Felipe Drugovich takes championship lead with double win in MRF Challenge 2017
November 29, 2017: Felipe Drugovich made a strong start in the opening round of the MRF Challenge 2017 with two wins at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain. The MRF Challenge 2017 opening round was the support race for FIA World Endurance Championship and the Formula V8 3.5 series.
The sixth edition of the MRF Challenge 2017 kicked off in Bahrain alongside the final round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The FIA-sanctioned MRF Challenge 2017 championship is the leading winter series for young motorsport drivers from across the globe. The event features four rounds with 16 races - in Bahrain, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Chennai. This year will also see an updated car featuring inputs from legendary Formula 1 designer Adrian Newey.
Rinus van Kalmthout dominated Race 3 to win ahead of championship leader Drugovich and Julien Falchero. French GP3 driver Falchero won his first race of the MRF Challenge in Bahrain when he got past van Kalmthout in the final race of Round 1 in Sakhir Bahrain. Drugovich leads the championship on 80 points, with Falchero in 2nd on 65 points, Presley Martono on 63 points and van Kalmthout on 61 points.
Van Kalmthout was dominant in qualifying to put his car on pole position by almost half a second. He set a 2:00.754 to set the fastest time of the weekend. Drugovich qualified 2nd, albeit 0.461 seconds off, with Karkosik in 3rd place. Falchero qualified in 4th place ahead of Martono and Friday pace setter Pavan Ravishankar.
The season got underway with Van Kalmthout having the perfect start from pole position to lead into the first corner. Drugovich followed him in 2nd place with Dylan Young jumping from 7th to 3rd after getting a brilliant start. Drugovich managed to stay with Van Kalmthout for the first few laps before the Dutch driver started pulling away at the front. Meanwhile Martono passed Young for 3rd and started catching Drugovich.
It was heartbreak for Van Kalmthout as he was forced to retire from the lead with 2 laps to go due to a mechanical problem. Meanwhile Martono closed up right behind Drugovich and the two cars were side by side as they headed down the main straight. Martono tried to get past but Drugovich held on to win the first race of the season. Young crossed the line in 3rd place to take only his second podium in championship. Alex Karkosik finished in 4th place ahead of Maldonado, Julien Falchero and Robert Megennis.
In the reverse grid based Race 2, Maldonado jumped Falchero to lead into the first corner. Drugovich had a strong start from 6th on the grid to slot into 3rd behind the fast starting Karkosik. Karkosik and Drugovich put pressure on Maldonado but the Venezuelan did well to stay in front. Van Kalmthout, who started last, sliced through the field and was upto 6th place on lap 5. Martono passed Falchero into the first corner on lap 6 while 2nd placed man Karkosik was forced to retire with a mechanical problem.
On the last lap Drugovich out braked Maldonado to take the lead, with Martono close behind. Coming out of the last corner and heading into the start finish straight Martono managed to get his nose ahead to beat Maldonado by 0.010secs. It was heartbreak for Maldonado who slipped from 1st to 3rd on the last lap. Behind the top 3, Falchero finished in 4th ahead of the charging van Kalmthout, with Megennis and Ravishankar rounding off the top 7.
Double winner Felipe Drugovich, said, "I am really happy to win both races today. In qualifying we were still trying things with the setup. We were lucky to win Race 1 with Van Kalmthout retiring. In race 2 I had a great start and managed to get behind Maldonado. He made a small mistake into the final corner and I took advantage to pass him into the first corner. It has been a great start and I hope we can do the same tomorrow.”
Presley Martono impressed with a double podium finish in the season opener. He commented, “The car was great today and I felt that we really nailed the setup. I have to improve my starts and then I feel I can challenge for the win. Overall I am very happy with today’s performance.”
In Race 3, Van Kalmthout made the perfect getaway to lead into the first corner with Drugovich holding off Falchero. Behind them Alex Karkosik managed to pass Dylan Young as Martono lost places. Van Kalmthout pulled away with Drugovich and Falchero locked in battle.
Rinus Van Kalmthout leading Race 3
He was not troubled and crossed the finish line more than 8 secs ahead. Falchero came alongside Drugovich but was unable to pass the Brazilian and had to settle for 3rd place. Karkosik finished in a lonely 4th place. After a slow start Martono recovered to finish in 5th place ahead of Young and Pavan Ravishankar. There were battles all through the field in what was a highly exciting race.
The final race of Round 1 once again saw van Kalmthout having the perfect start with Falchero slotting into 2nd ahead of Drugovich. Drugovich passed Falchero only to be repassed by the Frenchman. The Safety Car was called out when Young hit Enqvist in the first corner. At the restart Falchero passed van Kalmthout with a great move into the first corner.
On lap 4 Martono passed Drugovich for 3rd place and closed in on the leaders. Harri Jones and Michael Amendola collided on lap 7, which brought out the Safety Car for the second time. Van Kalmthout tried to get past Falchero at the restart only for Martono to get past in the first corner.
Van Kalmthout fought back and got past Martono at turn 4. Falchero held on to take his first win in the championship ahead of van Kalmthout and Martono. Drugovich finished in 4th place ahead of Karkosik and Manuel Maldonado.
Race 3 winner Rinus van Kalmthout was relieved to win after suffering problems while leading yesterday. He commented, “After yesterday’s disappointment today was a very good day. In the first race I had the lead and I managed to go faster and faster to win comfortably. It was unfortunate that the Safety Car came out so early but am very happy with 2nd place.”
Race 4 winner Julien Falchero was thrilled to take his first win. He said, "We were struggling yesterday with the car but the entire team helped to give me a great car today. We had the pace to win both races today and I took advantage of the Safety Car to jump Van Kalmthout to win. So very happy with the result and look forward to the next Round in Dubai.”
MRF Challenge 2017, Round 1, Bahrain, Qualifying:
1. Rinus Van Kalmthout – 2:00.754
2. Felipe Drugovich – 2:01.215
3. Alex Karkosik – 2:01.533
4. Julian Falchero – 2:01.900
5. Presley Martono – 2:01.961
MRF Challenge 2017, Round 1, Bahrain, Race 1:
1. Felipe Drugovich – 20:33.897
2. Presley Martono – 20:34.546
3. Dylan Young – 20:38.456
4. Alex Karkosik – 20:40.984
5. Manuel Maldonado – 20:43.096
MRF Challenge 2017, Round 1, Bahrain, Race 2:
1. Felipe Drugovich – 20:33.019
2. Presley Martono – 20:34.689
3. Manuel Maldonado – 20:34.699
4. Julian Falchero – 20:36.847
5. Rinus van Kalmthout – 20:39.456
MRF Challenge 2017, Round 1, Bahrain, Race 3:
1. Rinus van Kalmthout – 20:18.394
2. Felipe Drugovich – 20:26.178
3. Julian Falchero – 20:26.224
4. Alex Karkosik – 20:29.630
5. Presley Martono – 20:35.324
MRF Challenge 2017, Round 1, Bahrain, Race 4:
1. Julian Falchero – 24:44.559
2. Rinus van Kalmthout – 24:45.020
3. Presley Martono – 24:45.851
4. Felipe Drugovich – 24:47.371
5. Alex Karkosik – 24:50.189