• Dramatic final lap clash sees race leader Ukyo Sasahara retire
• Australian’s second win cuts points deficit from Joey Alders to 11
• Series newcomer Sebastian Fernandez storms to podium from P9 start
The F3 Asian Championship Certified by FIA made a spectacular Middle East debut today at the Dubai Autodrome, with Pinnacle Motorsport’s Jack Doohan winning a heart-stopping Race 4 which produced 16-laps of intense combat from lights out to chequered flag. Second was BlackArts Racing’s Joey Alders, who maintains his championship lead, with a thunderous late-race charge from series newcomer Sebastian Fernandez seeing the Spanish-Venezuelan take a podium on his debut.
There was action aplenty throughout the race, however it reached a dramatic crescendo on the final lap when Hitech Grand Prix’s Ukyo Sasahara and race winner Doohan clashed, the contact resulting in retirement for the reigning champion having led every lap from pole up to that point. The heated high-speed exchange saw Doohan handed a five-second penalty, although his margin of victory was so great he still retained the win, and Sasahara receive a three-place grid penalty for Race 5.
After four of 15 races, Alders remains at the top of the leaderboard, he and Doohan with two wins apiece but with the Dutchman 11 points ahead. Third is Hitech Grand Prix’s Nikita Mazepin ahead of Absolute Racing’s Devlin DeFrancesco.
Ukyo Sasahara made a clean getaway as the lights went out but Jack Doohan thundered past Nikita Mazepin in from P3, and immediately began challenging Sasahara for the lead as the field plunged into Turn 1. Sasahara held firm as the chasing pack jostled for position. Early gainers were Jake Hughes, quickly up to fifth, and Devlin DeFrancesco, while Jamie Chadwick made up two places from her P10 grid position.
With five minutes gone, Hughes had closed up to Joey Alders, the Dutchman locking up and losing valuable time. But all eyes were on Sasahara and Doohan as the 16-year-old Australian closed the gap to a little over half a second.
Series newcomer Sebastian Fernandez had closed up to Chadwick, the pair wheel-to-wheel into Turn 1. The Spanish-Venezuelan got up over the kerbs to barge past, but almost immediately handed back the position. After a cat and mouse chase led by Chadwick chased by Fernandez, Yu Kuai, Yu Kanamaru and Australian Tommy Smith, Fernandez had another try, this time taking the position cleanly.
At mid-race distance, Sasahara had kept Doohan far enough away to be out of immediate danger – for now. Meanwhile, Mazepin held on to podium contention from Alders, but the Dutchman had closed the gap to less than four tenths as the drama intensified.
The final laps, as day turned to night and with the ever-present threat of rain, saw some of the most intense competition in the championship’s history.
Alders got by Mazepin to seize third and, as the other drivers’ lap times fell, Fernandez began his epic charge, soaring past Fittipaldi, DeFrancesco and Hughes before expertly manoeuvring past Mazepin and up to 4th.
At the front, meanwhile, Doohan was now within striking distance of Sasahara, an uncharacteristic error by the Japanese driver losing him crucial time. The final lap saw a gripping battle, with Doohan frantically seeking a way past, the pair side by side and banging wheels, before dramatically making decisive contact just a few corners from the flag. The incident ended the race for Sasahara, having led every lap of the race until that point, as Doohan raced on to take the chequered flag.
Alders took a well-deserved second place finish ahead of Fernandez taking a podium finish on his championship debut after an astonishing run from ninth on the grid. Mazepin took fourth ahead of DeFrancesco, Chadwick, Fittipaldi and Smith in eighth. Alder’s team mate Yu Kanamaru crossed the line in ninth ahead of MP Motorsport’s guest driver Amaury Cordeel tenth. Yu Kuai was forced to make a late-race pit stop, but re-joined to finish 15th.
Paul Wong took his second Masters win in four races, while there was heartbreak for his rival, Thomas Luedi of BlackArts Racing, who retired with 13 laps in the book.
With the fastest laps setting the grid for Race 5, Hughes, who finished a distant 12th in Race 4 after tire wear dropped him down the order in the closing stages, will start from pole. Alongside will be Hitech Grand Prix team mate Mazepin, with Alders and Doohan looming large on the second row. The race gets underway Friday at 09:45 local time (GMT+4), with Race 6 following at 13:20.
Jack Doohan (Pinnacle Motorsport) – winner Race 4
“I got a good start, but obviously not good enough to take the lead. The pace was still pretty decent but I didn’t have the pace the Hitech cars had. From there, their pace started to drop away and I was able to put some more pressure on Ukyo. I made a little mistake with six laps to go which pushed me a bit wide and lost me some time, but I was able to catch back up and had a bit of a fight in the last few laps.”
Joey Alders (BlackArts Racing) – 2nd Race 4
“The race was good. The start was good. It got a bit darker outside and I’ve got a dark visor and it was difficult to see the apexes, so I lost a bit of time at the end. In the end it was all good for the points.”
Sebastian Fernandez (Pinnacle Motorsport) – 3rd Race 4
“I started from P9. I had a bad started and was P11, and from then on, I couldn’t do anything else, so I just focussed on recovering and on driving well and saving the tires. I started overtaking many cars with my good pace, and we finished on the podium so I’m very happy. It took me quite a lot of time to get to P7, but from then on, we were a lot faster than anyone else on track. The pace was really good and I think we saved our tires a lot better than the rest.”