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Formula Winter Series Aragon: Three new winners as title contenders struggle

A trio of fresh winners in the Formula Winter Series capped a weekend of typically frenetic single-seater action at MotorLand Aragon.

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MP Motorsport’s Keanu Al Azhari, Rodin Motorsport’s Thomas Strauven and Campos Racing’s James Egozi claimed the victories, as Griffin Peebles eked out a slight points advantage over Andres Cardenas on a difficult weekend for the title contenders.

Race 1

The opening race on Saturday afternoon got off to a horrifying start when MP Motorsport’s Maciej Gladysz stalled from fifth on the 38-car grid. Campos Racing pair Carrie Schreiner and Ernesto Rivera both smashed at speed into the back of Gladysz’s stricken Tatuus, but it was a testament to Formula 4 chassis strength that all three walked away from the scene.

“When I was at the biting point, I released the clutch too much and then I was trying to press the button on the steering wheel to restart the engine and pressed the wrong one,” explained a contrite Gladysz.

“Then I was looking in the mirrors hoping no one would hit me, but unfortunately they did.

“I’m happy I’m all right but I’m sorry for the team. Starting P5 I could have been on the podium and this mistake has cost me quite a lot. The car doesn’t look OK so it’s going to be tough to be ready for tomorrow.”

A huge effort from the MP crew proved Gladysz wrong on that last point. He would be back to fight another day on Sunday. Sadly, Schreiner would not be so fortunate. A cracked chassis sidelined her for the rest of the weekend.

The race was red flagged and then restarted behind the safety car, leaving Gladysz’s MP team-mate Al Azhari – who had taken an impressive pole position on his FWS debut – and fellow front-row starter and series newcomer Jack Beeton to lead into Turn 1.

But there was trouble for joint points leader Cardenas, who spun out of the first turn, ruining his chance to make gains on title rival Peebles, who was starting down in 17th. Cardenas recovered to finish 14th, but Peebles rose to score a point in 10th.

Out front, Al Azhari put in a mature performance to score a fine debut win, heading Beeton by 1.1 seconds after eight laps. The race was curtailed early by a second red flag after Nathanael Berreby spun at Turn 12 and dropped his rear wheels into a gravel trap.

“It was quite good, I have to say!” said Al Azhari. “It’s nice to get a win in the bag and a great start to the weekend.

“With a lot of cars on the grid I was expecting a safety car restart, but I just kept calm. The pace looks really good for the rest of the weekend.”

Beeton’s US Racing team-mate Gianmarco Pradel completed the podium, making the most of Cardenas’s downfall.

Lucas Fluxa added to MP Motorsport’s bitter-sweet race with a fine fourth place, up from 11th on the original grid, while pre-weekend testing pacesetter Egozi was another high climber.

Offering some consolation for Campos after the team lost two cars in the start incident, Egozi rose from 15th to fifth, demoting Rene Lammers to sixth. The son of 1988 Le Mans winner Jan had started from eighth on the grid for his best F4 race performance so far.

Race 2

A penultimate-lap scuffle at the hairpin between Beeton and Al Azhari allowed Strauven to undercut both for the Rodin Motorsport driver to score a thrilling first win, in a race interrupted by no less than three safety car periods.

The first came on the opening lap when Campos driver Finn Harrison slid straight on at the hairpin with damage after contact with Lammers down the straight, as polesitter Al Azhari led Beeton and Cardenas.

Gladysz had started third on the grid in his repaired car, but there would be no redemption as he again failed to get away cleanly and dropped down the order, finishing an eventual 10th.

Al Azhari kept his lead when racing resumed on lap three, only for Cardenas to again lose a golden chance of building an edge in the championship. A collision with Campos team-mate Egozi brought out the safety car for a second occasion.

This time, Beeton made the better restart on lap six to take the lead from Al Azhari and he looked on course for a victory on his maiden FWS weekend. But soon the safety car was called upon for a third time when Francisco Macedo went off at the hairpin and collided with Fluxa, who was in the middle of his own incident.

Racing resumed with four minutes left on the clock, and with Al Azhari in a determined mood to claim back his lost lead. By now Strauven was third from his original starting position of sixth and had a perfect view as Al Azhari challenged Beeton at the hairpin. The pair ran wide, which allowed Strauven to undercut both on the exit.

For the final time down the back straight Al Azhari came again, making a dive down Strauven’s inside. But that meant he ran wide through the hairpin, which again allowed Strauven to coolly claim the lead, which he held to the line to win by 0.2s.

“I’ve been working a lot for this,” said Rodin’s delighted winner. “We started in Jerez with a quite OK race weekend, then had a shocker in Valencia. But now I’ve really made my point.

“I got into the lead and they told me on the radio it was the last lap, so this needed to be it. Al Azhari actually overtook me, but I did the switchback and won.

“As a rookie driver in only my third weekend it’s really good to be on the top step.”

Beeton finished third for a strong follow-up to his second place in race one, with Mikel Pedersen fourth for XDrive. US Racing’s Kabir Anurag and Akshay Bohra completed the top six, while championship leader Peebles finished out of the points down in 14th, having only made up a single place in the race.

Race 3

Egozi started the final race of the weekend from pole and the new Red Bull Junior driver led all the way to end his FWS season with a flourish.

From the start, Al Azhari chased Egozi, but soon came under pressure from Juan Cota, which gave the leader some breathing space. As his chasers fanned out four wide into the braking zone for the hairpin, Cota’s DriveX Tatuus rode up and over Al Azhari’s car, but the first safety car interruption of the race was called to recover Fluxa’s stranded MP Motorsport entry from the approach to the final turn.

Egozi handled the restart well to maintain his lead from lap eight, with Beeton now his main threat. Meanwhile, points leader Peebles had risen from 10th on the grid to be in contention for a podium. But US Racing’s Bohra had the better of the battle, with Peebles dropping to fifth behind Pradel before the final safety car interlude of the FWS weekend to clear the cars of Lia Block and Enzo Tarnvanichkul, the pair having come together at Turn 14.

That left Egozi to negotiate a nervy one-lap shootout to claim his victory. But once again he didn’t blink and led home Beeton, who claimed a clean-sweep of podium finishes from his first weekend in FWS.

Bohra was third from Pradel and Peebles, who will carry a narrow points lead over Cardenas – eighth in this race – into the season finale next weekend in Barcelona.

“Leading the race from start to finish was a nice way to close out the weekend,” said Egozi. “A big thanks to everyone, it’s not a one-man show.

“The restarts were not so much pressure, there was just the realisation the others would get another chance and I would have to do my thing again. But I believed in the pace the team provided me with today and Jack couldn’t get around me. I’m happy to have closed it out on top.”

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