FRECA: Positive race 2 for Al Qubaisi, equals personal best in Budapest
With a positive second race at Hungaroring, Hamda Al Qubaisi equalled her best result in FRECA in one of the most demanding circuits on the calendar.
In mid-July, the usual Summer appointment at Budapest has become a bit of a tradition for GT Open, which attracts a good number of race fans around the region with a great racing spectacle across all its series and support events. Joining the schedule this year was also Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine - which has attracted this year one of the most competitive fields in junior single seater racing across the globe. Emirati Hamda Al Qubaisi, 19, graduated to F3 Regional machinery earlier this year, after a remarkable career in F4 marked by multiple race victories and podiums between the UAE and Italian series. She remained with top Italian team Prema Powerteam for her debut season in FRECA, in a year dedicated to learning the machinery and the tracks. While Hamda had a steep learning curve, she showed good speed and good racecraft in the races, when she is often the protagonist of great battles with some of the most interesting European single seater prospects. At the world-famous street circuit of Monaco, Al Qubaisi clinched her best result with a very positive Race 1, before she topped that one week later at Paul Ricard - a circuit she knew better - with a P26 and two races in the top-30. The second race at Zandvoort - a very physically demanding circuit - was another step in the right direction, and Al Qubaisi headed to Hungaroring, outskirts of Budapest, with another challenging and demanding circuit to tackle. On a circuit where she had never raced before, Hamda improved by over 2 tenths between FP1 and FP2, with the whole field of over 30 cars within 2 seconds from first to last. Kas Haverkort scored pole position in Race 1, bringing Van Amersfoort Racing to the top in qualifying after over 2 years and breaking the three-team dominance of Prema, ART and R-Ace GP. Hamda Al Qubaisi was P32 on the grid of Race 1. With a good start, Haverkort retained the lead into the downhill Turn 1, while Gabriele Minì (ART GP) was able to overtake Paul Aron (Prema) after the Estonian had a slow getaway and then further dropped down the order at Turn 3 when he went deep after contact with Dufek. Hadrien David (R-Ace GP) also had a moment with Joshua Dufek; the two banged wheels and the Frenchman was off in the asphalt runoff of Turn 11. Amidst the hectic first stages, Trident teammates Roman Bilinksi and Leonardo Fornaroli made their way up the order and settled in third and fourth. Hamda Al Qubaisi had a good start and recovered two positions; she was then passed by the returning Andrea Rosso - but the retirement of Tim Tramnitz later in the race secured her P31. The leading duo pulled away - with Kas Haverkort increasingly extending his gap through the course of the race - and they could make the most out of the battling Trident entries in third and fourth place. In the second half of the race, Al Qubaisi had a better pace and closed in on Nicolas Baptiste (FA Racing by MP), bringing the gap to under a second. She would cross the line 0.3 seconds behind, in P31.
Kas Haverkort took a dominant first win and preceded Minì by four seconds. Almost 20 seconds down the road, Polish-British racer Roman Bilinski held off the attacks of Leonardo Fornaroli and claimed his first podium in FRECA. After a difficult first lap, Paul Aron managed to pass teammate Beganovic for sixth, but was a few tenths short of fifth place, which went to Joshua Dufek (VAR). Esteban Masson scored his first point in the series with P10.
On Sunday morning, Hadrien David - who had completed race 1 in eighth place - took pole position for Race 2. He would line up alongside Gabriele Minì and, at lights out, the Frenchman immediately covered the inside line, defending from the Italian. That opened the door to Gabriel Bortoleto (R-Ace GP), who went around the outside at Turn 2 and snatched second place. Championship leader Beganovic had a contact towards the end of the first lap with Masson and, albeit he was able to continue, he dropped in the midfield, while also Braschim Tangavelou and Bernier tangled. From P31 on the grid, Hamda Al Qubaisi had a great battling first lap and moved up to P28. Hamda was then faster than Pietro Armanni and closed the gap to the Italian, but had to settle behind. The race leader David, meanwhile, was under pressure from Bortoleto. With Minì remaining close, the top three pulled away from Tramnitz and Fornaroli. When Minì started to attack Bortoleto, David could open a small safe margin. A spin by Race 1 podium finisher Bilinski dropped him behind 10 minutes into the race and Al Qubaisi moved into P28. She gained more positions in the second half of the race and, when the Safety Car was deployed for the incident of Joshua Durksen at the exit of Turn 11, the young Emirati was sitting in P27. The race did eventually go back to green for the final two minutes of action: Minì seized an opportunity and got past Bortoleto for second place - just before a second neutralization brought the race to an early end, when Delli Guanti hit Aron at Turn 1 and parked his RPM Tatuus with front suspension damage in the runoff. Hadrien David took victory despite a fast charging Gabriele Minì and Gabriel Bortoleto picked up a podium spot, preceding Tim Tramnitz and Leonardo Fornaroli, both in the top-five for Trident. With a very positive second race, Hamda Al Qubaisi was 26th at the finish line and equalled her best result in the series previously recorded at Circuit Paul Ricard. "This weekend I struggled a lot with pace so it was quite difficult to get a good starting position in qualifying for the races", she explained. "However I’m quite happy with the race pace, especially in race 2, and I think it was another step in understanding the car and learning as much as possible." In the second half of her rookie season, Hamda will be working to improve her qualifying, which is one of the key points in such a crowded series. "I’m looking forward to working even more with the team to try and get closer in terms of pace and to keep improving." Coming up next will be Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, in three weeks' time, as FRECA will support the spectacular 24H of Spa.