IRL: Lola Lovinfosse claims podium in crazy sprint race 1
The first Indian Racing League's sprint race of the second round at Chennai featured two women on the podium: Lola Lovinfosse was the star of the show, as the 17-year-old Frenchwoman made her way up to third in mixed weather. Having qualified the car for teammate Rishon Rajeev, Bianca Bustamante also stepped on the podium, with a second place finish.
The newly-founded Indian Racing League had its first proper racing weekend last week, when the six-city based teams took to Madras International Circuit, Chennai, and provided outstanding racing action across the two sprint races and the feature contest.
A hugely talented entry list - made up of established male and female international racing drivers, alongside some of the most promising Indian talents - did the trick, together with an innovative format that really rewards team efforts. In a unique qualifying concept, in fact, each driver qualifies the car for their respective teammates, as both drivers therefore contribute to each other's results.
In the first points-paying weekend at Chennai, Célia Martin (Speed Demons Delhi) was the first female racer to stand on the podium in Sprint Race 1, while Fabienne Wohlwend (Godspeed Kochi) secured two second place finishes on Sunday - moving into second in the championship standings, behind Le Mans 24H winner Neel Jani and Akhil Rabindra, who swept the weekend for Blackbirds Hyderabad.
A few days later, drivers were back on the very technical 3.717 km circuit - this time with a few line up changes: Kevin Mirocha was back in a racecar, 10 years after his last Formula 2 race. He would share the #7 Goa Aces Wolf Thunder with Gabriela Jílková, in place of Raoul Hyman. The latter is in fact currently in Japan, following an opportunity to test in Super Formula. British racer Oliver Webb (Bangalore Speedsters) returned to the Indian Racing League after contesting the Dubai Gulf Historic GP last week.
Rishon Rajeev and Bianca Bustamante (Bangalore Speedsters) had shown some good speed over the first weekend, but finally proved to belong to the podium in the second round: the local talent and the W Series Filipina star topped all three free practice sessions ahead of Saturday's qualifying.
In Q1, Fabienne Wohlwend and Bianca Bustamante were the first female drivers to qualify in the 10 minute session. After a 10 year hiatus from single-seaters, Mirocha put the #7 machine on provisional pole in the early minutes - before Jon Lancaster set a 1:34.288 that put the home-Chennai team on top. Fabienne Wohlwend did even better by a hundredth of a second, but she was demoted to third once Nikhil Bohra and Oliver Webb completed their laps.
The dominator of the previous round Neel Jani couldn't do better than second, which would nevertheless put his teammate Akhil Rabindra on the front row for Race 1.
Bianca Bustamante set the seventh fastest lap, one place ahead of Fabienne Wohlwend. Mirocha eventually qualified in P10 for Gabriela Jílková, and Parth Ghorpade put the #5 Chennai Turbo Riders car in P11 for Nicole Havrda.
As drivers swapped cars for Q2, a quick but heavy rain shower completely changed the conditions of the track. With no previous running in the rain, drivers went out in extremely tricky conditions.
On wet tyres, Alister Yoong and Gabriela Jílková set the fastest laps in really low grip - but several drivers waited in the pitlane for the weather to change. This decision proved to be the winning one and Sohil Shah and Rishon Rajeev were almost five seconds quicker on slicks; Akash Gowda and Sandeep Kumar found even more speed and claimed the first row of the grid, while Nicole Havrda was P6.
Unfortunately, Lola Lovinfosse and Célia Martin had their laps in the least favourable moment - as well as Akhil Rabindra, who put Neel Jani in P10 for Race 2.
Sprint Race 1
A few minutes after qualifying, Alister Yoong and Akhil Rabindra lined up on the front row for the first of the two sprint races at Madras International Circuit – but many teams were looking to make up positions after an unfortunate qualifying.
Yoong kept the first place from Rabindra at Turn 1 following a great start by the leading trio – but the most impressive getaway was Célia Martin's, who moved into fourth place. Anshul Gandhi had issues at the green flag and dropped to the tail end of the pack.
Martin was then overtaken by several cas over the course of the opening lap due to a technical problem; from eighth, Ruhaan Alva was also up to fourth place – but Fabienne Wohlwend's teammate was soon under investigation for a potential jump start. Alva came under pressure from Rishon Rajeev and the two swapped places on lap 3, when the Bangalore team's driver eventually gained the position after a spectacular two lap battle.
Gowda slowed down, Célia Martin parked in the grass and Sohil Shah retired in the pits - as they all suffered car issues and positions changed by the second.
Lola Lovinfosse had a really strong run and advanced to fifth position, just behind the battling Rajeev and Alva. Behind her, Gabriela Jílková was also recovering after a start from tenth and passed three cars.
Chennai Turbo Riders teammates Havrda and Gandhi fought for eighth position with 10 minutes left on the clock – when suddenly a huge downpour flooded the track. Second placed Akhil Rabindra was off in the gravel, seconds before the Safety Car was deployed. The rain was so heavy that less than a minute later the red flag was shown.
Teams and drivers awaited for the rain to ease – but with the light fading, the first sprint race was called and Alister Yoong could claim his first win in the series for Godspeed Kochi.
Following a 20 second penalty for Ruhaan Alva, Fabienne Wohlwend's teammate dropped from third to sixth – and promoted Lola Lovinfosse to the third step of the podium, in the Frenchwoman first top three finish in the series. Rishon Rajeev's second place meant that Bianca Bustamante also got to stand on the podium, having qualified the #3 car for her teammate.
Bustamante and Lovinfosse are the third and fourth female drivers to secure a podium finish in two weekends. Gabriela Jílková – effectively at her first race in the series – was a very solid fifth having recovered 5 positions, but she also received a 20 second penalty, having passed slower cars at the start and was ultimately classified in P7. Nicole Havrda was ninth across the finish line.
There will be two more races tomorrow, with the second 20 minute plus one lap race and the 35 minute feature race with driver change.
Speed Demons Delhi
Chennai Turbo Riders
Chennai Turbo Riders
Speed Demons Delhi