With an innovative format, the Indian Racing League completed its first ever race day at Madras International Raceway; among the six international female racers on the grid, French sportscar ace Célia Martin was the first to step on the podium, in a team effort with Mitchell Gilbert in the first sprint race.
Indian Racing League – the first Indian city-franchise based racing series that features a really interesting mix of international and local drivers – was finally off to an action-packed start on Saturday at Madras International Circuit, Chennai, when the championship hosted its first qualifying sessions and sprint race. Effectively the first points-paying round after a disrupted run at the Hyderabad Street Circuit, where the races had to be called off after a practice incident, everything ran smoothly at Chennai and the highly-competitive driver line up took to the track on Friday for a test day. The Goa Aces team continued to show the most promising speed and ended the day on top of the timing sheets with Gabriela Jílková – who shares the #7 car with former FIA F3 racer Raoul Hyman. The strong duo set a 1:31.408 time, one tenth faster than teammates Amir Sayed and Sohil Shah – proving again that the Goa team could be the one to beat. They preceded Jon Lancaster and Sandeep Kumar (Chennai Turbo Riders) and W Series driver Bianca Bustamante, who teams up with Rishon Rajeev at Bangalore Speedsters. Célia Martin and Mitch Gilbert (Speed Demons Delhi) were always consistently around the top six in both practice sessions, closely followed by Godspeed Kochi's Fabienne Wohlwend and Ruhaan Alva. It was a more troubled day for Lola Lovinfosse (Blackbirds Hyderabad) and Nicole Havrda (Chennai Turbo Riders), slowed down by a few issues. Eventually, the third practice session was scrapped due to rain – but all teams got some more mileage on Saturday morning, for the official session. Experienced racer Neel Jani topped the leaderboard; the 2016 Le Mans 24H winner was the only driver to lap under the 1:30 mark around the fast and technical 3.7 km layout. Goa Aces, though, kept momentum and were again second and fourth fastest. Despite a short red flag for an off-track moment, Bianca Bustamante had a good run in third. Fellow W Series racer Fabienne Wohlwend was very fast in the opening minutes – but the #1 Godspeed Kochi car would bring out a second red flag in the second half of the session when Fabienne's teammate Ruhaan Alva came to a halt off the track and could not resume. The engine was then disassembled from their car and, despite a good effort from the team's mechanics, Wohlwend could not set a lap time in Q1. Qualifying was in fact next, with a revolutionary format: each driver will qualify the car for their respective teammates in the two 20-minute plus one lap races, while both will take patr in Sunday's endurance race. In the 10 minute Q1, Nikhil Bohra – an Indian talent that has competed in both German and Italian F4 championships in 2022 – set the early pace, but was ultimately topped by an impressive Akhil Rabindra (Blackbirds Hyderabad). Shahan Ali Mohsin was third for Speed Demons Delhi, who preceded Jon Lancaster, after the Brit had improved in the final minutes. Bianca Bustamante had a good run in seventh, which gave Rajeev a good start from the fourth row. Unfortunately, Célia Martin got stuck in traffic in her only flying lap – and Gabriela Jílková's teammate Raoul Hyman could not set a lap time due to a technical issue which left him stationary in pit lane - as well as Fabienne Wohlwend. The cars quickly got ready for Q2; Neel Jani put in a fast lap right at the start of the second session, 3 tenths clear of Mitchell Gilbert. Rishon Rajeev, though, set the fastest first sector overall and slotted into second, one tenth down racing legend Jani. Mitchell Gilbert qualified third for Célia Martin – as the French racer will start Race 2 ahead of Fabienne Wohlwend, after a great lap by Ruhaan Alva. Son of former F1 driver Alister Yoong was a strong fifth in his first day in the Wolf Thunder car; Gabriela Jílková's Goa Aces car ended eighth, just ahead of Lola Lovinfosse. Last driver to qualify was Nicole Havrda, who tried to go out as late as possible to avoid traffic. The Canadian, though, rounded out Q2 with a 1:35.303 lap.
Sprint Race 1
Indian Racing League officially went underway with the first 20 minutes + 1 lap contest on Saturday, as lights went out at Chennai. Neel Jani had the start he was looking for and soon opened a 2 second gap over Alister Yoong, as the Malaysian started from second after Bohra's lap in Q1. In the hectic first lap, there were a few scraps in the midfield and Sandeep Kumar spun at Turn 2 but managed to rejoin.
Akash Gowda dropped down the order from third place when the #11 Speed Demons Delhi Wolf came to a halt on track, bringing out the Safety Car on lap 3. Gabriela Jílková unfortunately had also pulled into the pitlane after only one lap, as the Czech driver reported technical issues on the #7 car. Jílková was able to rejoin one lap down, but the troubles persisted.
It was a brilliant first few laps for Nicole Havdra; the Canadian had made up three positions just before the safety car intervention. But Ruhaan Alva was the star of the show, as the local racer showed that the #1 Godspeed Kochi car had big potential, charging from the last spot of the grid to sixth.
There was more drama when second-placed Rishon Rajeed also had to park the #3 machine.
The race was back under green with 7 minutes to go: Jani, Yoong and Gilbert battled for the top spot, but Jani held on and Yoong then had to defend from the fast charging Gilbert. 16 year-old Ruhaan Alva, though, continued the most impressive drive to move into fourth.
With less than a minute left on the clock, Goa Aces were in trouble once again: Sahil Shah's car was out of the race after a small fire.
At the end of a first action-filled sprint race, Neel Jani took victory, six and a half seconds clear of Alister Yoong, Mitchell Gilbert and Ruhaan Alva.
Nicole Havdra had a great run in P6, ahead of Lola Lovinfosse, seventh across the finish line. Gabriela Jílková eventually retired with 3 laps to go, after technical issues hampered her Saturday run.
With Gilbert finishing third, Célia Martin was the first of the female racers that got to stand on the podium in the 2022 Indian Racing League – as both drivers in each crew cooperate to victory thanks to the qualifying format.
The second sprint race and the first ever 45-minute +1 lap endurance race with driver change will go underway on Sunday 27th November, with more female drivers eager to claim their spots on the podium.
Speed Demons Delhi
Chennai Turbo Riders
Bangalore Speed Riders
Speed Demons Delhi