FRECA: Léna Bühler fights back and gains 5 places in Valencia race 2
In the second FRECA race at Valencia, Léna Bühler was protagonist of a solid recovery and made up five positions, while Belén García completed her return in the series with a more challenging race, nevertheless gaining crucial experience ahead of the W Series finale.
Saturday at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia marked the return of Belén García to Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine, after almost four months from her latest appearance in the series before the Spaniard focused on her rookie W Series campaign. Making the most out of a calendar gap that will see the all-female championship hitting the track again for its double header season finale in a month's time, García opted for a return to Swiss-Spanish squad G4 Racing, after entering 3 rounds at the start of the season. Just like García one year before, Léna Bühler made her single seater debut in Spanish F4 and impressed with positive results in 2020. The Swiss racer then quickly moved up to F3 machinery and made the jump to Formula Regional European Championship - merging in 2021 with Formula Renault Eurocup to give birth to one of the most competitive open wheel feeder series worldwide. Bühler missed all pre-season testing due to a hand injury following an accident in Imola, which made her learning-oriented rookie season a more challenging one. In an over-30 car field, Bühler continued to improve and scored her first top-20 on the streets of Monaco. Belén García showed promising speed, but a series of unfortunate issues and incidents meant that the young Catalan's results didn't fully reflect her potential. After missing the Monaco round due to W Series commitments, Belén came back to FRECA at Le Castellet, where she had great battles in Race 2 with a new chassis. The experience would prove very valuable for her W Series debut: in Austria she marginally missed out on a podium at her first race and would score points in four other occasions to date. In Valencia, Belén had a difficult qualifying but, after a great start, she managed to gain several positions to finish P29 – having battled throughout the race for position. “I faced a difficult qualy not setting a good lap." – she explained on Saturday afternoon. "The start of the race was very good as we gained many positions and fought for the whole race. I'm very happy about my comeback and looking forward to tomorrow”. Léna Bühler made up a position as well and caught up with García in the second half of the race, ultimately crossing the finish line a few tenths behind.
On a sunnier Sunday morning, the second 20-minute qualifying session saw Michael Belov (G4 Racing) taking his first pole position with a 1:28.890 lap – 2 tenths clear of Race 1 winner Franco Colapinto (MP Motorsport). The championship leader Gregoire Saucy (ART GP), only 12th on Saturday, was third fastest and shared the second row of the grid with Isack Hadjar – the fastest rookie.
Belén García set the 29th time and preceded by 0.108 seconds Léna Bühler; the qualifying session was then disrupted by a yellow flag on the final lap due to the beached FA Racing's Tatuus of Alexandre Bardinon at Turn 1 – which meant that the drivers could not improve on their last attempt. Belov had a good launch off the line while Colapinto had to defend from Saucy coming into the first left-hander. Behind them, it was a clean start throughout the whole field, despite a busy one in the last rows. On the tricky Ricardo Tormo Circuit, García and Bühler kept their cars out of trouble but dropped to P33 and P34, with the Swiss driver this time having the better start and jumping ahead of the Spaniard. Positions settled and Belov controlled the race, while the most interesting battle involved Zane Maloney and Gabriel Bortoleto: on lap 4, a long side-by-side fight between the two gave Mari Boya the chance to dive in and take eighth place. Similarly, Garbriele Minì also tried to complete the opportunistic move but the Italian had to back off. Boya, after scoring his first podium on Saturday, would eventually get ahead of Maloney mid-way through the race. Dino Beganovic had another difficult day and his Prema car slowed down on the main straight before he had to park and retire on lap 9. Meanwhile, Léna Bühler was lapping faster than Eduardo Barrichello and Emidio Pesce in front of her and closed in on the Brazilian; she spent most of the race within half a second from the JD Motorsport car, as she prepared the move. Colapinto – after two remarkable weekends - emerged as the biggest threat to Belov and got progressively closer. The Argentinian, though, couldn't find a gap and the G4 Racing's driver never put a foot wrong. KIC Motorsport's Jasin Ferati dropped to the tail end of the field, allowing both Léna Bühler and Belén García to gain a position. The Catalan racer battled with Ferati and had the better hand, before Pesce spun out at Turn 1 on lap 12 and dropped behind Barrichello and Bühler.
The race was neutralized with the intervention of the Safety Car when Dilano Van't Hoff (MP Motorsport) hit and spun José Garfias (Monolite Racing). The Dutchman, current championship leader in Spanish F4, had a good F3 debut on Saturday but the Race 2 incident forced both drivers to retire. The Safety Car could have provided a crucial last opportunity to Colapinto for the win, but Michael Belov had a perfect restart with two and a half minutes left on the clock and held a small yet safe gap to the MP Motorsport's rival, who mainly had to watch his mirrors from the return of Gregoire Saucy. Belén García overtook Pesce on the penultimate lap, as well as Léna Bühler found a way past Barrichello on the last lap. They were both able to jump ahead of Alexandre Bardinon and Oliver Goethe – who were handed a 10-second time penalty – to finish P25 and P27 respectively. Michael Belov held on to win his second race this year, ahead of Franco Colapinto and championship leader Saucy – who still extended his leadership from his main rival Hadrien David, sixth at the finish line. Isack Hadjar (R-ace GP) was fourth and first among the rookies, while David Vidales (Prema Powerteam) rounded out the top five. Bühler, after a challenging first race, fought back with a positive performance and gained 5 positions. "We continue to have hard race weekends but we keep working hard." – commented Léna. "Difficult to find pace in qualification but we had good fun in both races with some good things except in the straight line, [where] we are losing time. Anyway, onto the next race in 2 weeks at Mugello". García completed her return to FRECA with a P29 and P27, even though she struggled more with pace on Sunday due to a setup move in the wrong direction. While it wasn't the result she hoped for, more importantly she continued to log laps and mileage in the Tatuus F3 car ahead of the W Series season finale in Austin. “Obviously not the improvement I was hoping for, tough weekend for me." - Belén said. "Struggled with the setup today and couldn’t find the pace. We’ll learn from mistakes and hopefully, come back soon and stronger to the series. It has been a pleasure even if I have not been where I want to be”. “Every time you get in the car, you always get some learning." – she stated. "All possible training is necessary and, on my part, it is important to continue on this path and keep working with the engineers to continue learning about the car, continue to improve on a technical level and be as strong as possible for the United States". “I don't know yet if it will be possible to race in another Formula Regional weekend again, as it is complicated for the calendars. But whenever an opportunity like this will presents itself, I will try to take advantage of it.”