Asia Racing Team drivers Tiago Rodrigues, Kevin Xiao, and Zhang Yu delivered a strong performance in the opening round of the revitalized Formula 4 South East Asia Championship (F4 SEA) at China’s 3.774km Zhuzhou International Circuit.
On a wet Saturday in Hunan Province, Tiago Rodrigues and Kevin Xiao monopolised the second row of the Race 1 and Race 3 starting grid in both qualifying sessions as Zhang Yu was P9 and P8 in Qualifying 1 and Qualifying 2.
The first race of the season occurred on a Saturday afternoon, on a track that was wet but gradually drying.
Tiago Rodrigues initially stalled on the grid when the lights went out but eventually managed to get going, performing a remarkable back-to-front race. The 16-year-old driver delivered an impressive performance, managing to climb to third place by the time of the checkered flag.
While still in the process of learning how to drive the new-to-Asia F4 Gen 2 car, Zhang Yu executed a calculated strategy in Saturday’s race. His approach worked flawlessly, and the former Chinese national team rower crossed the finish line in fifth place, securing the Rookie Cup trophy.
Starting from the fourth position on the grid, Kevin Xiao moved up to third in the opening corners but later dropped to seventh. He made a valiant effort to recover during the race, crossing the finish line just behind Tiago. However, the Chinese driver received a 5-second time penalty for allegedly causing a collision with an opponent at Turn 8 on the last lap, ultimately finishing in seventh place overall and third in the Rookie Cup.
The starting grid for Sunday’s Race 2 was drawn up in the reverse order for the original top 10 finishers from Race 1.
From the front row of the reversed grid, Xiao Kunpeng got the best start and overtook the pole position driver into Turn 1. However, he eventually dropped to second place. On the ninth lap, Tiago Rodrigues made his move on Xiao for the second position. They ran side by side through Turns 1 and 2 before Tiago Rodrigues completed the move into Turn 3. With the race leader pitting at the end of this lap due to a penalty, Tiago Rodrigues became the new leader and pulled away to secure a victory over his teammate.
The Macau youngster was later penalized with a 10-second penalty for causing a collision, which resulted in Kevin Xiao moving into first place, while Tiago Rodrigues dropped to second. This secured his first-ever single-seater win and also earned him the Rookie Cup trophy.
Zhang Yu finished in fourth place at the flag, an unexpected result for the rookie.
The third and final race of the weekend didn’t have much of a story, with Tiago Rodrigues crossing the finish line in second place, while Kevin Xiao took control of the Rookie Cup with a fourth-place finish. Zhang Yu crossed the finish line in eighth place.
After this weekend, Asia Racing Team leads the Teams’ Standings with 94 points, compared to the second-placed team’s 64. In the Drivers’ Standings, Tiago Rodrigues is in the lead with 51 points, while Kevin Xiao holds third place with 43 points, and Zhang Yu is in sixth. In the Rookie Cup, Kevin Xiao is in first place, and Zhang Yu is in second.
Action resumes in two weeks’ time with an invitational event at the Macau Grand Prix on November 11 and 12, before two more points-paying triple-header rounds at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit.
Jack Pang (Team Principal): “It was a challenging yet successful weekend. The team overcame various obstacles to lead both the driver and team championships as we head into the next round. In their first experience with the Tatuus machine, all three drivers performed exceptionally well.”
Rodolfo Avila (Team Manager): “It was a great weekend for us, and leaving Zhuzhou leading both the Teams and Drivers classifications brings us immense satisfaction. With a new car for our three drivers, they demonstrated significant progress over the weekend. We are looking forward to the challenges ahead at Macau and both Sepang rounds.”
Tiago Rodrigues (#7 Driver): “All in all, it was a good weekend. The second race was quite chaotic, and I did my best to avoid the incidents while driving to the best of my ability. In the third race, I was slightly behind Jack Beeton in terms of pace. Closing the gap for Macau will be challenging, but I’ll try my best.”
Zhang Yu (#12 Driver): “I am thrilled to have had a perfect weekend with ART. I’ve learned a lot from this weekend and even secured a first place in the Rookie Cup. I am deeply grateful for the team’s guidance and support. I hope to see you in Malaysia next time.”
Kevin Xiao (#96 Driver): “I’m very satisfied with this result and big thanks to my team, mechanics and engineers for giving me such a good car. I really appreciate racing with these very talented drivers, so I’m very happy and satisfied with winning a race today. However, I believe there is room for improvement in my driving. When I compare myself to other drivers, I can see that there is still a considerable gap between us. So I will keep improving and prepare well for the upcoming races.”