MALAYSIA: Another spectacular event from the F4 SEA squad, with newcomers Malthe Jakobsen, Shihab Al Habsi and Louie Westover joining fan favourites Ghiretti and Shepherd on the podium. Our first night race, and a wet one at that, made a fitting end to a great season.
As we expected, the fight for the event was between Ghiretti and Shepherd. Both drivers won a race, but Ghiretti came out on top by finishing second twice, scoring 66 points to Shepherd’s 56.
The Danish newcomer was in his element at night in the rain, earning his first race win and beating Muizz Musyaffa for third overall by five points.
Team Ireland was next on the block with Luke Thompson leading the charge ahead of Lucca Allen by just four points.
Shihab Al Habsi looked certain to win the second race. Unfortunately his gear shift compressor failed, relegating him to seventh alongside rookie newcomer Louie Westover who was on the podium several times.
Team Malaysia showed its stuff with Alister Yoong and Timothy Yeo tying for ninth with ten points each. The tie was broken by Timothy with the faster lap in the last race.
Ryo and Adam tied for eleventh with six points each, Ryo breaking the tie with the faster lap in the last race while Shahkirah Shaharul and Moulay el Aloui rounded off the pack.
Newcomer Malthe Jakobsen took the podium as Musyaffa edged Allen out on the last corner of the last lap!
It was Ghiretti on pole for the opening race of the 2018 Grand Finals. The Flying Frenchman pinched the top spot from Kane Shepherd by five-hundredths of a second as newcomer Malthe Jakobsen found third ahead of team Ireland’s Luke Thompson and Lucca Allen.
With the top five looking strong, we were on the edge of our seats as the lights went out and the blue number 28 led us down the main straight and into turn one. Kane immediately switched to the inside line, tucking in behind Alessandro to get the slipstream before diving outside around the first corner. He switched back earlier than Ghiretti into turn two just ahead of Jakobsen, Thompson and Allen who were wheel-to-wheel through the first section and up into turn four.
Shepherd was all over the back of the flying Frenchman, holding his tongue through turn four he had a look around turn 5 and powered through the rest of the lap, not once leaving Ghiretti’s rear view mirrors.
Thailand’s Shepherd would try again and again lap after lap keeping the gap to five-tenths and setting the fastest lap of the race, two-thousands more than Ghiretti had to give. But the flying Frenchman defended like his life depended on it and unfortunately for Thailand the action was further down the grid where the battle between team Ireland for fourth had allowed Muizz Musyaffa to close the gap.
Lucca Allen had been right up Luke Thompson’s tail, looking for a way past at every opportunity, trying turn 5 and 15 but now Muizz Musyaffa - the driver ranking third in the championship - had a foot in the door. The Malaysian rocket dived down the inside of turn 15, taking Allen and looking for Thompson, but he overshot, and Allen cut back off of the outside line to come alongside on the exit of the corner and sail through, past the start finish straight and into turn one.
The duo would switch back and forth until the end of the race, until the last corner of the last lap where Muizz – experienced from his last attempt - inched pass and crossed the line 8-hundredths of a second ahead, making it Ghiretti, Shepherd, Jakobsen, Thompson, Musyaffa!
Shihab Al Habsi shines
Malaysia’s Adam Khalid found himself on pole for the penultimate race of the season with his comrade Shahkirah Shaharul alongside him. The duo both know Sepang like the back of their hands but might have less experience in formula cars than some, so we are very interested to see what Malaysia can show us. Not forgetting of course that the championship leaders are starting from the back of the grid, by virtue of the reverse starting positions, the next 12 laps are going to be something to watch!
But it was Shihab Al Habsi from Oman who put a smile on our faces! The Omani native, who joins F4 for the first time this weekend, had a fantastic start! Ducking in behind Adam Khalid’s yellow number zero before pulling outside and leading us through the first turn with several groups in the pack going two, three or even four-wide just behind him.
Up the hill into turn four Oman was already pulling away, the young driver no doubt utilizing his experience in F4 France, as Adam Khalid bunched up Moulay El Aloui and Timothy Yeo with Kane Shepherd taking Louie Westover around the outside. Ghiretti and Musyaffa had also surged forward and followed Alister Yoong around the 90-degree corner and up into turn 5.
Cresting at the entrance to the flat-out left hander the pack descended into the high speed second sector where Kane Shepherd blitzed past Timothy Yeo through turn 7, a repeat of his performance with Luke Thompson earlier in the year, with Alessandro making the same move on Muizz Musyaffa.
The pack hurtled into turn 9 where Ghiretti and Shepherd both gained positions, before the mid grid went four-wide down the back straight where the flying Frenchman found his way into third at the last corner.
From the last two places on the grid, the championship leaders were up into the top three by the end of the first lap and now all the pressure in the world was placed squarely on the shoulders of young Shihab Al Habsi.
To our delight the Omani speedster came to life at the front of the grid, building a 2.5 second gap by the end of the first lap! Shepherd started chasing Al Habsi down, but the Omani matched his pace close enough to hold on for 20 minutes.
With two laps to go, the gap from Al Habsi to Shepherd was under four tenths. Kane was all over the Omani driver but went wide exiting one of the high-speed corners, giving Al Habsi a smidge of breathing room and equalizing the gap between the top three. We had thought that this would be just enough for Shihab to finish first, with Alessandro perhaps distracting Kane from the top spot, unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be when the red number 34’s gear shift compressor failed coming out of turn 10.
Unable to shift the Omani dropped back and eventually returned to the pit to avoid further damaging the car. Meanwhile, the championship leaders continued racing with Ghiretti giving it one last push! But as the chequered flag waved it was Thailand, France, Malaysia It had been sunny all year at the Sepang International Circuit here in Malaysia, but of course, anything that can happen will happen, and our first night race was no exception. Despite the wet weather, Malthe Jakobsen very excited to start on pole. The Dane is one of the few people who has night race experience so as the lights went out Jakobsen was away.
Shihab Al Habsi also had an excellent start, pulling inside the Dane through the first corner of the race, but that put Jakobsen on the inside of turn two where he took full advantage, dashing over the rumble strip with Ryo in tow as the whole pack skated through the opening section.
Starting from the back once again the championship leaders carved up the pack over the next few laps with Alessandro finding his way into P2, but not before Malthe at the front of the pack had opened up a five-second gap. The pressure was now on the flying Frenchman to hunt down the leader of the race.
Malthe had been setting the fastest laps, but now with some clean air Ghiretti put his foot down. The flying Frenchman put in some blistering times, but with only five laps to go, he’d need to be going a second faster every lap and that’s just not possible, especially at night and in the rain.
Meanwhile Kane Shepherd had worked his way past traffic and now had the Omani car just out of reach. Thailand’s Shepherd and the number two man in the championship started closing in on the Omani speedster, eventually getting close enough to make a move. On the last corner of the last lap, as is expected in F4 SEA, Kane tried to pass through turn 15, but Al Habsi held on, and as they crossed the start finish straight it was Denmark, France, Oman, with Alessandro settling for the fastest lap of the race four-hundredths of a second faster than the race leader.