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Maite Cáceres stars in Ligier JS F4 opener at NOLA, claims two podiums

"All weekend we were fighting for the win" - Maite Cáceres was among the drivers to beat at NOLA Motorsports Park, as the Uruguayan kicked off her Ligier JS F4 campaign with two podiums, a fastest lap and a start from pole position, consistently battling for the win - which is now in sight.

Maite Caceres, International Motorsports, Ligier JS F4, NOLA Motorsports Park
Photo credits: International Motorsports

Maite Cáceres has kicked off her season in the Ligier JS F4 championship in style, battling at the top of the field throughout the weekend and ultimately claiming two podium finishes at NOLA Motorsports Park, as the Uruguayan talent is closing in on her maiden victory in single seaters.

Cáceres, who contested last year her first international campaign in the inaugural season of the all-female F1 Academy, made her return stateside in 2024, where she previously made her debut in formula cars in the 2022 F4 US Championship. With now one more year of experience under her belt, she made a remarkable step up as soon as she got back behind the wheel of the Ligier F4 car and claimed a streak of podium finishes across three weekends.

Having returned to International motorsport for the season, Maite in fact contested the opening two rounds of the Formula FARA championship at Homestead Miami, in preparation for her F4 US/Ligier JS F4 series. With stellar performances, Cáceres stepped for the first time on the podium at her first outing and set the fastest lap of the race, before reiterating the accomplishment in the second round, where she battled for the victory and was also the protagonist of a stunning charge in the reverse grid race.

The launch of the Ligier JS F4 series at NOLA Motorsports Park was yet another step forward for Cáceres - who is also a PMH Powering Diversity Scholarship recipient: in a bigger field, she would have to carry momentum from her recent successes and translate that gained self-confidence into more pace to battle at the front. And that's exactly what the Uruguayan did.

"I really didn't have any expectations coming into the first race of the season", Maite told us. "Of course I wanted a top five, or be around there, but we had really good pace. At the beginning I was struggling a little bit, but then I was super fast in practice. That's when we felt that we had a chance for the win."

Cáceres in fact topped both official practice sessions - leading Bacon Zelenka by 0.349 of a second in the first session, and Pablo Benites by over 4 tenths in the second one. Her 1:42.069 lap was a strong reference that suggested she would have a real opportunity to establish herself as one of the front runners in the championship.

In qualifying, it would be Teddy Musella to claim pole position, ahead of Kekai Hauanio and Bacon Zelenka. Maite Cáceres' #6 Abitab/Supermatch-sponsored Ligier would line from the third row of the grid, having qualified in sixth place.

In sunny conditions at the Louisiana facility, the lights went out for the opening race of the season: Musella and Hauanio approached the first corner almost side by side, with the former retaining the top spot; just behind them, Cáceres had a spectacular launch and was immediately up to fifth, fighting for fourth with Quimby and Wallin.

The whole top five, though, remained in contention for the top spot: the Uruguayan gained another position on the following lap, as she cleared Wallin and tried to hunt down the top three just one second ahead.

Marginally faster than the cars ahead, Cáceres caught up with her rivals as the safety car was deployed on lap 4, when Demitri Nolan spun and stopped on track. The race was eventually red flagged to allow for the clean up of the badly battered car and the action resumed on lap 7; Hauanio was rear-ended by Quimby just before the restart and had damage to both his front and rear wings.

Maite Cáceres was smart and took no risks to get around Hauanio, who continued to push despite the damage; the Uruguayan was soon up to second place - and started to hunt down Teddy Musella, 8 tenths ahead. The two lapped at a very similar pace and pulled away from the rest of the pack, although the gap between the leaders remained unchanged.

Musella kept up the pace and took a lights-to-flag victory, ahead of a remarkable Maite Cáceres, who moved from sixth to second with a smart, consistent race that confirmed the young star from Punta del Este as one of the leading drivers in the championship.

Cáceres equalled her best ever finish in F4 machinery, following her second place in Formula FARA - although her eyes were now firmly set on a first victory.

