For much of the 2022 Formula Challenge Series season, Sander Kallas has been the benchmark for excellence. In spite of no wins and a couple of nervy moments in combat with rivals, his consistency had carried him far.
That was until events at Donington Park. The fourth round witnessed Kallas enduring his worst race by a strong margin; finding the wall and gravel traps multiple times. A finish outside of the top 10 meant his lead at the top of the championship had been finally overturned.
There have been four different race winners, perhaps unsurprisingly in such a tightly contested field of drivers – Risto Kappet became the latest of those besting Darius Andrei with a no-stop strategy. Tactics were expected to be at the forefront once again in Round 5 as the fun arrived at the Côte d’Azur.
Eyes must have rolled as qualifying for the race came to a close. Kappet, a no-stop specialist, had taken pole position around a circuit famed for mostly requiring pitstops to jump positions. The writing might have been on the wall for some, but Mattia Crupi was surely holding out hope as he joined the Estonian on the front row.
Previous race winners Philipp Drayss and Turkka Hakkinen formed the second row ahead of an excellent Paul August Laane who locked in his best starting spot of the year by a country mile. New championship leader Christian Michel and Darius Andrei, both podium scorers but yet to win, were still in good points contention starting from sixth and seventh respectively.
Rory MacDuff endured a trying session although was fully candid in his lack of preparation for Monaco. At least he turned up, with major notable absentees including Jordy Zwiers and man under the spotlight Sander Kallas.
Crupi’s car was angled aggressively towards Kappet at the start but it was to no avail with the R8G machine unopposed into Sainte Devote for the first time. As was to be predicted, no major overtakes of note graced the first lap.
What did happen, however, was a completely clean first turn for everyone and the rather worrying smoke puffs ejecting out the back of Crupi’s engine cover. As was the case for a couple of others throughout the field, some immediate cooling was necessary to prevent further damage.
Andrei found himself in a similar boat but for both drivers, the situation was seemingly under control within a few more minutes of running around the coastal circuit. Unfortunately, his race would still end prematurely thanks to one lapse of concentration into the Nouvelle Chicane.
Clipping the inside wall, he faced the wrong way within seconds and was collected by an unsighted Jelle Binsburgen and Martin Dyrlund; the latter joining Andrei for an early bath.
The second big coming together arrived near enough half distance. Jimi Nisula, in pursuit of Jukkpekka Lalu, was caught out by the timing of his compatriot’s braking. Thankfully, no one else was caught up in the misunderstanding which ultimately lay in Nisula’s hands as the chasing car.
Rather less spectacular was the nature of Joseph Hurlock’s retirement from the race; an internet failure ending his hopes of another points finish.
With temperatures in check, Crupi had set about reeling in Kappet and arrived underneath his rear wing very literally, getting far too close for comfort a number of times. For a solid 25 minutes, the Italian had demonstrated excellent patience in urging Kappet to make a mistake. Running so close behind another car reignited the engine concerns for Crupi and, ultimately, it was too much with the blowout arriving with 15 minutes left.
The slow-moving car was caught by those fighting for third in the awkward blind spot around Portier. Drayss claimed second but it was August Laane who snapped up a couple of places to plant himself in the bronze spot.
Hakkinen was the biggest loser, falling behind the Dane and Michel. Kostas Vamvoukas was next to see his motor bite the dust opening up yet another top ten berth which Tomasz Wach inherited.
Five minutes remained and everything kicked off. Christian Michel, who had announced his exit from Cetrez Nitor Velox after years with the outfit, made one of the moves of the season. He miraculously remained in combat with August Laane for a full quarter of a lap through Portier before finally completing the overtake through the Tunnel.
A backmarker caused havoc on the other side of the circuit, sliding out of Sainte Devote and collecting a couple of cars including the helpless Wach who lost the 10th place he had recently gained.
Drayss’ pace since taking second had been impressive, so much so that he was within tenths of Kappet by the final lap. Yet, the wily, old fox had plenty of push-to-pass left in the tank and burned it well to become the first two-times winner of the season; back-to-back with his Donington triumph. Michel rounded out the podium and deservedly so.
- Risto Kappet – 36 laps
- Philipp Drayss +0.207
- Christian Michel +10.256
- Paul August Laane +12.108
- Giordano Valeriano +25.943
- Turkka Hakkinen* +27.564
- Mirco Mancini +36.214
- Giannis Lianos +57.566
- Kacper Nizio +59.623
- Daniel Stepkowski +01:00.282