FRECA: Léna Bühler climbs 13 places in wet Race 1 before finishing P27
In two hectic FRECA races at Spa Francorchamps, Léna Bühler was twice 27th across the line, after a remarkable recovery in the first half of a wet Race 1.
Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine made its return to the track one month after its last round at Zandvoort, again on the supporting schedule of GT World Challenge. The series - one of the most packed and competitive in the single-seater scene - sees most of the world's top junior drivers looking to break into the F1 ladder. With an almost 35-car field resulting from the merge of the Formula Regional with Formula Renault Eurocup has given birth to arguably the most competitive F3 championship in Europe - potentially even more talent-filled than the FIA Formula 3 Championship ran in conjunction with F1. After just one season in single-seaters, Swiss racer Léna Bühler - a big name in karting - had a very positive debut in Spanish Formula 4 in 2020, where she became a steady top-5 finisher towards the end of the season. Bühler decided to step up to F3 machinery and joined the brand-new FRECA with race winning team R-Ace GP for her rookie and learning-oriented season. Unfortunately, an injury on her very first day of collective testing ruled the Swiss racer out for all the three tests at Imola, Barcelona and Le Castellet, as she also had to miss the opening round of the season at Imola. With such a little mileage, Léna made her debut in Barcelona and quickly showed good progress. On the streets of Monaco, she claimed her best result of the season to date, with her first top-20 in Race 1, having made up 7 places on the notoriously tight and twisty street circuit. She then endured difficult weekends in Le Castellet and Zandvoort, where a qualifying mistake would translate in very difficult races from the back of the pack and on unfavorable tyres strategy. With FRECA now past its mid-season point, the visit to the iconic Spa Francorchamps circuit was Léna's first time at the venue, albeit she had extensive simulator preparation ahead of the sixth round of the season. The first qualifying was held in typical Ardennes' weather, with rain ultimately giving pole position to championship leader Gregoire Saucy, ahead of ART teammate Gabriele Minì. But it was the second qualifying session to set the grid for the first heat at Spa, which surprisingly saw Russian newcomer Michael Belov (G4 Racing) taking pole position, with Saucy only 24th fastest. Léna Bühler was P31 and P33 respectively. Drama started even before the lights went out on Saturday, with rain coming just before the formation lap and with teams left with the tyre strategy dilemma. While most of the front-runners went for the wet-weather tyres, some of the backmarkers gambled on slicks - but Ferati's crash on the formation lap quickly showed that the gamble had not paid off and many pitted on the opening lap - as an extra formation lap was added. At the start, Isack Hadjar and Franco Colapinto stalled on the grid and Hadrien David took the lead from Belov. The first corner was extra challenging and cars ran wide and made contact in the midfield, as Barrichello's front wing was left on the tarmac and Aron spun. Zane Maloney (R-Ace GP) attacked and overtook David for the lead, with David dropping to third at the end of the Kemmel straight; it wasn't long, though, before Belov could reclaim the top of the leaderboard, ahead of Maloney, David and Beganovic. With the increasing rainfall and visibility surely an issue, the first laps were messy for many drivers: Bortoleto spun at Stavelot and Alatalo went off in the gravel, before David Vidales - followed by Kas Haverkort a few seconds later - spun and impacted with the barriers, triggering the Safety Car. With a masterful drive through the chaos and amidst the pouring rain, Léna Bühler gained 10 positions in the opening laps and slotted in 22nd place when the Safety Car was deployed. The interruption proved to be rather lengthy and the race was resumed with 6 minutes left on the clock. The water spray and visibility continued to pose the biggest challenge for the drivers once the green flag was waved again; in the privileged position ahead, Michael Belov pulled away, followed by Maloney and David. From the chaos, emerged Saucy - who had made it back to 10th from 24th on the grid. Bühler had a great restart and moved up two more positions to grab the provisional 20th place. Unfortunately, in the final couple of laps, the recovering Aron passed Bühler, before she dropped down to P27. Belov took his maiden victory - and the first success for G4 Racing in the series - while Hadrien David wnet past Zane Maloney for the runner up spot on the penultimate lap of the race. Beganovic preceded Pasma in fourth and Minì was sixth, ahead of the impressive Hadjar and Saucy. After a remarkable start of the race in very difficult conditions, Léna Bühler had another top-20 slipping away from her in the final laps.
Series dominator Gregoire Saucy was back in front for the second race of the weekend - this time contested in dry conditions on Sunday morning. It was a clean start from the whole pack this time, as Saucy battled Minì on the run up towards Les Combes. The young Italian F4 champion made a move stick and climbed into the lead, while again the midfield provided plenty of action: Aron was off at Malmedy and Maloney overtook Vidales at La Source. Minì's leadership lasted only one lap, before his more experienced teammate went back ahead after a stunning 4-corners battle. Minì responded back, but Saucy would eventually get past at the end of Kemmel. Léna Bühler held position in 31st, while Bardinon and Ferati hit trouble in separate incidents. 10 minutes into the race, Delli Guanti (Monolite Racing) and Tommy Smith (JD Motorsport) made contact and went into the barriers, requiring the intervention of the Safety Car. The green flag marked the final 15 minutes of racing, as Saucy perfectly managed the restart and Minì fell into the clutches of Zane Maloney: the driver from Barbados made a move stick at Les Combes, with Hadrien David also taking advantage of the battle to move ahead of the Italian in third place. Maloney was on a charge and tried to close the gap to Saucy - as Minì fought back and tried to claim back the final step of the podium from R-Ace GP's David. Behind them, Vidales was back into fifth having overtaken Franco Colapinto (MP Motorsport). Vidales, though, would spin after making contact with Prema teammate Paul Aron at the end of the Kemmel straight, opening the door to a tight battle within the top-ten between Haverkort, Patterson, Belov, Aron, Hadjar and Alatalo. Léna Bühler continued a solid recovery and moved into 26th place with 5 minutes to go. It was again Michael Belov to emerge to claim fifth place - but he could do nothing this time against the dominant form of Gregoire Saucy, who returned to victory in FRECA, his seventh of the season. Zane Maloney was second, ahead of David and Minì - the latter taking Rookie class victory. With his seventh place, Dexter Patterson had a notable debut in the series for Monolite Racing. Bühler was again 27th at the chequered flag, marginally behind Emidio Pesce by one tenth of a second. The Swiss racer has often shown good race pace and ability to move up the order while avoiding troubles. With improved qualifying, she can surely target consistent top-20 finishes in the final four rounds of the season - which will resume on 11-12 September at Red Bull Ring, Austria, following the cancellation of the Nürburgring round due to the recent flooding in Germany.