Maite Caceres, International Motorsports, Ligier JS F4, NOLA Motorsports Park
Photo credits: Ligier JS F4

Based on the fastest laps from race 1, the grid for race two saw Teddy Musella lining up ahead of Kekai Hauanio on the front row, while Zelenka and Maite Cáceres would share the second row of the grid.

Hauanio and Musella again went into the first corner wheel to wheel - and it would be the driver of the #29 machine to claim the lead - while Maite Cáceres had a better getaway than Zelenka and was already up to third. She then tried to pick up the pieces from the battle for the lead ahead, before the safety car was deployed following an incident for Daniel Quimby on the first lap.

The race resumed with 20 minutes to go and Maite had a spectacular run to snatch second place from Musella into turn 1; Hauanio, meanwhile, attempted to break away and set the fastest lap to open a 1 second gap on the following laps. Maite couldn't quite break away from Musella, but the latter was also under pressure from a fast Bacon Zelenka.

By lap 6, Maite clocked the new overall benchmark in 1:43.366 - then further lowered it to 1:43.000, as she kept gaining a couple of tenths to the race leader. Zelenka had meanwhile cleared Musella for third - and was also logging quick laps, as the top four remained very close together.

Cáceres was on a mission and, after her first lap in the 1:42s, she tried to keep the pressure on Hauanio. Her rival, though, wasn't holding on either and could always keep the gap around the one second. On lap 13, though, Maite was on the hunt and caught Hauanio with a new fastest lap - and she completed a stunning move for the lead around the outside of turn one with now two minutes left on the clock.

Just as the white flag flew, Cáceres unfortunately went deep into the final corner and, after a trip through the grass, she rejoined in third. While the first win had slipped away from her hands, it was nonetheless the second podium of the weekend - paired up with a fastest lap in race 2.

Maite Caceres, International Motorsports, Ligier JS F4, NOLA Motorsports Park
Photo credits: International Motorsports

On Sunday, it was redemption time for the young Uruguayan. The fastest lap had gained her pole position for race 3, alongside Kekai Hauanio, and ahead of Zelenka and Musella, two drivers that also proved to be very fast throughout the weekend.

Cáceres had some wheelspin at the start and entered the first corner side by side with Hauanio, although the latter managed to get the position by taking the inside line. Maite tried to fight back but also saw Tony Musella sneaking past for second. Nevertheless, she remained focused and followed the leaders closely, as Musella attacked Hauanio and snatched the lead on lap 2.

The top three pulled away; Maite at the same time tried to preserve her tyres - and this proved valuable as Musella started to struggle mid-way through the race. Hauanio tried to find a way past Musella - and Cáceres took the chance to dive on the inside and grabbed second, although her rival soon switched back. Cáceres was faster and made another move - but was pushed off in the grass, although she quickly rejoined.

Hauanio and Musella traded positions on lap 14 - before the safety car was deployed for debris. Maite had to defend from Quimby at the restart, but she was soon back into the gearbox of Musella and Hauanio, in a three-wide battle for the lead on the final lap.

Unfortunately she was shuffled down to seventh in just a few corners, with the whole pack bunched up and banging wheels to get across the finish line. Two post-race penalties promoted her to fifth.

While it was certainly not the position that she would have deserved, Maite Cáceres was the protagonist of an outstanding first round of the Ligier JS F4 season, having battled for the win in every single race - and barely missed out on the top step of the podium.

"All weekend we were fighting for the win - it didn't come, a small mistake and it escaped from my hands", she said. "But I'm really happy that out of three races we had two podiums, one second place and a third place. Then we had a fastest lap and a start from pole in race three."

Her tyre management was also a particular highlight, which is likely to come in useful again throughout the remainder of the season. "It was a really good strategy also with the team for the tyres", she added. "Overall the team did an amazing job. We worked really hard all [Uruguayan] summer, working with a coach to get results."

"Now I'm putting my head down for the next race in Road America because I want that win", Maite continued. "We're third in the championship and now we have great chances of fighting for it, so I'm going to be as prepared as I can."

Cáceres - who became the first woman to step on the podium in the series - now sits third in the championship standings with 43 points, just two behind Bacon Zelenka. She will aim to continue the highly positive trend at the second round in Road America, on May 16-19.



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