Fantastic Finn Tuukka Taponen Wins 2024 Formula Regional Middle East Championship

Published on Monday, February 19, 2024

Fantastic Finn Tuukka Taponen Wins 2024 Formula Regional Middle East Championship

United Arab Emirates - Ferrari Driver Academy talent Tuukka Taponen became the 2024 Formula Regional Middle East Champion (FRMEC) in the final round at Dubai Autodrome. Victory in Saturday’s opening race of the weekend for R-ace GP’s 17-year-old Finnish star was enough to put him beyond reach of his only remaining title rival, Taylor Barnard, and for good measure, Taponen put on a dominant display in Sunday’s season finale to further underline his superiority with another win.

Barnard, fresh from Formula 2 testing a few days earlier in Bahrain, had entered the weekend needing to beat Taponen in the first race to keep his championship hopes alive. While Taponen claimed a double pole position, PHM AIX Racing’s 19-year-old Briton lost his best lap in first qualifying after exceeding track limits, and his resulting starting position of 12th for race one made his task almost impossible. Undaunted, Barnard raced through to finish eighth. Then, with the crown no longer at stake, he put in a wonderful drive in the second race to rise from an early fifth place and win a fantastic battle with Pinnacle Motorsport’s Spanish talent Mari Boya and PHM AIX team-mate Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak for victory.

Both Taponen and Barnard ended the FRMEC season with five victories apiece from the 15 races, but Taponen’s greater consistency in the races he did not win meant that the final gap between them was 79 points. Barnard, in turn, enjoyed a 48-point cushion to another Ferrari protégé, Mumbai Falcons Racing’s Brazilian ace Rafael Câmara, who finished third in the championship.

Others to celebrate on the podium were Taponen’s Maltese-Filipino R-ace GP team-mate Zachary David and Mumbai Falcons’ McLaren F1 junior Ugo Ugochukwu, who were second and third respectively in race one. Thai racer Inthraphuvasak was promoted to runner-up in race two by a penalty for Boya, with Australian James Wharton elevated to third for Mumbai Falcons. Italian PHM AIX charge Brando Badoer claimed second in the finale ahead of Saintéloc Racing’s French youngster Théophile Naël.

French team R-ace GP took a clean sweep of titles. As well as the Teams’ crown and Taponen’s overall honours, the Finn also emerged atop the Rookie standings, with two more class wins in Dubai putting him 137 points clear of Ugochukwu, with Wharton third, thanks in part to his Rookie victory in the second race.

 

Race 1

Tuukka Taponen took a giant leap towards the FRMEC title in qualifying. The Finn was imperious, setting two laps comfortably quicker than the best anyone else managed, and claiming pole by 0.415 seconds from Brando Badoer. Taylor Barnard recorded a lap quick enough for the front row, 0.317s shy of Taponen’s best effort, but this was deleted for a breach of track limits, and his next effort gave him 12th place on the grid.

Taponen set off at lights-out in the lead, while his R-ace GP team-mate Zachary David got inside Badoer at Turn 1 for second place, and the Italian’s wide line also allowed Ugo Ugochukwu through into third. Badoer continued to fall down the order, and by the end of the first lap he had dropped behind Rafael Câmara and James Wharton to lie in sixth.

In a race uninterrupted by safety cars, Taponen did just as much as he needed to. By the seventh lap of 16 he edged the gap to David out to over two seconds, before reining back to the 1.5s region. He then pushed again at the end, claiming the 2024 FRMEC crown with a 2.263s victory over David. It wasn’t easy for David because Ugochukwu was trimming the gap to second place by the finish, where it was an all-Rookie 1-2-3. In turn, Câmara was hovering behind his Mumbai Falcons team-mate over the second half of the race.

Badoer lost another place to Bruno del Piño on the second lap, but the Spanish MP Motorsport driver soon fell back with damage to his front wing and was forced to the pits. Badoer, who had repassed del Piño by this stage, settled into the race nicely, claiming fifth place from Wharton at Turn 10 on the seventh lap.

Barnard leapt to eighth on the opening lap, but in his efforts to pass the hobbled del Piño he was leapfrogged by Mari Boya. While Boya drove to seventh, Barnard conceded his title shot with eighth place ahead of Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak and MP Motorsport-run Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi Jr, who deservedly scored his first FRMEC point in 10th.

 

Race 2

Emerson Fittipaldi Jr earned reversed-grid pole position for this race, but the son of the legendary two-time Formula 1 World Champion and Indy 500 winner did not stay in front for long. From the outside of the front row, Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak got a slightly better getaway, and the Thai was able to insert himself into the lead at Turn 1. Taylor Barnard, meanwhile, was gazumped from his third place on the grid and dropped to fifth behind Mari Boya and Brando Badoer. Then a multi-car tangle at Turn 9 involving Gao Yujia, Edgar Pierre, Yaroslav Veselaho and Isaac Barashi triggered the race’s first safety car. While three of them returned to the pits, Barashi was sidelined on the spot. Gao and Pierre were declared at fault and given grid penalties for the final race.

