Andrea Kimi Antonelli Leads Charge into Abu Dhabi FRMEC Title-Decider

Andrea Kimi Antonelli Leads Charge into Abu Dhabi FRMEC Title-Decider

12.02.2023: • Mumbai Falcons Italian Rookie ace holds lead after penultimate round • Pepe Martí and Nikita Bedrin take maiden series race wins • Taylor Barnard keeps title fight alive with biggest points haul


• Mumbai Falcons Italian Rookie ace holds lead after penultimate round


• Pepe Martí and Nikita Bedrin take maiden series race wins


• Taylor Barnard keeps title fight alive with biggest points haul


 

 Thrilling racing on the Formula Regional Middle East Championship’s (FRMEC) return to Dubai Autodrome culminated in Andrea Kimi Antonelli taking an encouraging points lead into the final round next weekend at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.


But such has been the unpredictable nature of the season so far, that nothing can be taken for granted. Antonelli may have shared the wins in Dubai with Pepe Martí and Nikita Bedrin, but it was Taylor Barnard who scored the biggest points total of the weekend and he is still very much in the picture for the title.




Italian Antonelli had to work hard for his victory in race one. Mumbai Falcons Racing’s 16-year-old Mercedes Formula 1-backed talent had dropped to third on lap one in a thrilling three-wide battle against PHM Racing pair Barnard and Josh Dufek. But Antonelli soon recovered second from Swiss ace Dufek and then wrested the lead from British talent Barnard following an early safety car.




Antonelli’s Mumbai Falcons team-mate Rafael Câmara was also making progress. The Brazilian, a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, pulled off brilliant outbraking manoeuvres on Dufek for third and then on Barnard to claim second.



After missing the previous round at Kuwait Motor Town, Martí returned to action for Pinnacle VAR and led the second race throughout from reversed-grid pole position. The 17-year-old was hotly pursued all the way by the Mumbai Falcons car of fellow Spaniard Lorenzo Fluxá as they left the ferocious battling in their wake.



This came to a climax on the final lap when Aiden Neate was turned around at Turn 10 by Bedrin as they battled for third. Barnard slipped through for another podium finish plus the Rookie Cup prize. Antonelli finished fourth on the road, but two penalties dropped him to 10th.



There was redemption for Bedrin in the final race. The 17-year-old led Dufek and Barnard in a PHM Racing 1-2-3 for much of the distance in a race much interrupted by the safety car. Barnard strove to find a way past Dufek, and his late-race bid to do so failed to come off. Instead, it let Antonelli past, but the Italian immediately attacked Dufek and, after contact was made, both ran wide and Barnard sailed past to claim second position from Dufek and Antonelli.


It leaves Barnard 37 points behind Antonelli, with 75 on the table in Abu Dhabi. Also in mathematical contention are Câmara and Fluxá, although they are respectively 73 and 74 points behind.





Driver Quotes


Race 1 / Andrea Kimi Antonelli / Mumbai Falcons



“It was not an easy race. I have to say, this weekend the conditions are quite difficult. The start was not good at all. I lost immediately pole going in to Turn 1, and then by the end of the lap I’d lost another place so was down to P3. It was not an easy moment for sure, but I knew the pace was good.


On the restart, I made my moves and immediately I pulled away. Really nice to win again. I have an advantage on points, but it’s never over. It’s going to be hard because they will be really aggressive and they’re fast as well. They’re really good competitors, so we’ll see what we can do in the next races.”




Race 2 / Pepe Martí / Pinnacle VAR


“[This win] is really special. Obviously, we’ve had quite a tough time this season. We’re struggling a bit to catch up to the Premas and the PHMs, so to get a win in this fashion – not dominant, but on the edge every single lap being pushed by Lorenzo [Fluxá], from my side I think it was one of my best races.


I didn’t make any mistakes at all from lap four to the end. It was a great race and I’m just really happy to finally get the win.”




