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Italian F4: Aurelia Nobels returns to the top-15 at Paul Ricard

Aurelia Nobels showed encouraging speed in qualifying at Paul Ricard and returned to the top-15 for the first time after the season opener with a strong race 1, also scoring two wins in the Female Trophy in Italian F4.

Photo by: Paolo Pellegrini / ACI

Ferrari Academy racer Aurelia Nobels, 16, returned to the top-15 in Italian F4 after a very positive weekend at Circuit Paul Ricard, where she was also among the protagonists in qualifying, marginally missing out on a start from the top ten. Nobels had a remarkable debut in Italian F4 - widely rated as the most competitive F4 championship worldwide - in Imola, where she claimed a P11 in the second race of the season. Often competitive in qualifying, Aurelia slotted in P11 on the grid for the second round in Misano, in yet another strong performance for the Prema Racing driver - but a wrist injury unfortunately ruled her out from the Misano races as well as the Spa Francorchamps weekend. Having returned behind the wheel in Monza, Nobels battled once again in the midfield with encouraging pace. While she was unfortunately hit and spun around in two of the races, she could still come home with a top 20 in race 3 that resulted in a Female Trophy win. At Le Castellet, Nobels ran around the top 20 in the two practice sessions, in the strong 37 car field; coming into qualifying on Saturday morning, though, Aurelia made a huge step forward and spent the first session fighting for a place in the top-10. When the chequered flag fell in Q1, a P10 looked on the table before a couple of drivers improved, therefore resulting in an equally positive start from 12th in race 1. While she had speed to repeat the performance in Q2, she Nobels was unfortunately unable to improve in the closing minutes of the second session due to traffic, leaving the FDA driver in P21 on the grid of race 2. Prema teammate Ugo Ugochukwu snatched pole position in race 1, preceding Kacper Sztuka (US Racing) and Prema's Tuukka Taponen and James Wharton. Polish star Sztuka had a brilliant start and got ahead of Ugochukwu at turn 1, with three Prema cars just behind him. Ugochuwku and Wharton banged wheels at Le Beausset but somehow managed to not pick up damage; this battle, though, allowed Sztuka to open a small gap ahead. Nobels lost a couple of positions at the start but remained solidly in the top-15; she would move up to P14 by passing Bhirombhakdi - before hunting down Pablo Sarrazin. Nobels had shown speed in qualifying - and she was carrying that momentum into the first race at the French venue. After a relatively quiet race 1 at the front, Kacper Sztuka took victory for US Racing following a faultless drive; the Pole preceded Ugo Ugochukwu and James Wharton. Aurelia Nobels scored a very respectable P14 - returning for the first time to the top-15 after her Misano accident. With Tina Hausmann and Victoria Blokhina respectively finishing in P23 and P26, Nobels took victory in the Female Trophy - her fourth class win of the season.

Photo by: Paolo Pellegrini / ACI

The second race - contested on Sunday morning - proved to be more challenging for Nobels, who had lined up from P21. Second on the grid, James Wharton stalled at the start, while race 1 winner Kacper Sztuka had a sensational launch to immediately pull away from Taponen and Lindblad. Unfortunately, Aurelia Nobels was caught in a multi car contact on the first lap at turn 3, which brought out the safety car. The Brazilian and Ruiqi Liu picked up damages and were out of the race. Finnish Ferrari Junior driver Taponen got closer in the final laps, but Sztuka never made a mistake and held on to win his second race of the weekend, ahead of Prema drivers Taponen, Ugochuwku and Lindblad. Tina Hausmann gained 10 positions in race 2 to finish P18, scoring the win in the Female Trophy. After giving up the lead at the start of the second race due to a clutch issue, Wharton was looking for redemption and shared the front row of race 3 with weekend dominator Sztuka. A good launch off the line for the Australian, though, wasn't enough to keep Sztuka behind, who took the lead once again at turn 1 and led the pack. From P26, Aurelia Nobels had some passing to do to get closer to the top-20 - but another strong start saw the Brazilian gaining two places, slotting just behind Hausmann and just ahead of Victoria Blokhina. The three young women battled for the lead of the Female Trophy and Blokhina got ahead of Nobels on lap 4. Positions, though, were restored soon after, before the safety car neutralized the race to allow the recovery of the AKM Motorsport car of Frederik Lund, stranded at the Mistral chicane. Wharton, meanwhile, had managed to find a way past Sztuka and kept the lead at the restart, as the US Racing driver went deep at turn 1, allowing Taponen to have a go for second. The Pole held on, as Taponen also had to defend from Badoer. In the hectic final laps, big battles in the midfield saw constant positions changes; Nobels battled with Hausmann, Lacorte and Pradel and, on the final lap, she grabbed the top spot of the Female Trophy as well as 20th place. With a few corners to go, Wharton slowed down with a puncture and Kacper Sztuka went by, taking his third win of the weekend. Wharton eventually crossed the finish line second, preceding Taponen and Badoer. Promoted to P19 after a post race penalty for Ethan Ischer, Aurelia Nobels gained 7 positions in race 3 and took her second win in the Female Trophy at Paul Ricard, edging Tina Hausmann and Victoria Blokhina. A top-15 and a top-20 represent solid results for the Iron Dame, whose qualifying pace is looking again very promising for the coming rounds. "I'd say it was a challenging weekend here in Paul Ricard '', Aurelia said. "We showed quite a good pace in the races, and we also had a very good qualy 1 in P12. The second session was a bit tricky with traffic." "Anyway, in the first race we showed great pace and finished in P14, but we were put out of contention by contact after making a good start in race 2. Race 3 was very complicated, starting from P26, but we came back to P19 still with a good pace and consistency. Now we will focus on the next events." The summer break means that the Italian F4 championship will make its on-track return at Mugello, on 29 September-1 October.

Photo by: Paolo Pellegrini / ACI



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