Andrea Kimi Antonelli Retains Championship Lead after Kuwait Debut

Andrea Kimi Antonelli Retains Championship Lead after Kuwait Debut

Andrea Kimi Antonelli Retains Championship Lead after Kuwait Debut

28 Jan 2023 Motorsports
Andrea Kimi Antonelli Retains Championship Lead after Kuwait Debut

The first visit by the Formula Regional Middle East Championship Certified by FIA (FRMEC) to the new Kuwait Motor Town facility was a festival of the unpredictable and dramatic.

  • Race victory continues to elude exciting Italian Rookie
  • Dino Beganovic, Taylor Barnard and Sami Meguetounif take win apiece
  • Drivers hail new Kuwait Motor Town facility

Kuwait, January 28, 2023: The first visit by the Formula Regional Middle East Championship Certified by FIA (FRMEC) to the new Kuwait Motor Town facility was a festival of the unpredictable and dramatic. Dino Beganovic, Taylor Barnard and Sami Meguetounif emerged as the three race winners. Yet, just as he did after the opening round at Dubai Autodrome, Andrea Kimi Antonelli came away as the series leader, despite not yet having won a race.

The new Kuwait Motor Town facility was a step into the unknown for all teams and drivers, providing a fascinating competitive level playing field. However, 19-year-old Swede Beganovic would not have predicted that he would get into the lead of the opening race in Kuwait in the first few corners having started ninth on the grid. Once in front, Beganovic wasn’t about to give up his advantage and, following a red flag due to a first-corner pile-up, he led Mercedes F1 protégé and Mumbai Falcons Racing team-mate Antonelli (the Italian also won the Rookie Cup) to the finish. Taylor Barnard finished third, but a penalty for the Briton for being adjudged to be one of those at fault for the first-lap accident promoted PHM Racing team-mate Dufek to the final podium position.

The second race kept up the level of drama. From the reversed grid, Rafael Villagómez was the initial leader, while Nikhil Bohra then had a turn in front in between the early safety-car interludes. Finally, it was the unstoppable Swiss Dufek who came through for an apparent victory. Barnard, remarkably from 14th on the grid, also got past the R-ace GP car of Indian-American (and Singapore-licensed) Bohra to complete a PHM 1-2, and also took Rookie Cup honours. However, there was disappointment in store for Dufek when the rear anti-rollbar links of his car were found not to conform with homologation requirements, and he was excluded. Barnard was handed victory from Bohra and Rafael Câmara. This time, Antonelli was sidelined with broken suspension and Beganovic finished outside the points after a pit stop for a new front wing.

After a frustrating run of fortune so far in FRMEC, Sami Meguetounif led all the way from pole position in the final race – reward at last for the Hyderabad Blackbirds with MP Motorsport team. The 18-year-old Frenchman initially led team-mate Joshua Dürksen, before Antonelli came charging through into second. Antonelli closed the gap to the leader, but had to make do with Rookie Cup honours once again as Meguetounif stayed firm in front. Beganovic finished fifth, which means he is second in the championship, just 12 points adrift of Antonelli, with Barnard in third and 19 points off the summit.

Driver Quotes
Race 1 winner: Dino Beganovic / Mumbai Falcons
“Qualifying was a bit disappointing but we focussed on the race – we had good race pace yesterday. We knew that we would challenge, but challenge for the win was not maybe the plan. I got an amazing start. Got the flow coming in to T2, avoided the mess and was in the front row in the braking already. It was a very nice race, an eventful race. After the safety car restart, I settled into the pace. Kimi [Antonelli] is fast, so I tried to be as consistent as I could and keep the pace. It was tough but it was fun!”

Race 3 winner: Sami Meguetounif/Hyderabad Blackbirds by MP Motorsport
“This last race wasn’t easy – even if I started on pole. On this track, the straight is so long that to keep the first position at the start is really difficult. So we managed to make it and then I tried to just look forward and tried to keep my pace and my own rhythm with the car. Kimi [Antonelli] was coming quite fast. At the end I managed to keep him behind without defending, so I’m really happy. We had really bad luck in Dubai, we had bad luck yesterday in the race; after starting P3 I had to go out because of the crash. It’s super nice to finish the weekend like this; for me, for the team, for everyone, so thanks to the team. They did mega work all week!”

Race 1
Joshua Dürksen celebrated his arrival in FRMEC, after missing the opening round, by grabbing a last-ditch pole position for the first race from pre-weekend championship leader Andrea Kimi Antonelli. The Hyderabad Blackbirds with MP Motorsport team was on form, with Dürksen on top in qualifying, Sami Meguetounif third and Mari Boya seventh. 

The field raced several cars abreast down towards Turn 2 before a chain-reaction accident eliminated the team’s Dürksen and Brad Benavides along with Boya, and dropped Meguetounif to the rear of the pack. Out also were Lorenzo Fluxá, Gabriele Minì, Nikita Bedrin and Francesco Braschi, as well as the red flags. The incident also sidelined Benavides for the remainder of Round 2, due to the damage sustained to his car.

Somehow, Dino Beganovic had avoided the chaos to storm from ninth on the grid into the lead ahead of Antonelli and Taylor Barnard, while Sebastián Montoya had sensationally risen from 18th to fourth. At the restart, Barnard attacked the two Mumbai Falcons Racing cars ahead of him. The planned attack didn’t come off and he lost momentum, allowing Montoya to slip down the inside and into third at Turn 3. Antonelli had also tried a move around the outside of Beganovic at Turn 2, but the Swede held on in front.