Race 3 / Nikita Bedrin / PHM Racing


“I had a decent start I have to say. The first laps were quite good because I pulled a gap. The speed was looking quite good. I was staying consistent. Then the safety cars were there – there were three safety cars, but I think even without them I was still going to win because the speed was good. I’m really happy with that, and happy with the restarts as well. I think I’ve done a good job.


The season has been really unlucky for me mainly, but it’s good to come back with a win and I have to say thanks to the team. They have worked really hard as since time we were here we’ve improved by a lot and now we can easily fight for podiums and wins.”







Race 1



The opening lap to this race was one of the most enthralling you will see anywhere in single-seater competition. Championship leader Andrea Kimi Antonelli qualified on pole position, with Josh Dufek alongside on the front row, and Rafael Câmara and Taylor Barnard filling the second rank. And it was the PHM drivers on the move at the start, with Dufek making a terrific getaway to take the lead from Antonelli at Turn 1, and Barnard squeezing ahead of Câmara for third at Turn 5.



As they raced down the short chute to Turn 12, Antonelli got down the inside of Dufek and into the lead, but the Swiss was not giving up. Side by side they raced once more, Dufek tried to reclaim the advantage at the Turn 14 left-hander, and Barnard slithered down the inside of both of them to opportunistically snatch the lead away. For a short time it was a PHM 1-2, before Antonelli claimed second spot from Dufek at Turn 10 on lap two. Then the safety car appeared, with the car of Rafael Villagómez stricken with damaged suspension after a collision with Giovanni Maschio.



Shortly after the restart, Antonelli slipped past Barnard and into the lead before racing to a healthy advantage. Câmara made a superb lunge on Dufek into Turn 10 to grab third, and soon began putting the pressure on Barnard. Five laps after his move on Dufek, Câmara came from even further back into Turn 10 with what seemed an impossibly late manoeuvre to brilliantly grab second spot.



Unfortunately, the safety car was called again due to Maschio pulling off track on the exit of Turn 11. This eradicated a lead of over five seconds built up by Antonelli, but he led fellow Rookie Cup aces Câmara and Barnard over the finish line, with Dufek fourth.



There was plenty of action behind. Nikita Bedrin held a solid fifth place virtually throughout the race, while Martinius Stenshorne (R-ace GP) made impressive progress up to sixth. But the Norwegian was penalised five seconds after the race for an early incident with Brad Benavides, and the bunching up of the field under the safety car made this a heavy price to pay, relegating Stenshorne to 15th.



Up to sixth therefore came Spaniard Mari Boya (Hyderabad Blackbirds with MP Motorsport), with R-ace’s German series newcomer Tim Tramnitz seventh, and Lorenzo Fluxá passing Prema Racing-run Briton Aiden Neate three laps before the final safety car for what became eighth spot. The corrected top 10 was completed by Pepe Martí.





Race 2



Martí’s 10th place from race one gave the driver who finished runner-up in the equivalent series last year the perfect opportunity by offering him reversed-grid pole position. And he did not pass this up. Lorenzo Fluxá pulled off a superb move on front-row starter Aiden Neate around the outside of Turn 1 after the start to jump into second place. Fluxá then pursued Martí throughout the race, and occasionally would chip away at the gap. But Martí always had enough in hand and took the chequered flag 1.197 seconds in front.



While the two Spaniards at the front put on an exhibition of fine driving, it was all action behind them. Neate settled into third place ahead of Tim Tramnitz, but Nikita Bedrin was closing on the German. On the eighth lap of 16, Bedrin made it up to fourth when he passed Tramnitz at Turn 10.



Now Tramnitz was looking vulnerable, and on lap 11 Taylor Barnard forced him to defend at Turns 10 and 11, and then swept around the outside of him at Turn 12 to grab fifth. Next time around, Tramnitz locked up at Turn 14, letting Mari Boya past for sixth. Andrea Kimi Antonelli then dived down the inside of Tramnitz at the final turn. As Tramnitz attempted to fight back at Turn 1, he ran wide and this allowed Josh Dufek through.



Bedrin was now on the tail of third-placed Neate, and on the final lap he took a dive on the Briton at Turn 10. The two cars made contact, spinning Neate around and delaying Bedrin. Barnard gleefully slipped through to grab third place, and victory in the Rookie Cup class that had seemed destined for either Neate or Bedrin.


