Easthope master in Braga – From the CIK-FIAHenry Easthope proved to be uncompromising on the track in Braga, venue for the first Round of the U18 World Championship. After posting the best time in Qualifying Practice and dominating the Qualifying Heats, the Briton confirmed his supremacy in the Final against Charles Leclerc and Anthoine Hubert. In the CIK-FIA Academy Trophy, another Briton, George Russell, won Race 1 before suffering a stroke of fate in the second confrontation. His compatriot Alex Gill was first past the chequered flag but excluded, leaving the points for victory – and a lead in the competition – to the Finn Joonas Lappalainen.
With a blue sky, sunshine and comfortable temperatures, the weather had decided to be kind for the opening of the third edition of the U18 World Championship (for those under 18 years of age) in Braga, Portugal. But to have a hope of shining under the sun it was first of all necessary to overcome the pitfalls of the Qualifying Heats to be among the 34 finalists out of 71 Drivers. It was then necessary to perform well in the two Prefinals, and particularly the second with its completely reversed starting grid. And after all of that, the winner had to be fastest in the 24-lap Final …
Henry Easthope (Sodi) was undeniably fast throughout the Portuguese weekend. In Qualifying Practice and in the Qualifying Heats, the Briton was never out of first place! His only fright came in the second Prefinal, contested from a reversed starting grid, when he was involved in an accident and relegated to the rear of the pack. He still managed to climb to 2nd on the grid for the Final, proving untouchable in the last confrontation, the most important. More than 3 seconds from the Briton, the battle for second place involved Charles Leclerc (ART GP) and the Frenchman Anthoine Hubert. After some superb overtaking manoeuvres, the Monegasque Driver, winner of the Academy Trophy last year, took the second step on the podium. In pole on the accumulated results of the two Prefinals, the Briton Ricky Collard, son of Robert Collard who races touring cars in Great Britain, slowly fell back but still scored points for 4th place after getting the better of his compatriots Benjamin Barnicoat and Sam Webster who like him were driving the ART GP chassis. The Top 10 was completed by the Italian Marco Maestranzi (PCR), the Australian Joseph Mawson (Top Kart), poorly rewarded for his speed after having to abandon one of the Prefinals, the Dane Martin Mortensen (FK) and the Russian Georgy Antonov (MS Kart). Rarely among the leaders, World Champion Matthew Graham (Zanardi) had to indulge in damage limitation to take 11th place at the chequered flag, better than the Frenchman Jules Gounon, who had every hope of being in the Top 10 before a collision on the first lap. He finally finished in 19th place.
In addition to scoring points in the Final, Drivers had already banked some after the Qualifying Heats. After accumulating the two results, Henry Easthope leads the Championship ahead of four drivers on 3 points: Martin Mortensen, Charles Leclerc, Anthoine Hubert and Joseph Mawson. It promises to be a battle royal for the second Round of the U18 World Championship in Angerville (France) on the last weekend of August!
Academy Trophy: Victories for Russell and Lappalainen
Like the U18 World Championship, competition for the CIK-FIA Academy Trophy also began in Portugal. Selected by the Motor Sports Association (MSA) of Great Britain, George Russell and Alex Gill were among the favourites for the event. And true to form they cheerfully dominated the first Race! With the best start, from pole position, Russell was directly followed by his compatriot, fourth on the grid. Never more than a second apart, the two took a 7-second lead on those behind them, with Russell maintaining his lead to take the chequered flag. Behind the untouchable duo, the Finn Joonas Lappalainen just held off the Spaniard Javier Cobian for the last place on the podium. Penalised for jumping the start, the Belgian Amaury Bonduel fell back from 5th to 16th place, leaving Top 10 honours to the Norwegian Martin Ellegard, the Italian Mattia Drudi, the Australian James Abela, the French Driver Adeline Prudent (in 3rd place after two laps), the Frenchman Erwan Julé and the Dutchman Stan Pex. Second after the Qualifying Heats, the Pole Adrian Rozycki managed no better than 13th place.
As straightforward as the first Race might have been, the second was far from uneventful. First of all George Russell was unable to begin the warm-up lap, the Briton finally starting well behind the pack to finish 16th. So Alex Gill took control and throughout the Race resisted Joonas Lappalainen. However Alex was then excluded for a technical infringement (an unauthorised spark plug). Lappalainen therefore took the points for his win, and at the same time a lead in the Trophy ahead of the Spaniard Javier Cobian, second in Race 2, and the Norwegian Martin Ellegard, who took the points for 3rd place following Gill’s penalty. Amaury Bonduel was excluded for non-sporting conduct, so Adeline Prudent finished in 4th position ahead of the Dutchman Martijn Van Leeuwen, the Australian James Abela, the Frenchman Paolo Besancenez, the Estonian Frank Merilaht, the Swiss Felix Hirsiger and the Portuguese Bruno Oliveira.
So the next encounter is in Angerville, from 24 to 26 August, for the second round of a competition which will end in Bahrain on 10 November. It appears that some drivers will be looking for revenge when they arrive at the French circuit. What a show it promises to be!