been back for the past month and a bit. In Australia, out in the sun, doing a bit of cardio, so when I’m here, it’s like a breeze.”
VictorMartins (Pinnacle Motorsport)
3rd Race 7
“Honestly, I didn’t expect to come here and get a podium for the first race. We came here to learn the car and to improve. We came here to work hard together and get some great feeling all together and come back to Europe to be fast as soon as possible. So, it’s a good point to be here and get for the first race a podium.”
Rinus Veekay (Hitech GP)
6th Race 7
“I had a really good start from P5 to P3, and then there were some restarts. The last restart I saw one chance to overtake Jack on the inside from T1 and outside T2, but I bottomed out on the exit so I had a bad run coming to T4. Then my team mate Alessandro Ghiretti came on the outside and then on the exit of T4 we collided. He didn’t finish the race. I got to continue with quite a lot of damage, but still finished. This was my first crash ever – in 88 races – so if there has to be a first one, better to make that the one!”
Motoyoshi Yoshida (B-Max Racing Team)
Masters winner Race 7
“Today was a survival race; there was so much happening in front of me! It’s the first time for me to race with the halo. It’s very nice. Today, the track conditions were quite different from qualifying, but I enjoyed the race.”
Driver Quotes: Race 8
Ye Yifei (Absolute Racing)
Winner Race 8
“[My strategy for the last race] is to do the best I can to secure another win and wish luck is on our side. We’ll try to keep doing what we’ve been doing and see tomorrow how things go.”
Jack Doohan (Hitech GP)
2nd Race 8
“Yifei is driving exceptionally well. I think we might have found a little bit, but still not enough. We’re going to have to push hard. The race was not too bad. I got another decent start, not as ‘jumpy’ as first one, but still good enough to get into P2. I waited for the tyres to come to me. I didn’t want to over-push it at the start as it’s a lot hotter. At about half race distance we started to separate that gap a little bit between me and Rinus, and then I got into a rhythm and was able to build on it, but unfortunately not catch Yifei. All in all, it’s good – some more experience, so I’m happy.”
Rinus Veekay (Hitech GP)
3rd Race 8
“Especially now, I’m racing with the championship in mind because it’s getting pretty close now and Yifei is really quick this weekend. I think from second place, I could maybe challenge from the start for the first place, but Jack took a little bit of a risk and I let him go as a team mate. I had the fact in my mind that invitation drivers this weekend don’t get points, I just stayed behind him. As a team and a as a driver I learned a lot and we can evaluate from now.
“There is a lot of pressure actually for the last race, but I’ve been under pressure the last two seasons in the United States, so I kind of keep cool. If I just keep doing what I’m doing, there won’t be any big issues. So, I’ll just do what I have to do.”
Tairoku Yamaguchi (B-Max Racing Team)
Masters Winner Race 8
“In the first race, I had contact with Vivien [Keszthelyi]. She spun in front of me so I couldn’t avoid her. It caused quite a lot of damage, and the car was repaired just in time for Race 8. So, thank you to the team. I pushed and did my best. Somehow it wasn’t perfect but I kept pushing and could win the race. I’m happy to be champion!”
Asian Winter Series
Results - Race 7
Fastest lap : Ye Yifei/Absolute Racing/2:01.151/Lap 5
Results - Race 8
Fastest Lap : Ye Yifei/Absolute Racing/2 :01.999/Lap 3
Asian Winter Series Driver Classification after Race 8
Masters Classification after Race 8
Team Classification after Race 8