· Guest driver Sasahara first on the road in Race 7 as Mazepin takes full championship points
· Joey Alders maintains championship lead for BlackArts Racing but Pinnacle Motorsport’s Jack Doohan narrows gap
· Newcomer Khaled Al Qubaisi takes Masters class victory on championship debut for Abu Dhabi Racing UAE
Reigning F3 Asian Champion Ukyo Sasahara led home Hitech Grand Prix team mate Nikita Mazepin as the series made its debut on Abu Dhabi’s magnificent F1 Yas Marina Circuit. Third and fourth were the Pinnacle Motorsport pair of Jack Doohan and Pietro Fittipaldi after a thrilling, action-packed 14-lap race on the 5.554km track.
With pole-sitter Sasahara ineligible to score championship points as a guest driver, Mazepin took the full 25 points with Doohan taking 18 for second and Fittipaldi 15 for third. Despite the hiccup to his title aspirations of a fifth-place finish, BlackArts Racing’s Joey Alders maintains his grip on the championship lead. However, Jack Doohan’s second place points haul narrows the gap to 31 with eight races remaining. Mazepin now lies just eight points behind Doohan in third, with Absolute Racing’s Devlin DeFrancesco fourth on the leaderboard ahead of Pinnacle Motorsport’s Sebastian Fernandez.
Championship newcomer and local Emirati driver Khaled Al Qubaisi took the Race 7 Masters class victory for the Abu Dhabi UAE team on his debut ahead of class leader Paul Wong of Zen Motorsport. Disappointingly, fellow Masters driver Thomas Luedi’s run of bad luck continued with an early retirement due to a technical issue.
Round 3 of the F3 Asian Championship continues on Saturday with Race 8 getting underway at 10:15 local time (GMT+4), when Absolute Racing’s Jamie Chadwick will start from pole for the first time this season having set the fastest lap in Race 7. The final F3 Asian Championship race of the week starts at 15:35.
Pole-sitter Ukyo Sasahara blasted away from the pack as the lights went out and wasted no time in pulling out a gap. Behind him though the action was frenzied, with Nikita Mazepin the main gainer after charging from P6 up to fourth, ploughing past both Pietro Fittipaldi and Sebastian Fernandez.
Doohan was on the move too. In the heat of battle, he dived past Joey Alders on the outside to grab second, a manoeuvre the 16-year-old immediately knew would be disallowed. However, faced with a tightly-packed field, it was almost impossible to give the place back to the Dutchman without losing ground. With Alders up ahead and Mazepin, Fittipaldi, Sebastian Fernandez, Devlin DeFrancesco, Tatiana Calderón and Jamie Chadwick all dicing two and three-abreast behind, it was inevitable Doohan would pay a heavy price, and he dropped down to fifth behind Fittipaldi as he allowed Alders by.
As Sasahara stretched his lead to more than five seconds, behind him was an eight-way battle for second led by Alders, before the top five broke away and Mazepin honed in on Alders. Making his move very late and right on the limit on Lap 9, the Russian stormed past and up to second as Alders ran wide, dropping down the order to fifth where he was to finish.
The following lap saw the better-paced Doohan get by Fittipaldi and up to third, holding the position to the flag. Mazepin, meanwhile, was closing in on team mate Sasahara, but ran out of time to challenge for the lead. At the flag it was a one-two for Hitech Grand Prix, with Sasahara taking the win on the road and Mazepin bagging the full 25 championship points.
Alders followed Doohan and Fittipaldi over the line ahead of DeFrancesco, who celebrated his birthday with a strong showing in Race 7, Fernandez, Calderón, Chadwick – who set the fastest lap of the race, thereby taking pole for Race 8 - and the third Hitech Grand Prix driver Alessio Deledda rounding out the top 10.
In addition to Masters driver Thomas Luedi, BlackArts Racing team mate and Race 6 winner Yu Kanamaru also retired early on in the race.
Ukyo Sasahara (Hitech Grand Prix) – winner Race 7
“I was struggling at the start in the last two meetings and finally we could make a good getaway. The team has done a fantastic job. The last two meetings we struggled a lot and finally we come back to [a win]. I tried to save the tires for the next two races, but then I started to struggle a little bit, so I had to try to make no mistakes which kind of helped [Nikita] in the last few laps.”
Nikita Mazepin (Hitech Grand Prix) – 2nd Race 7
“First of all, it was a very fun race. For me, going forward is always good versus the other way! I had a good start and gained a few positions from then. I think Joey was struggling with the pace a bit, so that kind of put us all together with me and Jack and him. Fighting was quite fun in a way, but then I was the third car on track, so a sitting duck. It was fun because we were side-by-side in a few places, but I ended up finishing second. I’m very happy about that race and very good credit to Hitech.”
Jack Doohan (Pinnacle Motorsport) – 3rd Race 7
“[Giving the place back amongst a packed field] wasn’t ideal. I got back into the rhythm and tried to keep my cool, pick them off one by one. I got past my team mate and then the gap to Nikita was a bit too big to close, so I just tried to stay in the same position.”
Pietro Fittipaldi (Pinnacle Motorsport) – 4th Race 7
“The start was OK. I lost a couple of positions, so it wasn’t great. Joey was struggling with pace at the beginning so it was a big group of cars. We got the timing right a couple of times when we were fighting and I picked off a couple of guys. I’d say the pace from early to the middle of the race was good, and then we fell back a little bit at the end. I was hoping to keep in front of Jack but his pace was too good there at the end and he was able to pass me. After that, it was just managing but for sure we have work to do tomorrow.”