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Maite Cáceres keeps podium streak alive in Ligier JS F4

Maite Cáceres continued her strong Ligier JS F4 season with yet another podium finish at Road America, following a great progression through the weekend that saw the Uruguayan battling for the win and leading laps in the last race of the meeting.

Maite Caceres, International Motorsport, Ligier F4 JS 2024, Road America
Photo credits: Maite Caceres, International Motorsport

Maite Cáceres continued her strong start to her 2024 Ligier JS F4 championship with another brilliant performance at Road America, which hosted the second round of the season in conjunction with the F4 US series.

The Uruguayan talent was coming off a stellar season opener at NOLA Motorsports Park, where she secured two podiums - including a runner up place - and was as close as ever to claim her first win in single seaters.

Cáceres' development at the wheel of the Ligier F4 car was already evident from the two rounds of the Formula FARA series she contested at Homestead Miami in pre-season, which saw the International Motorsport's racer again battling for victory in all races; which such results, Maite build her confidence up and was ready to fight at the top end of the field in her second F4 season Stateside, after a very formative year in Europe in F1 Academy.

Cáceres returned to the 6.515 km-long Road America circuit, one of the most challenging and iconic tracks in North America, after collecting her best finish in F4 US at the venue in 2022 - a 12th place in her debut season of F4 competitions. The aim was now clearly to return to the podium after collecting 39 points at NOLA.

The weekend for the only woman on the grid started uphill, with the ninth fastest time in practice. Nevertheless, the Abitab/Supermatch sponsored driver improved significantly in qualifying and, over two seconds faster than practice, she posted a 2:19.713 that placed her sixth on the grid. While she wasn't yet in the positions where she belongs, the Uruguayan once again proved that she could work her way up and built speed over the weekend.

Pole-sitter Teddy Musella led the pack at the start of the race ahead of Brad Majman and bacon Zelenka; from the third row of the grid, Cáceres had a good getaway but had a slower car in front and had to check up, which put the International Motorsport driver in a difficult spot into turn 1, with Hauanio and Parrish trying to find a way past. Maite however held on with determination and kept sixth throughout the first lap, before the safety car was deployed for the stricken car of Christopher Parrish.

It was quick recovery and the race went back underway at the end of the next lap: Cáceres gained one position as Wallin went wide - but then she was herself under pressure from Hauanio and ended up being demoted to seventh. The top four battled wheel to wheel and both Majman and Zelenka passed Musella, while Hauanio continued to make up positions.

Cáceres set her personal best lap and settled on a 2m23 pace - although she couldn't quite catch a slipstream to keep touch with the group of the front-runners.

Nevertheless, she kept improving her lap times: by lap 5 she was consistently on the 2:21 mark and followed Szuch, Hauanio and Dass a few seconds down the road, while the leading trio had opened a gap.

The fierce battles for positions, though, eventually brought the top-6 back together and Cáceres clocked her first lap in the 2m20 as she pushed to close back the gap as well.

Szuch spun with two laps to go and, with Wallin going wide, Maite climbed back up to fifth as the white flag signalled the final lap of the race.

In a highly spectacular finish, Bacon Zelenka and Brad Majman were separated by 18 thousandths of a second, with the former taking the win; Maite Cáceres crossed the finish line in fifth, bringing home a positive result and making more steps forward pace-wise, as her times improved significantly throughout the race. After the trickier start to her practice, she was now fully back in the game.

Maite Caceres, International Motorsport, Ligier F4 JS 2024, Road America
Photo credits: Maite Caceres, International Motorsport

From P6 in race 2, Maite would in fact have two more chances to improve and get closer to a podium at Road America. She had a great launch and battled wheel to wheel with Hauanio for fifth, but got stuck behind Parrish and had to slot into seventh at the end of the first lap. Ahead, Musella had retained the lead from Szuch and Zelenka, while Dass - who was starting from the front row - moved before the lights went out and then dropped to sixth.

The Uruguayan racer was over half a second faster than Dass and the two fought side by side; while Maite briefly got ahead, Dass could fight back. A small mistake then saw Cáceres lose out to Jake Pollack with 20 minutes to go. Ahead, Kekai Hauanio was on the move and passed Szuch and Zelenka, as the battle for the podium was on fire. Musella, though, was over 5 seconds ahead, comfortably leading.

Maite regrouped and continued to set her personal best times, consistently in the 2m20; on lap 6, she was closing in again on Dass and Pollack. The International Motorsport driver clocked her first lap in the 2m19 and, once under the one second gap, she started to put pressure and passed Dass on lap 9. Maite was now back in the mix and pushed to further ahead, clocking a new personal best.

