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COTFA: Ella Hakkinen wins Junior class final

In a talent-filled Junior category of the Champions Of The Future Academy program, Ella Hakkinen had clean drives in both dry and wet conditions and emerged as the winner of the second Final at Cremona. Sara Matsui and Vanesa Silkunaite also consistently battled in the top-10 throughout the weekend.

Ella Hakkinen, Champions Of The Future Academy, 2024 Cremona
Photos: RGMMC Media in collaboration with The RaceBox

At the end of 2023 F1 Academy announced the partnership with leading karting promoter RGMMC for the new Champions Of The Future Academy Program, a new international series aimed at spotting young talents in a more accessible environment with particular attention to improving opportunities for young girls moving up the ranks of karting and motorsport.

The series hosted a first round in Abu Dhabi at the Al Forsan facility in November, before the inaugural six event championship in 2024 got underway last weekend in Cremona, Italy.

The new Champions Of The Future Academy program was off to a brilliant start for female drivers - both numerically and competitively. Featuring three categories - Mini (8 to 11 years of age), Juniors (11 to 14) and Seniors (14 to 17) - the female entries were close to 25% of the total entry lists, by far surpassing the Al Forsan round.

Steps forward, though, were not only made on entry lists, but on timing sheets as well: female drivers secured three of the six finals across the weekend, with the addition of two qualifying heat wins. While most of them were courtesy of Spanish star Luna Fluxa - whose dominant pace translated in victories in both finals in the OK-N Senior class - the OK-N Junior category was just as filled with talent and ultimately featured the win of Ella Hakkinen.

The 31 kart field of the Junior class also had the highest female percentage with 11 entries - most of them fast enough to contest for the top half of the classification during the weekend. The three drivers supported by the F1 Academy Discover your Drive programme, Sara Matsui, Victoria Farfus and Angelina Simons Torres, were joined by equally competitive Sofia Povazhnaia, Ella Hakkinen, Vanesa Silkunaite, Amelia Wyszomirska, Katrina Ee Wing Thung, Vera Jurland, and Sujana and Sanjana Dandu.

Among the ones with experience in high level competitions, Povazhnaia has raced in some of the most competitive series and just made the step up from Mini 60 to Junior, although she seems to have quickly familiarized with the new equipment. Lithuanian Silkunaite has been one of the finalists in the final edition of the FIA Girls On Track Rising Stars selections, while Matsui - also part of the program in 2022 - went on to be enrolled in the Williams Racing Academy.

The Junior class featured some of the most spectacular races in Cremona, with a typically tight field and great charges in both dry and wet conditions.

What emerged, though, was a massive step forward for young Ella Hakkinen, who could battle at the front on both days and, with little mistakes and more consistency, was ready to snatch the opportunity at the right time.

On Saturday, Hakkinen qualified in seventh for the heats - in a grid which saw 20 karts in one second. She soon moved into the top five at the start of the first heat and, progressively, made her way up until the doors of the top three. She went for a move for third but her rival fought back - and Ella eventually dropped to eighth on the final lap.

Vanesa Silkunaite had a brilliant start from sixth and battled around P5 most of the race, eventually finishing seventh. It would be Sofia Povazhnaia to finish as the highest female, making up five places to finish P6. Sara Matsui made good progress to finish ninth and, when Angelina Simons Torres - who had a challenging qualifying - gained 11 places, five female drivers made the top ten on pace. Victoria Farfus - also on her OK-N Junior first outings after stepping up from Minis - was P17, but was demoted to P19 for a front bumper penalty.

Vanesa Silkunaite, Champions Of The Future Academy, 2024 Cremona
Photos: RGMMC Media in collaboration with The RaceBox

Vanesa Silkunaite was the highlight of the second heat, as the Lithuanian had a really strong pace and was able to move from sixth up to third with decisive passes. Ella Hakkinen again battled at the front, but dropped down just outside of the top ten in the second half of the race, before grabbing ninth following penalties.

From P12, Sara Matsui finished sixth with yet another consistent recovery - just like Angelina Simons Torres, who made up 10 places again from 22nd on the grid. Farfus was P18.

In the first Final of the weekend, Vanesa Silkunaite lined up from P4 and had a chance to come away with a podium on the first day. Matsui, Hakkinen, Simon Torres were all in the fight for the top ten, while Povzhnaia, Wyszomirska and Farfus started in the top-20 and aimed for more progress.

Silkunaite had a great start and kept fourth in the opening stages, then dropped to sixth; Farfus and Wyszomisrka hit trouble - as well as Vera Jurland, who went off on lap 2. Povazhnaia, on the other hand, made up positions and climbed in the top 10, also after Angelina Simmons was pushed off the track but managed to rejoin, although in P14.

Silkunaite fell back to fifth on lap 3 but kept a safe margin to the drivers behind. Ahead, Kacper Rajpold held the top spot from pole position, but Toby Gale started to put pressure on the race leader. Simons Torres recovered and made it back in the top ten by lap 11, having passed Matsui, Murray, Peruzzi and Aziza.

Povazhnaia dropped down in the latter stages of the race, and would battle with Ella Hakkinen - who had to build back her race after a challenging start.