Antonelli had lined up 10th on the grid and even slipped to 11th on the first lap, but he was now fifth and completed his work by scything past Boya into Turn 12 to grab fourth. But after the race, Antonelli was given a pair of five-second penalties for breaches of racing etiquette – one with Dufek, one with Tramnitz – and this relegated him to 10th.




The unfortunate Neate was classified fifth, with Dufek sixth and Tramnitz seventh. Another who attempted to pass Tramnitz was Rafael Câmara, but he lost momentum with his move on the penultimate lap, allowing an attack from behind into Turn 12 from team-mate Kirill Smal. There was contact, and Câmara retired to the pits with deranged suspension, while a penalty dropped Smal to 15th. That meant Hitech Grand Prix’s Colombian Red Bull Junior Sebastián Montoya was classified eighth, with Martinius Stenshorne ninth – he also completed the Rookie Cup podium behind Barnard and Neate – and Antonelli 10th.



A fine pole position effort in the second qualifying session from Nikita Bedrin allowed him the perfect opportunity to make up for what had happened in race two, and he did so in superb style. But, yet again, there was some scintillating racing going on in between three interruptions from the safety car.

 

At the start, Bedrin got away in front, while Josh Dufek went around the outside of front-row qualifier Andrea Kimi Antonelli to take second place. Antonelli lost a further position later in the lap to Taylor Barnard, meaning it was a PHM 1-2-3. On the second lap, Cenyu Han went into the barriers at Turn 6, meaning the first safety car interlude. Once the race got going again, Barnard mounted a strong challenge on Dufek’s second position, but to no avail.



And then, after four laps of green-flag racing, the safety car was out again. Sami Meguetounif, who had been running 10th, had come to a halt in the middle of the track on the exit of Turn 14. The chasing pack did their best to avoid him – and succeeded in doing so – but in his efforts to swerve around the stricken car Daniel Mavlyutov got into a slide and hit the barriers.


Bedrin made a perfect restart to leave a useful gap to Dufek. As the field entered Turns 8 and 9, Barnard forced Dufek to defend, compromising the Swiss driver’s exit speed onto the long straight. Dufek covered the inside line to Turn 10, forcing Barnard to go the long way round, and the Briton’s compromised line allowed Antonelli to slip ahead into third. Down to Turn 12, Antonelli tried a move on Dufek, but there was contact between the pair and Barnard raced through into second ahead of Dufek and Antonelli.


In their wake, the battle for seventh had come to grief at Turn 10: Brad Benavides and Martinius Stenshorne tangled and also delayed Pepe Martí. While Stenshorne drove around to the pits to retire, Benavides was stranded on the circuit, and the safety car emerged once more. This secured Bedrin’s victory from Barnard and Dufek, with fourth-placed Antonelli completing the Rookie Cup podium behind Bedrin and Barnard.



Lorenzo Fluxá was a strong fifth throughout, while Mari Boya emerged from an early battle with Benavides to claim sixth. The late tangle that triggered the final safety car promoted Kirill Smal to seventh from Singapore-based US-Indian Nikhil Bohra (R-ace GP), Tim Tramnitz and Thai Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak (Pinnacle VAR).




2023 FORMULA REGIONAL MIDDLE EAST CHAMPIONSHIP CERTIFIED BY FIA PROVISIONAL CALENDAR

January 9-10
Dubai Autodrome, UAE
Pre-Season Test

January 13-14
Dubai Autodrome, UAE
Round 1 (Races 1-3)

January 27-28
Kuwait Motor Town, Kuwait
Round 2 (Races 4-6)

January 31-February 1
Kuwait Motor Town, Kuwait
Round 3 (Races 7-9)

February 11-12
Dubai Autodrome, UAE
Round 4 (Races 10-12)

February 18-19
Yas Marina Circuit, UAE
Round 5 (Races 13-15)



 Nikki Kemp - photos FREMEC

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12.02.2023 / MaP

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