Boya immediately went on the attack at the restart, pressuring second-placed Fittipaldi. After a lap and a half of chasing, he made the move at Turn 10 to move into second place. Barnard was now fourth after clearing Badoer, only for another safety car interruption thanks to an incident between Liu Ruiqi and Alexander Abkhazava, for which Liu earned a final-race grid penalty.

This closing of the pack proved to be a setback for Inthraphuvasak, who had put some daylight between himself and the pack while Boya was attempting to pass Fittipaldi. Now it was game on for Boya. When the green flags flew on lap eight, to herald seven more laps of racing, he began to push for the lead. On the 11thlap, Boya tried tentative moves on Inthraphuvasak at Turn 1, and on the outside at Turn 14. Barnard had passed Fittipaldi around the outside of Turn 10 at the second restart and, as the battle heated up at the front, he closed in to make it three drivers in contention.

The decisive moment came as they flashed over the start-finish line to begin the 12th lap. Boya got the slipstream from Inthraphuvasak; Barnard picked up a tow from both of them. Boya was in front as they entered Turn 1, but he was on the outside line and ran wide; Barnard was on the inside, and went from third to first in one manoeuvre. Crucially, Boya clambered back onto the circuit in front of Inthraphuvasak without taking the Turn 2 escape route mandated for those who have run wide, and this would result in a five-second penalty after the race.

Barnard stretched away over the remaining three laps to cross the finish line just over a second in front of Boya, whose penalty dropped him to seventh and promoted Inthraphuvasak to the runner-up slot.

Up into third came James Wharton. The Australian had run ninth early on, but picked up a position from Zachary David, then another from Ugo Ugochukwu, and moved up to sixth when Fittipaldi ran wide at Turn 1 while battling Badoer and lost further time taking the Turn 2 escape road. Wharton’s progress put him behind the fight for fourth between Badoer and new champion Tuukka Taponen. This came to an end when they got too close at Turn 7, Taponen ran wide and Badoer spun, allowing Wharton and Ugochukwu to slip past into fourth and fifth respectively.

Boya’s penalty moved the trio of Wharton, Ugochukwu and Taponen – who were the top three Rookies – into third to fifth respectively, and allowed David up to sixth. Fittipaldi finished eighth, while Théophile Naël put in a storming drive from the back of the 29-car grid following his retirement in race one to claim ninth spot ahead of Rafael Câmara. Like Boya, Câmara was given a time penalty for running off track at Turn 1 and not taking the escape road, and this promoted Japanese Kanato Le (R-ace GP) to his first FRMEC point in 10th.

 

Race 3

Qualifying for the season finale was much closer than it was for the weekend’s first race. Once more it was Tuukka Taponen took pole position with Brando Badoer alongside, but this time the gap was just 0.109 seconds. Next up were Bruno del Piño and Théophile Naël, ensuring four different teams represented in the leading quartet: R-ace GP, PHM AIX, MP Motorsport and Saintéloc.

Badoer made a better start than Taponen, while Naël used the slipstream from both to briefly get alongside, only to be squeezed out of room on the inside of the circuit and have to duck back in behind the leading duo. Taponen was on the outside into Turn 1 but showed beautiful judgement to sweep around Badoer and retain his advantage.

Further back, Isaac Barashi ran out of room on the approach to Turn 1, dived to the inside and was helpless to avoid contact with Yaroslav Veselaho. While Veselaho returned to the pits, Barashi struggled around the circuit before parking off-track on the approach to Turn 8, where bodywork from Finley Green’s car got deposited on the circuit. There was soon another casualty, when Nikhil Bohra’s front wing got caught under his car, sending him off the track and into retirement at Turn 1 on the second lap. As a result of all the clear-ups required, the safety car was sent out.

Taponen made an excellent restart and, bit by bit, he extended his lead over Badoer to take the chequered flag by 3.004 seconds. Naël did not let up in his pursuit of Badoer, and he completed the podium. Zachary David was also part of an all-Rookie top four, retaining his position throughout.

From 11th on the grid, Mari Boya made spectacular progress in the first half of the race. He was up to seventh by the time the safety car appeared, and then passed Bruno del Piño and Ugo Ugochukwu to claim fifth position. Ugochukwu finished sixth, with del Piño seventh.

James Wharton’s efforts to deprive Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak of eighth place allowed Rafael Câmara to ambush both of them at Turn 10 on the sixth lap and culminated in contact between the Thai and the Australian at Turn 14. This sent Inthraphuvasak to the pits with damage and knocked Wharton a few positions down the order. Câmara spent the rest of the race defending eighth place from Taylor Barnard, who had crawled away from the grid with a problem, ended the first lap way down in 19th, but stormed up to finish ninth. Costa Toparis ran in 10th place early on for Evans GP but had to take the Turn 2 escape route after running off track at Turn 1 while battling fellow Australian Wharton. This resulted in his Evans team-mate John Bennett claiming the final point, the Briton at last getting onto the FRMEC scoreboard.

 

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