Josef Kaufmann Racing secure 1-2 as Yifei takes first NEC victory

Yifei Ye converted pole position into a career-first Formula Renault Northern European Cup (NEC) victory in the penultimate race of the season at Hockenheim, leading home Josef Kaufmann Racing team-mate Sacha Fenestraz.

MP Motorsport’s Richard Verschoor completed the podium after the Red Bull Junior fought off combined pressure from the likes of R-Ace GP’s debutante Logan Sargeant, Tech1’s Gabriel Aubry and the returning Alex Vartanyan (Arden). Crucially in terms of the championship, Michael Benyahia (R-Ace GP) finished ahead of title rival and team-mate Gilles Magnus to claim a one point lead heading into the final at 17:30 CEST this afternoon.

When the lights went out, Yifei made a strong start and defended his lead into the tight right-hander at Turn 1, with an equally composed start from Verschoor giving him the opportunity to relieve Fenestraz of second on the outside at the first corner.

Fenestraz would reclaim the runner-up spot with a bold move to the inside of the Hairpin at Turn 6 a handful of laps later, but the squabble behind allowed Yifei to extend his advantage at the front and he would duly continue to take the chequered flag by some six and a half seconds.

That left Verschoor in the clutches of Gabriel Aubry, twice a race winner in the series at Monza. Aubry made several attempts at claiming the final podium position, including a bold move to the outside at Mercedes that just failed to come off, but soon their dice allowed a host of cars to zone in on the fight for third.

Logan Sargeant has looked competitive throughout his debut weekend in the championship, and took fourth from Aubry at Turn 10. With the latter stranded on the apex, Vartanyan was able to get alongside and pass into Mobil 1, securing fifth and leaving Aubry rooted to the bottom of the top six.

Jarno Opmeer was eventually classified seventh after running higher in the opening exchanges ahead of another championship debutante, as British Formula 4 contender Oscar Piastri (Arden) ended his first race in the category eighth.

Benyahia claimed that all-important ninth position ahead of the third and final Josef Kaufmann Racing car of James Pull and fellow title rival Bartek Mirecki (BM Racing Team).

Théo Coicaud and Charles Milesi – both podium finishers at Spa-Francorchamps – did their best to keep their respective championship hopes alive but the duo have now fallen from contention in 12th and 13th. Thomas Neubauer took 14th, leaving Gilles Magnus to round out the field.

With the championship battle enduring another twist to the tale, it remains to be seen who will emerge victorious in the final round of the series, and follow in the footsteps of famous names such as Valtteri Bottas and Ben Barnicoat and become Formula Renault Northern European Cup champion later this afternoon.

Yifei Ye said, “After two brilliant qualifying sessions yesterday, our mindset was to bring the cars home first and second for the team. I made a brilliant start and managed to create a big gap after the first lap and from thereon it was easy. It was a shame Sacha [Fenestraz] made a small mistake at the start and dropped to third, after he got back into second he was running similar pace to me and we could have had some battles. Unfortunately at the end it was a lonely race for both of us.”

Sacha Fenestraz said, “The start was a little bit hard, I think the right side was a bit dirty. And then with Richard, it was a little bit hard to overtake him, I think he was quite fast at the beginning. Once I’d gotten past I just had to try to do my best, go as fast as possible and then try to catch up Yifei, but like yesterday he did an amazing job and was really fast. I preferred to just take some more experience in a race situation and keep that second place until the end, I think it was quite option instead of taking more risk.”

Richard Verschoor said, “The start was really good, then immediately I saw that Fenestraz was far quicker. At the beginning I tried to hold him off, I think we could have done it for a few more laps but he was so much quicker, we just didn’t have the pace at all. I just let him go, he was too quick. I had a little bit of contact [with Aubry] – I was afraid for a few seconds my rear tyre was flat, but then it was okay so I just kept pushing – I defended the whole race, actually.”