Ukyo Sasahara wins 2019 F3 Asian Championship title in Shanghai

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Ukyo Sasahara was crowned 2019 F3 Asian Champion after the penultimate round of the season having earned himself an unassailable points advantage over Hitech GP team mate and championship rival, 16-year-old Jack Doohan.

Taking eight victories in 15 races, the title is the first single seater championship win for the highly-regarded Japanese talent, and the win earns him 18 super licence points. 

Heading into the penultimate round of the season, Sasahara held a 35-point advantage over Red Bull Junior driver Doohan and, despite just missing out on a podium finish in Race 14, his fourth-place finish was enough to clinch the crown.

Absolute Racing’s Daniel Cao took a second sensational series win, followed across the line by BlackArts Racing’s Brendon Leitch and championship runner-up Doohan.

Despite missing out on the title, and vowing to end the season on a high, Doohan did exactly that, leading home a triumphant 1-2-3 finish for Hitech GP in Race 15, with Sasahara in second and an impressive Jackson Walls in third, his second podium finish in the nine races he has contested this season.

In addition to Sasahara and Doohan, Cao, Leitch, Absolute Racing’s Eshan Pieris, Walls, Pinnacle Motorsport’s Jordan Dempsey, Zen Motorsport’s Yu Kuai and Super License driver Yu Kanamaru all earn super licence points from their F3 Asian Championship season.

Race 14

With the fastest laps in Saturday’s Race 13 setting the grid for Race 14, Ukyo Sasahara lined up alongside pole-sitter Daniel Cao for the penultimate outing of the season with the championship tantalizingly close, his 35-point advantage putting him in a strong position to lift the title with a race in hand. However, Sasahara, along with the rest of the grid, was acutely aware that in motorsport, anything can happen.

As the field roared from the grid, Cao made another blinding getaway, rocketing clear of his rivals and setting off on the hunt for his second series victory. Behind him though, despite both the Hitech GP drivers getting a poor start, it was clear Jack Doohan was not prepared to leave anything on the table in his pursuit of the title, diving past Sasahara and up to second. Brendon Leitch, however, was on the hunt for his maiden series win and dived past both Sasahara and Doohan to snatch second.

Straight away, Sasahara was all over the back of team mate Doohan, diving on the inside and getting alongside in the run down to the parabolica. Doohan was having none of it though, fighting tooth and nail to keep the more experienced Japanese driver firmly behind him as Sasahara threw every weapon in his arsenal at the young Australian, but to no avail.

Likewise, Cao, who had been caught by Leitch, was showing superb pace, carrying impressive speed out of the corners with his perfectly set up Absolute Racing.

Behind the top four, Jackson Walls faced an early-race challenge from a quick Kuai Yu, the Chinese driver making a move on the inside but going in too deep. A lightning reaction by Walls saw him sidestep the incident, with Dempsey replacing Yu as his challenger as the Zen Motorsport driver dropped to eight in the order behind Eshan Pieris.

The rollercoaster season continued for Masters driver Thomas Luedi. With a new engine fitted after an incident with Tommy Smith in Race 13, the BlackArts Racing driver disappointingly came to a stop trackside, bringing out the safety car.

That closed up the pack, wiping out Cao’s hard-won advantage, giving Leitch another shot at his maiden series win, and intensifying the pitched battle between the Hitech GP title contenders.

At the restart, though, a composed Cao was once again away like a rocket, leaving Leitch in his dust, the New Zealander forced to switch to defensive mode as Doohan loomed large in his mirrors. Likewise, Doohan had his adversary Sasahara right on his tail, the Japanese driver resuming his furious assault.

The next few laps witnessed arguably the best racing the championship has seen, with a masterclass in close, no-holds-barred motorsport of the finest order as Doohan and Sasahara diced it out. Sasahara got by Doohan, but the Australian quickly reclaimed the position after a nail biting drag race down to Turn 14. Every time Sasahara made headway, Doohan skillfully closed the door in a furious, fair, flat-out fight.

Further down the order, Pieris made a move on Dempsey for sixth, but went in to the corner too deep and spun defending from Yu. That put the disappointed Sri Lankan right down the order, who eventually crossed the line in tenth behind Pinnacle Motorsport’s Tommy Smith and ahead of 2019 Masters Champion Paul Wong of the 852 Challengers

As the clock ticked down, Doohan eventually managed to break free of Sasahara, but the battle with his rival had allowed Cao and Leitch to pull too far clear to challenge for the win, dashing his championship hopes. Cao, meanwhile, had put in a wheel-perfect performance to keep his BlackArts Racing challenger far enough away not to threaten the win after the restart, and the Shanghai native sailed across the line to his second Formula 3 career victory.

While missing out on a podium finish, Sasahara had done enough to clinch the title with an unassailable points advantage and with a race in hand. A disappointed Doohan had proved his undeniable talented and, as seven years Sasahara’s junior, his enormous championship-winning potential.

Race 15

Having clinched the title with a race to spare, Sasahara lined up on pole position for the final time this season, but without fresh rubber for the final showdown. Doohan took his place alongside ahead of Leitch and Dempsey.

The Australian wasted no time in making good his vow to take the final honours of the year, diving on the inside of Sasahara and snatching the lead. Walls was a man on the move too, thundering past first Dempsey then Leitch and up to third behind Sasahara. Next, the 16-year-old Walls honed in on Sasahara ploughing past and up to second behind Doohan, who had pulled a gap of more than 1.5 seconds by the end of the opening lap.

It was another disappointing outing for Leitch’s BlackArts team mate, Masters driver Thomas Luedi, who once again retired with technical issues early on in the race. That left Masters champion Paul Wong to take his seventh win of his debut season.

Back at the front of the pack, Leitch was having a look at Sasahara, who was still struggling to find his pace on worn tires, while further back Cao was making headway through the field from the back of the pack having missed out on the second qualifying session. The Shanghai local hero was up to eighth by the end of the opening lap, moving up another place by the end of lap 3 having found his way past Smith.

Five laps in and Sasahara had found his pace and made his move on Walls, getting alongside and moving across to shut the door. Walls mounted a spirited fightback, but the more experienced Sasahara prevailed.

Out in front, Doohan wasn’t letting up, pounding out rapid, faultless laps, extending his advantage and setting the fastest lap of the race for good measure.

With 10 minutes remaining, Doohan was untouchable as he charged towards the flag and the final victory of the championship’s second season. Behind him, Sasahara maintained his pace and held Walls firmly at bay, with Leitch unable to make any headway into the dominant Hitech GP trio.

Pieris ended his season with a strong finish in fifth, ahead of Dempsey, Cao, Smith, Yu and Gowda.

As the curtain comes down on a second superb season of junior formula competition, the F3 Asian Championship is already preparing to burst back to life for the 2020 season in just a few short weeks, with the opening triple-header at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit on December 14 and 15

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