Indian racing driver Raj Bharath’s first outing at the Inje Circuit for round four of the Formula Masters China series kicked off on a difficult note after he managed to overcome a disastrous qualifying session to win the second race of the day, only to be disqualified after being deemed to passing under yellow flags. The 4.2-kilometer circuit, which is located two hours outside of the capital city Seoul, is an extremely challenging layout for the drivers featuring 19 corners with a lot of cambered sections and elevation changes.
Earlier in the week, Raj started the proceedings on a solid note as he seemed to adapt to the undulating surface well, topping the open test session on Friday. “It is a really demanding layout, it doesn’t really have too many long straights where you can take a break – you’re always busy and the cambered corners give a very different sensation of grip”, said Raj after his first impressions of the circuit. But as the track gripped up in the following sessions, the setup changes didn’t seem to bring in the expected gains and come qualifying, Raj fell short of a few tenths in lap time. With the Formula Masters grid being exceptionally tight, he qualified seventh on the grid for race one and fourth for the third race of the weekend. “We were still figuring out how to make up those final tenths and we managed to make a step forward from the first to the second qualifying session, so I was feeling positive for the race even though I was starting way back in seventh”, Raj clarified. As the lights went out for the rain-soaked race one, Raj immediately set out to climb his way up the grid, coming through the pack despite exceptionally low visibility as cars in front bunched up and threw up a blinding spray. After pulling off some brave passes, he eventually finished third while setting the fastest lap of the race. Raj’s best lap was a 1:45.545s was seven-tenths quicker than the second fastest lap of the race. The fastest lap under torrid conditions also earned Raj pole position for race two.
“I was really happy with my pace in race two, and finishing on the podium after starting seventh was an added bonus”, remarked Raj. Unfortunately though, race two turned out to be a disappointment as it was started under safety car as torrential rain meant that conditions were deemed too unsafe for a normal start. The safety car was brought in after two laps and the drivers were allowed to race for two laps, but the safety car was deployed once again for the next five lap, and the race was ended prematurely after just eight laps. Somewhere amidst the chaos, Raj had been passed by Akash Nandy for the lead and the Indian driver managed to pass him back, but little did he know that he made his move under yellow flags. Post-race, Raj’s victory was taken away as he was awarded a 20-second post-race penalty, which meant he lost valuable points in a race he could have easily won.
“I couldn’t believe when they told me, right after I had been on the podium and collected the winner’s trophy and everything, but that’s how it works sometimes”, he dejectedly said. “Luckily only half points were awarded as the race was ended prematurely – so we didn’t lose out as much as we could have”, he added. “Also, championship leader Afiq Yazid was also penalised for overtaking under yellows, so overall we didn’t suffer a huge hit in the championship standings. Once the final two races are done tomorrow, we’ll do the math and see where we stand”, he clarified. Raj will start race three from fourth place, with the fastest lap order determining the starting grid for the fourth and final race of the weekend.