Drivers started to hit a critical point in tyre deg and Silkunaite lost fifth to Clancy with 2 laps to go. Simons Torres, on the other hand, was on a mission and was up to eighth, although she lost out to Vitver and Peruzzi on the final lap and had to settle for tenth, in an overall very positive recovery, although she was handed a 5 second penalty for front bumper.

Sara Matsui couldn't quite replicate the pace from the heats and was P12, two places ahead of Ella Hakkinen - who set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap, also charging back to P14. Sofia Povazhnaia ran solidly in the top 8 until mid-race, but crossed the line in P18 and was later disqualified for an underweight kart. Katrina Ee had a clean race to finish P22, just behind Amelia Wyszomirska in P20.

Sara Matsui, Champions Of The Future Academy, 2024 Cremona
Photos: RGMMC Media in collaboration with The RaceBox

On the second day of racing, conditions dramatically changed as drivers were met with rain, cold and wind. What did not change was Ella Hakkinen and Vanesa Silkunaite steadily in the top ten from the early practice session that preceded qualifying, where they were eighth and tenth fastest respectively. Matsui, Povazhnaia, Wyszomirska Sujana Dandu and Katrina Ee were also in the top-20.

Heavy rain marked the first heat as well; while she initially lost a couple of places in the first lap, Hakkinen kept her cool and made her way forward throughout the race, first recovering to eighth, then progressively closed in on the group ahead and eventually passed Vitver for sixth - before inheriting fifth after penalties. Similarly, Silkunaite got stuck in a battle for eighth and ninth - but a front bumper penalty dropped her to P12.

Amidst very tricky conditions, Katrina Ee Wing Thung was very solid and picked up eight places to finish tenth, with a clean run and some good passes. Wyszomirska and Simons Torres were 14th and 15th, ahead of Matsui who received a penalty and saw her recovery undone. Victoria Farfus was P23.

The sun was out for the second qualifying heat, although conditions remained extremely tricky and all drivers went out on the wet tyres. Hakkinen held eighth in the first laps - and drove very smartly, waiting for her competitors to make mistakes. That was exactly what happened - as the leaders hit trouble in the many battles and Ella Hakkinen could make her way forward, taking fourth place with a clean drive.

Sara Matsui was just as solid - as the Japanese driver made big moves to gain 9 places and finished fifth.

Vanesa Silkunaite initially dropped down to 14th but was able to recover to her starting position in tenth by the end of the heat; behind her, Wyszomirska had a good run in P11, and Katrina Ee showed again great pace in the wet by finishing P13, although was demoted to 15th following penalties. Victoria Farfus had a brilliant first part of the race: she moved from P23 to tenth in a couple of laps and, although she fell down in the latter stages, she still scored a top-20 after a penalty.

Ella Hakkinen, Champions Of The Future Academy, 2024 Cremona
Photos: RGMMC Media in collaboration with The RaceBox

On a now fully dry track, Ella Hakkinen had a sterling start and grabbed second into turn one - as Sara Matsui was also making her way up and claimed fifth by the end of the first lap. Vanesa Silkunaite continued to battle for the top ten, with Katrina Ee Wing Thung not far behind. With a very positive start, Victoria Farfus was up into the top-20 on the opening laps and battled elbows out in the hectic midfield.

Ahead, the top four pulled away; Rajpold, Anagnostiadis, Peruzzi and Hakkinen constantly traded positions but could still open a gap to the group of karts behind - that saw Matsui and Silkunaite just a few seconds down the road.

Positions settled by lap 5, with Hakkinen following Anagnostiadis and Rajpold, again ready to pick up the pieces and maximising opportunities emerging from other's battles.

And indeed a first opportunity materialized when Saturday's final winner Rajpold slowed down and lost two places - thus opening the door to Hakkinen for second place, although Anagnostiadis was now almost two seconds ahead.

Silkunaite and Matsui had a great battle for seventh and eighth place, although both lost the chance to catch the top five who had driven away.

Hakkinen held off the pressure from Peruzzi in the final four laps - which ultimately allowed Toby Gale to join them and pass Peruzzi with one lap to go. All Hakkinen had to do, though, was to keep the gap under the 5 seconds to Anagnostiadis, as the Australian received a 5 second front bumper penalty which put him third and promoted the 13 year old to the top step of the podium, where the Monegasque national anthem played in her honor.

It was a first major victory for Hakkinen, who has shown great speed as well as maturity in the Cremona weekend. Williams Academy's Sara Matsui was sixth and the second best placed female - first among the Discover Your Driver program-supported drivers.

Malaysia's Katrina Ee Wing Thung had another greatly solid drive and was eleventh in Sunday's final, two places ahead of Sofia Povazhnaia. Amelia Wyszomirska rounded out the top 20, one place ahead of Angelina Simons Torres. In her first season of OK-N Junior, Victoria Farfus improved through the weekend and was P23. Sujana and Sanjana Dandu both completed the race despite tricky qualifying heats in the rain, while Vera Jurland had a very unlucky weekend and was out on the second lap.

The opening round of the Champions Of The Future Academy Program highlighted several female up and coming talents in the Junior class - with three of them currently sitting in the top ten in the championship standings. There will surely be more to come in the upcoming rounds, as the series will return to the track on May 10-12 at Valencia, Spain.

Ella Hakkinen, Champions Of The Future Academy, 2024 Cremona
Photos: RGMMC Media in collaboration with The RaceBox



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