In the last ten minutes of the race, Musella dramatically slowed down and lost the gap to second-placed Hauanio; Drew Szuch spun from fourth and fell at the tail end of the pack, which opened a three-way fight for the win. Musella, though, couldn't hold off Hauanio, who snatched the lead.

On the final lap, Zelenka went for a move at turn 1 but the gap closed and the two made contact - sending Teddy Musella upside down. The race ended under caution and, while Cáceres couldn't complete a move on Pollack in time, she took the chequered flag in fourth place, further improving from the first contest.

Maite Caceres, International Motorsport, Ligier F4 JS 2024, Road America
Photo credits: Maite Caceres, International Motorsport

The final race of the weekend saw Cáceres lining up fourth on the grid, from where she could realistically aim to challenge the front-runners - aiming to continue her porium streak from the previous round. Ahead of her, Drew Szuch shared the front row with Bacon Zelenka, while Maite lined up alongside race 2 winner Kekai Hauanio.

Cáceres had another great start and tried to pass around the outside of turn 1, but Hauanio held third; the top six then almost banged wheels over the following corners and Maite would have to slot into fifth place, although she was right in the clutches of Pollack - and she attacked and passed him under braking at turn 1 with a great move on lap 2.

Maite was on a mission and soon cleared Szuch - who had lost the lead to Hauanio and Zelenka, battling right ahead. Cáceres and Musella - who was recovering from the back - were the fastest drivers on track and the Uruguayan star caught the leading duo, aiming to come back into the battle for the win. At the same time, Musella leapfrogged Szuch - and then had the chance to join the leading trio when the caution came out on lap 3, following a spin by Harbir Dass.

The race resumed with 18 minutes left on the clock and Maite was now under threat from Musella, who completed a move on the start finish line and then immediately challenged the leaders. Musella, though, made a mistake and went off in the gravel - allowing Cáceres to catch back the top-two. Maite in fact had a spectacular battle for second place with Zelenka which saw the two rubbing wheels for half a lap before the International Motorsport driver completed the move under braking, with a determined and bold maneuver.

While Hauanio had almost checked out one and a half second ahead, Maite was on the same lap times once in clear air - and she was unstoppable: she set the new fastest lap of the race in 2:19.333 - her best of the weekend - and caught Hauanio, who started to defend by weaving on the straight. Maite made a stunning pass around the outside of the final corner, having spent several corners side by side - and with Majman and Zelenka also joining the pack, the fight for the win was in full force with 8 minutes to go.

One lap later, a three-wide at turn one resulted in Cáceres again holding on to the lead, but one lap later the slipstream for her rivals gave the chance to Majman to dive on the inside, and Hauanio also sneaked past. On the final lap, the top four continued to swap positions ahead and, with the slipstream playing a crucial role, the four cars almost crossed the line in unison; Zelenka took the win but unfortunately the cars tangled after Majman moved, casing Hauanio to spin right in the path of Cáceres, who had nowhere to go and made heavy impact with the barriers on the main straight.

Luckily all the drivers were unhurt, but it was an unfortunate end to an otherwise brilliant race: when Majman was handed a 30 second penalty for causing the accident, Maite was classified third across the line - and she could in fact continue her podium streak in the JS F4 Ligier series.

"Amazing to have raced at one of my favorite tracks. It was very challenging but I tried to maximise and got good points", she commented. "Thanks to the team International Motorsport for their hard work!"

"We had very good pace in Race 3, I even led for a couple of laps but lost the lead due to some mistakes on my side", Maite summed up. "It's a pity the race ended as it did, with four cars crossing the finish line and two of them causing an accident that saw all of our cars end up in the wall with big damages. Very unnecessary maneuver in my eyes", she added.

"To them, it might just be a dent in the car that can be fixed – and thank God we all came out unharmed! – but to me it’s more than that. It’s the effort of my team, my family, my sponsors and myself that we put in every day to raise the budget to race in a championship far away from home. For now, I’m focusing on what’s next and will work my hardest to improve lap by lap."

Cáceres was nevertheless once again the protagonist of a stellar weekend and her ability to turn the weekend around by improving the car in the right direction session after session - up until being again among the fastest on track in the final race - clearly shows the huge progress made by the Uruguayan driver over the last season; her win might be just around the corner, as the Ligier JS F4 season resumes at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course on 20-23 June.

Before that, Maite Cáceres will be back behind the wheel of the F4 machine for the next round of the Formula FARA championship at Sebring International Raceway, this weekend on 25-26 May. 

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1 Comment

han gu
han gu
Jun 14

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