On the following lap, Barnard repassed Montoya at Turn 2 and now the race settled down among the leading trio. Beganovic and Antonelli pulled away and, just as Antonelli appeared to be closing the gap, the safety car was called. Joshua Dufek had driven a superb race after running wide onto the dust on the first lap after the restart and dropping from fifth to seventh. He passed Michael Shin, then Aiden Neate, before hunting down the Hitech Grand Prix car of fourth-placed Montoya. Dufek made a good move into Turn 2 and Montoya ran wide – as Montoya attempted to regain the circuit, contact was made, damaging the Red Bull Junior’s suspension and stranding the car just off the circuit.

The safety car pulled into the pits just as the chequered flag was unfurled. Beganovic led home Antonelli and Barnard. But Barnard’s 10-second penalty dropped him from third to 14th place. That promoted Dufek to third, from the Prema Racing pair of Briton Neate and South Korean Shin.

Rafael Villagómez was sixth for Pinnacle VAR ahead of the Hitech car of British newcomer Luke Browning, who was another driver delayed on the opening lap, and Nikhil Bohra. Remarkably, Peruvian Matías Zagazeta was ninth despite having pitted at the end of lap one as a consequence of the early pile-up, with his Hungarian R-ace team-mate Levente Révész claiming the final point for 10th. Antonelli claimed Rookie Cup honours from Neate and Shin.

Race 2 
With the top 10 from the first race reversed on the grid, it was an R-ace GP 1-2-3 at the start, with Levente Révész on pole from Matías Zagazeta and Nikhil Bohra. The best start came from Bohra, but his attempt to pass Révész for the lead on the outside of Turn 2 resulted in them running wide, and Rafael Villagómez snuck through to take first position.

There was drama on lap two. Dino Beganovic clipped the car of Luke Browning as they battled for ninth and his front wing flew off, while Sebastián Montoya was pitched into the gravel trap. While Beganovic headed to the pits, Montoya was stranded and the safety car was called, eradicating the handy lead that had been pulled out by Villagómez.

At the restart it was Villagómez from Révész and Josh Dufek. A brave move from Dufek to pass both into Turn 2 resulted in him taking the lead very briefly, but he ran wide and now it was Bohra who somehow found a way through to surge from fourth to the lead in one move. However, Andrea Kimi Antonelli, running in fifth place, had already gone into the gravel trap at Turn 20 with broken left-rear suspension, and the safety car was called once again for the Italian’s machine to be retrieved.

Once this had been accomplished, there was time for six more laps of racing. Dufek tried to grab the lead off Bohra at the restart, but had to wait one more lap before pulling off a tidy manoeuvre into Turn 2. As a result of Bohra’s lost momentum, Taylor Barnard moved to second place – from 14th on the grid. Now it was a PHM Racing 1-2, and Dufek did all he needed in order to claim his maiden Formula Regional victory by 1.660 seconds from Barnard, with Bohra in third. But then came the exclusion of Dufek.

Brazilian Rafael Câmara was another on a charge. The Mumbai Falcons-run Ferrari Driver Academy prospect had started from 18th on the grid, but grabbed fourth place from Villagómez with four laps remaining and was close behind Bohra by the finish, inheriting third once Dufek had been removed from the results. The Brazilian also completed the Rookie Cup podium behind winner Barnard and Bohra. Sami Meguetounif, from 17th on the grid, was another to pass Villagómez and was classified fourth.

Révész claimed sixth, while Joshua Dürksen passed Aiden Neate for eighth on the final lap, Browning was ninth, and Pinnacle VAR’s Pepe Martí completed the top 10.

Race 3
In contrast to the races that had gone before, the weekend finale for the Formula Regional field resulted in a lights-to-flag winner from pole position. Sami Meguetounif led all the way, but he had to stay calm under sustained pressure from Andrea Kimi Antonelli.

Antonelli appeared to have snatched pole position at the last gasp, but the lap was deleted for a track-limits offence and he lined up fourth, behind Meguetounif, Taylor Barnard and Joshua Dürksen. At the start, Meguetounif led a Hyderabad Blackbirds with MP Motorsport 1-2 from Dürksen, while Antonelli squeezed ahead of Barnard during the opening corners for third. Barnard now came under pressure from Rafael Câmara before they tangled at Turn 12. With Rafael Villagómez and Michael Shin colliding at Turn 2, there were four cars stranded and the safety car was called out.

Once the race restarted, Antonelli mounted his attack on Dürksen for second place. On the sixth lap, he tried a move to the outside of Turn 2. This didn’t come off, but he battled his way through in the following corners, both cars running off track as they fought for position. Antonelli then began slashing the gap to Meguetounif but, once he got to within a second of the leader, he found it very difficult to make further inroads and the Frenchman held on for victory by 1.093 seconds. Dürksen was a comfortable third.

Pepe Martí got past the Mumbai Falcons car of fellow Spaniard Lorenzo Fluxá for fourth at the restart, but Fluxá fought back and pulled off an audacious pass around the outside of Turn 12 on lap seven. Next to demote Martí was Dino Beganovic, who had fought through from 19th on the grid, his lowly position due to track-limits offences in qualifying. A fine fifth was his race result, while Josh Dufek recovered from an earlier collision with Luke Browning and Aiden Neate to finish sixth, only for a 10-second penalty to be applied for the incident, dropping him to 10th.

Behind sixth-placed Martí, Matías Zagazeta was seventh, and PHM Racing’s Nikita Bedrin, from the very back of the 27-car grid (due to electrical problems in qualifying), passed Neate for eighth on the final lap. That manoeuvre also secured Bedrin second in the Rookie Cup class behind Antonelli.

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