Raj Bharath pulled off two stunning overtaking moves enroute to winning his first race in the MRF Challenge 2014 at the Losail International Circuit in Doha, Qatar. Raj finished ahead of Kyle Mitchell and Toby Sowery in Race 3 to make it two consecutive wins for Indian drivers after Tarun Reddy won Race 2 the day before. Raj almost made it two wins in a day but just missed out by 0.212secs to Toby Sowery in Race 4. Fans were treated to great racing under the floodlights with both races providing plenty of overtaking and close racing in what is probably the closest MRF Challenge grid.
The main feature race started with Toby on pole position with Raj alongside him. Raj had a great start and went into the lead with Toby falling to 3rd position behind Ryan Cullen. Cullen passed Raj at the end of the first lap to take the lead with Kyle Mitchell also squeezing through. Toby ran wide and slipped back to 6th position. Raj spent the next few laps trying to find a way past Kyle as Cullen failed to take advantage of his lead. Raj pulled off a great move to get past Kyle and within a lap he was right behind Cullen. Raj overtook Cullen on the next lap to take the lead of the race.
Behind him the battle continued when Kyle got past Cullen and in to 2nd place. Toby also found his way past Cullen and started challenging Kyle for 2nd place. Raj crossed the finish line to take the win with Kyle managing to hold off Toby to take 2nd place. Cullen finished in 4th position with Pedro Cardoso in 5th position. Mathias Lauda took 6th place to take reverse grid pole for the 4th and final race of the weekend.
Race 2 started with pole sitter Mathias Lauda going into the lead ahead of Ryan Cullen. Pedro Cardoso slotted into 3rd position with Tarun Reddy jumping from 7th to 4th after the 1st lap. Tarun passed Pedro and started catching the top 2 drivers. On lap 4 the top 7 drivers were separated by just over a second with nothing to choose from them. Toby and Raj, who had poor starts, started carving through the field and on lap 8 were in 3rd & 4th positions.
Toby quickly passed Cullen and took the lead from Lauda on lap 10. Raj took a little longer to pass both the drivers and set off to catch Toby, who had a 3 second lead with 3 laps to go. Lauda, meanwhile, made a mistake and went off track which dropped him out of the top 6. Raj became the only driver to go under the 2 min lap time as he set two fastest laps and reeled in Toby. However he ran out of laps as he crossed the finish line in 2nd place, 0.212secs behind Toby. Cullen held on to take the final step on the podium with Pedro and Tarun crossing the line side-by-side, with Pedro ahead by 0.012secs to cap off a brilliant weekend of racing for the MRF Challenge 2014.
Raj Bharath, who also won the Mercedes Young Star Driver program earlier this year, was ecstatic after taking scoring the most points of the day. He commented, “It was an amazing day today, after all the issues we had yesterday. Starting on the front row, the start wasn’t the best and I fell back to fourth. All the drivers I ended up fighting with were far more experienced - so it was an incredibly close and tough dice and I’m really happy to have come out on top.”
“In the second race starting sixth I was hoping to get on the podium and the first few laps was a bit chaotic obviously. My aim was to just stay out of trouble because I knew the pace was there and then push from there on. Last two laps I really caught up to Toby but just fell short at the line. It was a bit disappointing at that point to be honest but getting the fastest lap of the weekend along the way made up for it somewhat.”
Race 4 winner Toby Sowery, who was the only driver to finish on the podium in all 4 races, commented, “Another great race and really happy to end the weekend as the Championship leader. I had a poor start again so had to work through the field to get on the top step of the podium. It was a great battle with Raj as he was really quick at the end but it was a nice way to end such a great weekend for me.”
Tarun Reddy becomes youngest race driver
MRF 1600 Champion Tarun Reddy put on a brilliant display to become the youngest race winner in the MRF Challenge 2014 after winning in Round 1 of the MRF Challenge 2014 at the Losail International Circuit in Doha, Qatar. Tarun held off Russia’s Nikita Mazepin to lead from start to finish in the reverse grid Race 2 with Toby Sowery coming in third after a beating Mathias Lauda by 0.068 on the final straight. This was Tarun’s first international win after getting drive which was a result of winning the MRF 1600 title. In Race 1, 18 year old Toby dominated the race to comfortably win ahead of Ryan Cullen and Kyle Mitchell.
The main feature Race 1 started with Toby on pole position with Nikita Mazepin alongside him. Raj Bharath, who had qualified in 4th position, had trouble before the race even began and was forced to start from the pitlane along with Freddie Hunt. As the red lights went out, Toby managed to hold off Cullen for the lead and started to set a blistering pace, almost a second faster than the rest of the field. Behind him Cullen kept 2nd place with Kyle Mitchell in 3rd. Mathias Lauda in 4th caught Kyle and put pressure on him but could not find a way past. Toby managed to pull a 18 seconds lead to comfortably win the first race of the season with Cullen and Mitchell completing the podium. Lauda finished in 4th position with Mazepin and Tarun in 5th & 6th positions respectively. Vikash Anand, who missed most of the practice sessions, recovered well to finish in a very competitive 7th position with Raj in 9th position.
British F3 Cup Championship leader and race winner Toby Sowery was excited to win the first race of the season and was confident for the season ahead. He commented, “Getting a good start was really important and luckily I managed to do that. Ryan (Cullen) stayed with me for couple of laps so I knew it was important to pull ahead. The car felt so great that I managed to pull out a big lead. This is the best possible start to the season so hope I can continue this form this weekend.”
Race 2 started with the top 6 drivers on reverse grid formation. Tarun, starting on pole position, had a great start and went into the lead ahead of 2nd placed man Nikita Mazepin, youngest driver on the grid. Nikita stayed on Tarun’s tail the entire race, trying to pressurize the Indian into making a mistake. Mazepin came close to making a move for the lead on lap 9 but could not make the move stick. Tarun held on to win a brilliant consistent drive ahead of Mazepin. Behind the top 2 there was action starting from lap 1.
Race 1 winner Toby Sowery ran wide in the first corner and dropped back to 10th place. He began carving his way through the field and was in 4th position with 2 laps to go. Lauda, who was in 3rd position for most of the race, was caught by Toby as both drivers battled for the final podium spot. On the final lap both drivers came down the main straight side-by-side with almost nothing to choose from them. The timing screens showed that Toby had beaten Lauda by 0.068secs to get 3rd position as they crossed the finish line. Behind them Kyle Mitchell finished in 5th with Ryan Cullen in 6th position. Raj Bharath recovered to finish in 7th position with Vikash Anand in 9th position.
Tarun Reddy, who participated in the UK Protyre Formula Renault Championship as well this year, was happy to have won in one of the most competitive races he has raced in. He commented, “This is one of the hardest races I have driven in as all the drivers are so close. Niki (Mazepin) put a lot of pressure on me and was really quick but it was important to put my head down and make sure I made no mistakes. The field is so close this year so it feels good to win. I would like to thank MRF Tyres for giving me this opportunity.”