The Indian F4 Championship was greeted with heavenly rains by a visiting cyclone’s wind convoys when it arrived back at the Madras International Circuit for the second round of the inaugural championship season. Characterized by the recurrent rain, water streams and lakes forming on parts of the track, two new winners, three extremely close races with the top 2 fighting till the final lap for the win, Webster’s championship lead extension and the showcase and curtailed experience of two hot new young Indian talents during testing, the 2nd round at the same place as Round 1 proved to be one that may just define the whole inaugural season of the championship. 

 

Recap to refresh:

The first race was won by Coopster Webster after starting on Pole Position, and keeping Rishon Rajeev behind for the whole set of about 14 laps in the race. Rishon was unable to make a move even after coming excruciatingly close to him in certain corners, only to lose out later on. The podium was completed by Akshay Bohra. The second race took place on the same day with a rain threat for Saturday. The drivers lined up on the grid with clouds hovering. Chheda, who had been facing issues with getting the car going due to some issues with the transmission system potentially, stalled out on the formation lap as his compatriot Shahan Ali Mohsin tok the victory from a charging Cooper Webster in the reverse grid race. The second race day only had one race for the drivers to endure through but in conditions that were unforeseen when they were suiting up for it. Everyone headed to the grid under calm skies but the clouds passing decided to open the heavens for a light drizzle on the formation lap and then a lashing downpour first in the first and third sector of the circuit and then in the second sector for the rest of the race, meant that after allowing for some extreme skilled racing that kept everyone on-the-edge, the race was immediately red flagged, never to restart again, after just about 4 and a half laps. Dion Gowda won what was just his 3rd race on his debut weekend, keeping Bohra behind after he pulled an early gap while Bohra, Webster and Rishon fought it out even going almost 3 wide at a point. Gowd lost about a second due to a mistake in one of the extremely wet exits but the red flag came in moments later. Akshay Bohra had a huge impact crash for the car in the practice sessions, damaging the floor a bit and his rear right suspension A-arms, but then chinned up, got back to work, helped the mechanics and took podium finishes after a moment of losing control in the conditions. 

 

Talking Points:

Webster’s Championship lead:

Cooper Webster, the Australian driver who recently also announced his campaign in the Eurocup 3 series for the 2024 season, extended his championship lead from 9 points to over 20 points as consistency for the drivers and a new challenge from Gowda meant that no one was able to make up significant ground towards him. A key factor that all drivers on the grid now look to mitigate is the exceptional race start release that he gets from a standing position with the manner in which he handles the clutch release on throttle being more rapid and still controlled for the car to get off quick, also helping him carry the quicker acceleration out into the first corner and out. 

 

In the second race, where he finished second, starting sixth in the reverse grid, the start just like in Round 1 helped him get ahead but more challenge from the front runners this time and a Safety Car period in the middle right after the start saw his progress slow down. He eventually got up to P2 and then brought down the about a second’s worth of gap to Shahan to less than half a second in just a lap. What continued was a series of lockups on the following laps for both drivers as they tried to brake late, get the grip and turn in what were essentially completely wet conditions at the corners even with the rain stopped. Shahan’s defending and the time running out meant Webster had to suffice with P2 but his charge down the field and constant alertness never came to an end even as he took a fighting and moving up P3 in Race 3 to complete a set of 5 podiums for himself.

 

The Indian talent in Indian F4 comes to the front and shines:

While Bohra continues to be the main contender behind Bohra for the coveted title of being the first ever Indian F4 champion, the second round gave us an even better glimpse of some Indian talent especially with two new drivers – Shriya Lohia and Veer Rajwade – participating to test during the practice sessions the day before Qualifying, making the jump from the karting world to single seater testing straight at the highest level in the nation in the most challenging conditions. The ideal conditions to have your first run anywhere are always dry but the two were greeted with a night’s worth of rain and stagnant water at several parts especially towards the back part of the circuit. Over the whole day hardly even 10 laps could be put in and it took a toll on the two drivers trying to get to grips but their high spirits and trying efforts meant that they were able to stay in the hunt of times and clock average pace but still be intact and consistently improving closer and closer to the pack.

On the grid, Dion Gowda finally made it after having to miss Round 1 and was on pace from his first set of laps in the practice. Helped a bit from his British F4 Championship experience with the Tatuus F4 cars, he started off in the MyGale F4 cars strongly and challenged the front runners at certain parts of the track in the qualifying, eventually qualifying P4 fo the first race and maintaining that position and then also taking P2 on his final flying lap in Q2. He got the better start in the final race compared to pole – sitter Bohra, similar to Webster who started in P3 and they both challenged him into Turn 1. Gowda took the lead, this time not making a mistake online in Race 1 and then created a gap as the others fought, even in conditions where the cars could not show their full potential and the drivers had to be very careful of when they got back on the throttle. Although one error put him back in the clutches of the rest, it being a 4 car battle helped him ward off the threats from the ones behind as they had to keep deciding between attacking ahead and defending from the attack from behind. The Safety Car came out then and the race was red – flagged given the treacherous conditions at the back. A short race, which of course helped him win the race starting in P2 but still a brilliant drive. The only blip for him was his race – ending incident in Race 2.

Shahan Ali Mohsin finally got a victory after starting from reverse grid pole and then defending from Webster in the closing laps, after building a massive lead from the rest that only Webster was able to cover up. He precisely matched Webster throughout the lap, seemingly even doing better in certain corners and was able to maintain enough on an already tough-to-overtake on track to keep the lead till the end, as he threaded every corner under immense pressure and showed resilience. 

Rishon Rajeev has kept knocking on the doors of the win again and again, racking up another P2 finish in Race 1 this time to add to his tally, and then in the next two races picking up the fastest lap both times as he decided to back off and take that point and show at least as overtaking wasn’t looking feasible given the conditions and nature of the track. He is looking to work on getting a better start in order to make up places at the start to complement his good qualifying run as well. The process has involved going through a lot of data and learning at every opportunity to build up to the start and launch well when the lights go out. 

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The drivers and engineers look forward to a fresh new round, after having now completely gotten a hold of the cars and the series as a whole. The testing drivers look for the next opportunity as well. The opportunity though has been hindered by the visiting cyclone in the region as the scheduled round at the same track using the much shorter club layout has been canceled due to the very heavily damaging conditions prevalent in the region and this sets them up to straight up now move to the brand new street track where no races have ever been held before in any manner and driving data about it is an unknown. Until the next big challenge!

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