FRECA returnee Belén García gained two positions after Saturday's race in Valencia and just preceded Léna Bühler across the line, as the Swiss recovered in the latter stages.
Two weeks after its trip to the Red Bull Ring, the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine paddock moved to Valencia, as the eighth round of the 2021 season will be contested on the Ricardo Tormo Circuit as a replacement for the initially scheduled round at Nürburgring – then cancelled for the German flooding disaster in July.
Swiss racer Léna Bühler had a challenging weekend in Austria, but a better Race 2 saw the R-Ace GP driver recover several positions to a P26 after an endless series of post-race penalties were applied. Crucially, Bühler's pace continued to improve, as she battled for position throughout the second race.
At Valencia, Léna was not the only female racer on track, as W Series driver Belén García returned to the grid after almost four months since her last appearance at Paul Ricard, France, at the end of May.
Belén – who has been among the protagonists of the 2021 all-female W Series season and is currently sitting in eighth place in the standings ahead of the final double-header at Austin, US, in a month's time – has taken advantage of the calendar break to climb back in the G4 Racing's Tatuus T318, eyeing more learning opportunities in one of the most competitive single seaters worldwide.
“I return to the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine because I am always looking for opportunities to race." – said García, who has often expressed her interest in returning to FRECA after competing in the opening rounds this year.
"The opportunity arose to contest this race close to home, after the cancellation of the one that was scheduled at the Nürburgring, and I decided to participate so as not to be inactive for so long" – added the 22-year-old.
García believes that part of her successful season in W Series – where she almost clinched a podium at her debut in Austria – is also to be credited to her preparation carried out in FRECA.
On Friday practice, García and Bühler got up to speed with the circuit - where they had both previously raced in the Spanish F4 championship in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
The sessions were topped by Franco Colapinto (MP Motorsport) and David Vidales (Prema Powerteam), as García improved to P30 in the afternoon.
The first qualifying session of the weekend got underway in an overcast Saturday morning and it was once again Argentinian ace Franco Colapinto to secure pole position, coming off an outstanding round in Austria where he claimed his first two race victories of the season, but was later demoted to P4 in race 2.
In a 34-car field – one of the most crowded in the series so far – both Bühler and García improved their times from practice into qualifying and lined up in P30 and P31, after a red-flag disrupted qualifying session.
At the race start, Colapinto crossed all the way to his left in order to close the door to Prema's David Vidales; the two went side by side into Turn 1 and Turn 2 but positions were maintained. Behind them, Van Amersfoort Racing's Mari Boya held third, while Paul Aron overtook Michael Belov for fourth during the first lap of the race.
Belén García had a great start and moved into P28 after the opening lap, as the Spaniard got ahead of Marinangeli and Ferati. Bühler retained P31.
On lap 4, 2020 series champion Gianluca Petecof passed García for the 28th position, just as she was closing in on her G4 Racing's teammate Axel Gnos.
Alexandre Bardinon dropped back and eventually stopped on lap 9 – resulting in García gaining a position. She would drop back to 29th again after a battle with Nico Gohler, who had started at the back of the field following a spin in qualifying.
Léna Bühler had a good second part of the race and managed to stay close to the pack before overtaking Nicola Marinangeli. In the final minutes, Bühler closed in on García just ahead of her; the Swiss remained under the second gap but was not close enough to engage in a battle.
Having started from 10th, points leader Gregoire Saucy (ART GP) struggled to move up the order and was down to P12. Further down the field, current F4 Spain championship leader Dilano Van't Hoff (MP Motorsport) held on to a very solid P20 at his very first race in the championship.
Colapinto initially opened a small gap, but Vidales caught back up and remained the only driver able to match the MP Motorsport's driver pace throughout the race.
On the final lap, Vidales had significantly reduced the gap, but Colapinto held on and crossed the finish line to take his second win of the season – carrying the momentum from the previous round.
Further 4 seconds behind was the best-placed rookie Mari Boya, securing his first podium in the series.
Belén García was P29 at her series return, showing good pace and good battles in the first half of the race. Six tenths behind the Catalan was Léna Bühler, P30 across the finish line.
"Hard days getting to speed in the Formula Regional paid off in the race." – wrote García.
"A very good start put me in a position to fight where I have been fighting until the end. Very hard race physically for me but enjoyed all of it and all the sessions before", she added.
"Very happy to be here again."
The drivers will have another chance tomorrow, as a second qualifying (09:00 CEST) and a second race (13:05) are scheduled to round out the eighth round of the season.