Jake Hughes secured a hat-trick of victories in the inaugural round of the F3 Asian Championship as Dragon Hitech GP dominated around the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia.
GP3 Series race winner Hughes led a Hitech 1-2-3 in races one and two, while Akash Nandy denied the team a hat-trick of podium lockouts by finishing second in the final race of the weekend for Absolute Racing.
Sepang Race 1
Hughes started from pole position for the first ever F3 Asian race on Saturday, and despite first lap pressure from his sixteen-year-old Hitech team-mate Charles Leong, he was able to consolidate his position at the front of the field.
Leong held onto second, but Nandy put his Absolute Racing machine into third ahead of the third Hitech entry of Raoul Hyman, only to lose the position to the South African on lap three, with the top three remaining stable until the chequered flag, although Hughes was significantly quicker than his team-mates to win by 16.705 seconds.
“I’m very proud to have won the first F3 Asian Championship race, for both myself and for the team,” said Hughes. “It’s the team’s first race in Asia, and my first in an Asian championship.
“One, two, three is really good. Charles [Leong] challenged me until turn 5, and then I was able to pull away.”
Nandy looked on course to take fourth, only for a mechanical issue to end his race on the penultimate lap, promoting his American team-mate Jaden Conwright to that position, ahead of his countryman Chase Owen.
Tomoki Takahashi took a spin on the opening lap but had the pace to finish sixth for the Super Licence team, passing BlackArts Racing’s Louis Prette in the closing stages of the race, while Jeremy Wahome (SVC Asia), Daniel Cao (Pinnacle Motorsport) and Presley Martono (BlackArts Racing) completed the top ten.
Super Licence driver Takashi Hata took the honours in the Masters Cup class ahead of ZEN Motorsport’s Yin Hai Tao and B-Max Racing Team’s team owner ‘Dragon’.
Sepang Race 2
Polesitter Hughes once again repelled the advances of team-mate Leong at the start of race two, although behind, Takahashi stalled on the grid and was lucky to be avoided by those behind him.
The British racer again had the speed to pull away from the field, but the battle for second went right down to the final lap, with Hyman making the decisive move on that last lap to claim second ahead of his less experienced team-mate, with Dragon Hitech GP again locking out the podium positions. However, Hughes was in total control throughout, winning this time around by 10.752 seconds.
Conwright again took fourth for Absolute Racing ahead of team-mate Nandy, who was able to see the chequered flag this time around after his earlier disappointment, while sixth went the way of Wahome of the SVC Asia team after the Kenyan jumped up three places from his ninth spot on the grid at the start.
Owen was seventh ahead of Cao, with Prette and Martano, while the Masters Cup class was decided late on when Hata made a great move on Yin to take the win, with Dragon again taking third.
Sepang Race 3
Hughes again led away from pole position at the start, with Nandy this time his closest challenger heading into turn one, but the race was soon neutralised with the safety car as Dragon and ZEN Motorsport’s Jianian Zheng collided. The former was out on the spot, but the latter was able to continue on, albeit towards the back of the field.
Behind the safety car, there was an incident between Leong and Conwright that spun the former down the to the back of the pack and earned the latter a twenty-second penalty for overtaking behind the safety car, with the duo being classified twelfth and fifteenth respectively at the end of the race.
Hughes controlled the restart well to maintain his position ahead of Nandy, with the Briton going on to win his third race of the weekend by 3.688 seconds ahead of Malaysian driver, who was able to secure his first podium finish in front of his home fans ahead of Hyman and Takahashi.
James Yu claimed fifth for Chase Owen Racing ahead of Owen, with Prette, Martano, Wahome and Cao completing the top ten, while Hata completed his own hat-trick in the Masters Cup class ahead of Yin.
But the weekend belonged to Hughes, who took a maximum seventy-five points across the three races, starting all three from pole position, although Takahashi denied him a hat-trick of fastest laps in the final race of the weekend.
“[Racing in my first Asian championship compared to Europe] still requires the same effort to win the race,” said Hughes. “I didn’t at any point this weekend back off; that was my limit.
“I was pushing the whole weekend and we got the results from it. For sure, Europe is very challenging so if you arrive anywhere else around the world you’re well prepared. That race was obviously a bit more close in terms of the gap. I was pushing a lot.”