Ethan Ischer took victory in a tense finish to the final round of the Formula 4 Central European Zone championship at Balaton Park, securing the title over Jenzer Motorsport team-mate Reno Francot by two points.
Needing only to finish second in the final race, Francot had appeared to be on course for the title despite a late challenge from race two winner, Michael Sauter.
On the penultimate lap, Sauter dived inside Francot into turn one, hanging on the twisty opening combination in second place. As Francot fought to regain the position, the two touched, forcing Sauter into the gravel. Sauter continued in third but was unable to catch Francot at the flag.
However, Francot’s joy was short-lived as the stewards imposed a five-second penalty for the incident, dropping him behind Sauter in the results and handing the title to Ischer.
Ischer started the third and final race from pole position, determined by each driver’s second-fastest time in qualifying, with Francot alongside him. However, to take the title Ischer needed a victory with Francot finishing no higher than third.
To make life more difficult for Ischer, the pair’s main challenger, and the driver most likely to be able to deny Francot, race one winner Sauter started a lowly seventh.
Ischer held off Francot to hold the lead with Gender Motorsport’s Oliver Michl jumping up to third. However, Sauter was quickly through into to third and began hauling in Francot as Ischer controlled the pace in front.
Sauter was soon on Francot’s tail, forcing the Dutchman to defend into turn one. On the penultimate lap, Sauter was on his gearbox past the pits, diving to the inside and taking the position. Francot immediately pushed to regain the place but his move at turn eight was judged by the stewards to have been too forceful, incurring the penalty.
Jenzer’s Thomas Gore, in only his first single-seater event, again impressed, fighting through to fourth but lacking the speed to close the gap to the leaders, with Shimo Zhang finishing sixth ahead of Michl, who nevertheless snatched fourth in the overall standings with seventh.
Earlier in the day, Sauter had taken an emotional win for his family-run Sauter Engineering + Design team in race two, his first victory in three seasons of competing in F4 in the ADAC and CEZ championships.
Ischer appeared to have timed his start to perfection but then bogged down, dropping to the back of the nine-car field and allowing Sauter an unchallenged run to the first corner.
Francot and the impressive Gore slotted in behind the Swiss-Japanese driver as Ischer made quick work of the slower drivers to recover to fourth by the end of the second lap.
The safety car was deployed at the end of that lap with Michl beached in the gravel at turn four.
That allowed Ischer to close back onto the tail of the leaders but when racing resumed on lap six, he was unable to hang on to Gore and was instead forced onto the defensive to hold off Jenzer team-mate Zhang.
Sauter was able to build a gap to his pursuers, taking the chequered flag 3.6s ahead of Francot, while Gore had dropped back and was forced to defend vigorously from a charging Ischer.
Ischer was close enough to challenge into turn one with three laps remaining but Gore closed the gap, forcing Ischer to tuck in behind.
Over the final laps the battle became fraught, with both running wide and over the chicane as they fought for position, with Gore resisting the pressure to take the final podium position.
Jenzer’s Max Karhan took his best result of the season in fifth, having passed Zhang at the restart.
Race 2 (14 laps)
1 Michael Sauter Sauter Engineering+Design 25m56.593s
2 Reno Francot Jenzer Motorsport +3.607s
3 Thomas Gore Jenzer Motorsport +6.453s
4 Ethan Ischer Jenzer Motorsport +6.832s
5 Max Karhan Jenzer Motorsport +12.195s
6 Shimo Zhang Jenzer Motorsport +12.711s
7 Miroslav Mikes SAPE Motorsport +15.195s
8 Roman Roubicek JMT Racing +1m02.040s
9 Oliver Michl Gender Racing Team DNF
Fastest lap: Sauter, 1m38.454s
Race 3 (16 laps)
1 Ethan Ischer Jenzer Motorsport 26m25.442s
2 Michael Sauter Sauter Engineering+Design +2.330s
3 Reno Francot Jenzer Motorsport +6.782s
4 Thomas Gore Jenzer Motorsport +7.432s
5 Shimo Zhang Jenzer Motorsport +11.496s
6 Oliver Michl Gender Racing Team +14.300s
7 Max Karhan Jenzer Motorsport +27.035s
8 Miroslav Mikes SAPE Motorsport +31.901ss
9 Roman Roubicek JMT Racing +2m03.815s
Fastest lap: Sauter, 1m38.291s
1 Ischer 263 2 Francot 261 3 Sauter 204 4 Michl 112 5 Mathias Bjerre Jakobsen 106 6 Mikes 75 7 Karhan 56 8 James Egozi 50 9 Niko Taylor 43 10 Gore 39