The Formula 4 South East Asia Championship – fuelled by Petron – kicked off in a storm of action with the first four races of the weekend here at the Buriram United International Circuit.
Race 1 started with a bang, literally! As the red lights went out, the field of young drivers launched off the starting grid, heading down into turn 1. As they proceeded down past Turn 2 coming up to the right-handed hairpin, a collision involving Nazim Azman, Cutter Sasakorn and Ben Grimes knocked them out of the race.
With the trio out of action, it was Cao, Shepherd, De Wilde and Sam Grimes who were left standing. While Cao was dominating the race, the real action was happening behind as Ugo and Kane were hashing it out with Sam bringing up the rear.
“It was difficult to find my pace, the guys were really quick and I’m looking to recover lost time.” said Sam.
Eventually, it was the Belgian who pipped Kane and took the second spot as the flag waved Cao the winner.
Coming down from the high of race 1, the red lights went out for race 2 and Pattaya-native Kane Shepherd took the lead going into Turn 2.
He charged furiously into Turn 3, locking up his brakes just to keep up the pace from the ever-present Cao, who took the reins of the race away from the Thai in Turn 5 of the following lap.
Meanwhile, behind, a battle royale was taking place for fifth and sixth between Malaysia’s Nazim Azman, Cutter Sasakorn. “He (Cutter) is really coming up and I’ve to do my best to be faster,” Nazim commented.
At this juncture, Ugo, Daniel and Kane had extended the lead to over five seconds from lap 6 onwards.
The real show-stopper occurred on the last few corners of the last lap.
Cao could already see the podium, but, in that split second, Ugo narrowly stole the win from him as the chequered flag waved the duo home.
“I just couldn’t believe it! It was such a close race” said Cao.
A problem with the starting lights led to a small delay at the start of the race 3. The drivers did another formation lap before the lights went out, shortening the race to 9 laps.
Shepherd got off to a flying start and led Nazim from Ugo until the last lap of the race. Nazim had his work cut out for him as he had Ugo on his tail while trying to catch the speedy Thai.
On turn 3 of the final lap, Nazim made a move for first on the young Belgian but it back-fired and Ugo undertook the leaders for first. They went three wide through the final corner, with Nazim running right to the edge, pushing past Kane to finish 2nd – seven hundredths of a second behind Ugo.
“I’m constantly watching my mirrors. The competition is good. They are fast and keep me on my toes.” said Ugo.
The never-ending excitement spilled over to the fourth and final race of the day with Filipino Ben Grimes spinning out and landing in the gravel. This forced the safety car to be deployed.
The field then bunched up as the safety car went in a lap later, giving the squadron little room for error. Ugo was busy fending off Cao’s advances while Kane did the same with Cutter.
By the seventh lap, the Chinese lad was sandwiched between Ugo and Nazim in a fierce battle for 1st.
Nazim was having an amazing race challenging Cao and Ugo for first, but on the 8th lap something happened with his front wing. With the aero hanging on by a thread, the young Malaysian defended his position perfectly, surviving to the chequered flag and walking away with third.
Lightning struck twice, as Ugo and Cao passed the chequered flag in a photo finish.