An action-packed weekend of action at the Buddh International Circuit sees South African steal title and Jordan King win two of four MRF Challenge races…
JK Racing Asia Series
Nabil Jeffri came into the season finale at Buddh International Circuit with a comfortable 34 point lead over his closest rival, Aston Hare. However, at the end of the day, with a perfect weekend from Hare and one of repeated misfortune for Jeffri, it is the young South African driver who takes the title home.
Just as the season opener at Sepang, the finale consisted of four races over two days, with a total of 82 points available throughout. In qualifying, Hare immediately set out to decrease the points gap to Jeffri as he eased into pole for both Sunday races, yet Jeffri looked in complete control as he would start both races from the front row.
Race one saw the two main title contenders fight it out right from the start which resulted in a collision between the pair on lap three. The accident allowed local guest driver Akhil Khushlani into the lead, but Hare managed to quickly recover from the incident and take back the lead, which he held to the finish line. Khushlani came second while Afiq Ikhwan, another series regular who technically came into the weekend as a title contender, completed the podium. Jeffri’s recovery race was a lacklustre one as all he could manage was tenth after pitting for a front wing replacement and receiving a subsequent penalty for speeding in the pitlane. Still, as there were lots of guest drivers present, finishing gave him the points for fourth place.
Race two was somewhat less eventful as this time Hare enjoyed a dominant lights-to-flag victory, with Ikhwan and Khushlani back on the podium. It was another race to forget for Jeffri as he picked up a drive through and only managed to come in seventh. With his points lead down to just 12 after Sunday and the grids for races three and four determined by the outcomes of races one and two, the title suddenly appeared up for grabs.
Starting race three from pole, Hare recorded his seventh victory of the season without much of a hassle. However, as Khushlani came in second, it was Jeffri who completed the podium (starting the race from tenth) and picked up the points for second, keeping the gap between him and Hare at seven points (while the difference between first and second is a mere five).
With Hare starting the final race of the season from pole, he was still no favourite to win the title, as Jeffri made a great getaway from sixth and was in third when he caught up to and passed Ikhwan. Were he to stay in second, the title would’ve been his, but, mere corners after his pass, Ikhwan made a mistake and took himself and Jeffri out of the race. As things stood, all Hare needed to do was finish, but that wasn’t made easy by his car developing a problem that had him drop to second, giving the win to local guest driver Aditya Patel. Hare managed to finish second to secure the title, while, in third, series regular Aidan Wright scored his first podium of the year.
The weekend saw the second round of the newly-established MRF Challenge take place, once again, at Buddh International. The qualifying saw the series leader Jordan King yet again take pole for both Saturday races by quite a respectable margin.
As King was going to have to miss out on the two Sunday races due to them clashing with the annual Autosport Awards (which he is to visit as he was nominated in one of the categories), he made the most out of his opportunities by taking commandeering wins in races one and two. For race one, American GP3 graduate Conor Daly and current F2 champion Luciano Bacheta completed the podium. For race two, which was reduced in distance due to a crash involving Japanese driver Yuudai Jinkawa, Bacheta took second, while British female racer Alice Powell claimed third.
In the absence of King, Daly took his first win of the weekend in race three with Powell and F2 driver Hector Hurst completing the podium. However, neither of King’s main rivals could take full advantage of the situation, as both Daly and Bacheta failed to finish the fourth and final race of the weekend. Instead, Jinkawa, after crashing earlier in the weekend, took an unexpected win with European F3 Open’s Sam Dejonghe and Hurst completing the podium.
With his main rivals producing inconsistent performances, King keeps his lead ahead of the next round, despite missing two out of six races.
PaddockScout Driver of the Weekend: Aston Hare – yeah, it was a really bad weekend for eventual vice-champion Jeffri, but that doesn’t take away from the magnitude of the dominant, calm performance from the South African. Won pole position for both Saturday races, won them both, would’ve won both Sunday ones if not for a mechanical problem. Under such pressure and with competition far more experienced than him – very impressive.
Next weekend: Formula Pilota China concludes its season at Sepang.