A podium finish is looking closer weekend after weekend for Reema Juffali, whose rookie season in BRDC British F3 has been full of improvements so far.
Saudi racer Reema Juffali made her step up to BRDC British F3 in 2021 after 2 years in British Formula 4, having made a late start to her motorsport career but showing steady progress and fast learning.
Juffali - the first female racing driver from her home country to race internationally - has made history on several occasions and recently claimed her best result in single-seaters when she finished fourth at Silverstone.
After a slightly more challenging round at Donington, the Douglas Motorsport driver was eyeing another strong result at Spa Francorchamps, one of the most iconic racetracks in Europe and surely one of the drivers and fans' favourites.
Aussie Bart Horsten (Hitech GP) claimed pole position for the first race on Saturday and lined up alongside championship leader Zak O'Sullivan (Carlin). Reema Juffali was 15th on the grid. After two formation laps to allow the drivers to get acclimated with the track conditions, the only wet race of the weekend saw a battle for the lead between Horsten and O'Sullivan on the opening lap: O'Sullivan moved ahead at Les Combes, as third placed Christian Mansell (Carlin) also took the outside line and followed his teammate through.
Amidst difficult conditions and with the water spray limiting the visibility towards the back of the pack, Juffali was P16 in the opening stages.
On the second lap, the two Carlin drivers pulled away from the competitors despite starting a battle for victory – also helped by Lebbon and Horsten fighting for the final step of the podium. The midfield provided plenty of exciting racing as well: Roman Bilinski (Arden Motorsport) banged wheels with Javier Sagrera (Elite Motorsport) for fifth place and made a move stick, before jumping ahead of Horsten a few laps later.
When the track started to dry, Zak o'Sullivan struggled to contain Christian Mansell and the Australian seized an opportunity after a small mistake from his opponent at Malmedy corner and pulled away.
Juffali's pace improved through the race and the Saudi racer caught up with Marzorati. With three minutes left on the clock, Reema got by the Chris Dittmann Racing driver and advanced to 15th. She pulled away and gained a couple of seconds from Mikkel Grundtvig ahead, but was unable to get under the 5-second margin.
To complete a notable recovery, Roman Bilinski passed Lebbon for third place at Les Combes, while the leading duo had opened an over 10-second gap.
After 20 minutes of racing, Chris Mansell took his second victory of the season after the Brands Hatch reverse grid race, 4.4 seconds clear of Carlin teammate and championship leader Zak O'Sullivan and Roman Bilinski in third.
Championship contender Reece Ushijima (Hitech GP) couldn't do better than eleventh and Reema Juffali was 15th across the line.
Bart Horsten and Zak O'Sullivan once again shared the front row, with race 1 winner Mansell and Bilinski lining up right behind them.
Horsten had a slow start and had to defend from O'Sullivan at La Source, but the Hitech driver was back ahead on the run down towards Eau Rouge, when his rival ran wide at Turn 1 and was also passed by Bilinski and Mansell.
At the Kemmel straight, at three-way fight saw the Polish racer getting two wheels on the grass – and eventually launching an attack for the lead at the Bus Stop chicane, but the winning move would arrive one lap later at Les Combes, as Mansell and O'Sullivan forced each other wide when battling for third. Ushijima was quick to move into fourth, but Mansell switched back after a full lap of close racing.
Starting from 15th place, Reema Juffali overtook Grundtvig on the second lap; the 14th place traded hands a couple of times before Juffali finally claimed it.
José Garfias went off into the barriers, but the race remained under green conditions. American Hunter Yeany – at his first experience in Europe – damaged his front wing and had to pit, leaving Juffali in 12th position and in the mix for a top ten on lap 5.
O'Sullivan had managed his tyres perfectly and was able to clear Horsten for second on lap 6, as the top-three remained in contention for the race victory until the end.
On the final lap, the two Australians battled for the final step of the podium: it would be Mansell to find the successful move at Les Combes.
Having made it into the lead early on in the race, Roman Bilinski held off the pressure and claimed his maiden victory in BRDC British F3, ahead of O'Sullivan and Mansell.
Reece Ushijima finished fifth, received a 5 second time penalty for track limits and was demoted to eighth – but he would later see his position restored after marshalls cleared him of wrongdoings.
With a very solid second race of the weekend, Reema Juffali was P12 at the chequered flag, adding 7 more points to her championship tally.
In the reverse grid race, Reema Juffali had another great opportunity to showcase her improvements and lined up on the front row, in second position alongside Max Marzorati – both on new tyres.
Juffali had a great start off the line and fired into the lead, as Marzorati's slower getaway put him under attack from Danish driver Mikkel Grundtvig and Roberto Faria.
Grudtvig went past Juffali on the Kemmel straight – and Faria completed a similar move one lap later, as the Saudi driver struggled with straight-line speed probably due to a different aero setting.
When Faria and Marzorati were off into the tarmac runoff at Pouhon, Juffali clinched second place back; Reema started a close battle with the recovering Brazilian, who could get back ahead at Fagnes, but Juffali responded at Les Combes on lap 4, also masterfully defending from Ushijima.
Lebbon made contact with Simmons at the Bus Stop chicane, sending the driver of the #18 Chris Dittmann Racing car into the runoff. The incident would later cost Lebbon a penalty.
Just when a podium finish was starting to look realistic for Juffali, she was passed by Yeany on the Kemmel straight with the massive slipstreaming effect and, as she defended from Ushijima, a late dive sent Reema off into the gravel at Fagnes, as the Douglas Motorsport's car impacted with the tyre barriers.
There was more chaos at the Bus Stop chicane, as Sagrera was hit and spun around by Alvarez, who lost his front wing in the process and had to pit. He would also be handed a time penalty post-race.
Faria would eventually catch up and pass Grundtvig for the race win on lap 8, while Ushijima was third – before receiving a 5 second time penalty for overtaking off track and being demoted to sixth. The penalty gave Fortec Motorsport a 1-2-3, with Yeany stepping on the podium.
Bilinski and Mansell rounded out the top five.
Unfortunately her first podium in the series just slipped away from her, but the progression of Reema Juffali this season has been remarkable, and the reverse grid format of race 3 will certainly provide more similar opportunities for the Saudi driver later on this season.
“It’s such an amazing experience to race around this beautiful circuit." – commented Juffali after an otherwise positive weekend.
"It’s been a lot of learning on my part to get used to such a quick circuit and working on slipstreaming. It’s obviously disappointing to end the weekend in the gravel after we were up there fighting for a podium."
"I’m gaining confidence and now I’m focused on getting a good result at Snetterton.”
"We’re very impressed by how well Reema adapted and learned throughout to be in contention for a podium at the end." – echoed team principal Wayne Douglas.
"We now look to Snetterton where we know we are quick, so we’ll get our heads down and focus on that.”
The fifth triple-header of the season is in fact scheduled for 7-8 August at the Norfolk venue of Snetterton.