Yifei doubles up in season finale as Benyahia takes the title

Yifei Ye led home a second successive 1-2 for Josef Kaufmann Racing in the season finale at Hockenheim, with Michael Benyahia edging out R-Ace GP team-mate Gilles Magnus to win the 2017 Formula Renault Northern European Cup (NEC) title.

Sacha Fenestraz made an improved start in the second contest and briefly threatened team-mate Yifei’s lead, but was ultimately forced to settle for the runner-up spot after losing time in the later stages of the race.

Alex Vartanyan (Arden) put in a superb performance from the fifth row of the grid to claim the final spot on the podium, biding his time before putting moves on both Jarno Opmeer and Richard Verschoor (both MP Motorsport) to seize third.

Renault Sport Academy driver Opmeer would eventually finish fourth ahead of Red Bull-backed Verschoor, with Bartek Mirecki (BM Racing Team) rounding out the top six after one last effort to keep his championship hopes alive.

James Pull came next in the third Josef Kaufmann Racing car after scything his way through from eleventh on the grid to claim seventh, with British F4 championship contender Oscar Piastri just behind in eighth.

Then came the decisive final twist in the tale of this season’s title fight, as Michael Benyahia soaked up late race pressure from Magnus to seal the championship title by handful of points and spark celebrations in the R-Ace GP garage.

Tech1’s Thomas Neubauer ended the season on a high after besting Théo Coicaud and Charles Milesi, whilst Logan Sargeant (R-Ace GP) and Gabriel Aubry (Tech1) were both forced to pit with damage and would round out the final race result of the campaign.

Benyahia will now prepare for a mid-week trip to Renault Sport Racing’s Formula 1 facility at Enstone for an evaluation for their young driver programme, further cementing the championship’s reputation for developing the next generation of single-seater and sportscar racing stars.

In the meantime, though, the Moroccan can celebrate becoming the twelfth NEC champion and reflect on a job well done at a dramatic final weekend of the season.

The series will now prepare for a busy winter period ahead of what looks set to be an even greater 2018 season.

Yifei Ye said, “I made a good start but had an issue at Turn 1 and that’s where Sacha was able to close the gap to me. With the slipstream effect he was able to try and overtake me twice but I managed to keep him behind – it was a tough battle but it was fair enough. At the end I managed to pull away and found a better approach for Turn 1, then I managed to do some consistent lap times and then pull out a small margin. It wasn’t easy, he was on my tail the whole time but that’s racing! I have to give a lot of credit to the team who gave us such fantastic cars to race, it was a very positive weekend – a double pole and double victory – so I’m very happy about that.”

Michael Benyahia said, “I don’t think it’s really hit me yet, but it feels great so far. By far this was the hardest race with Gilles [Magnus] always behind me. The whole race was about keeping track of Gilles and Bartek, because if he [Mirecki] had gone a little bit too far that would have been a problem for us. I’ve learnt a lot this season, like how to play a championship, I think this season has made me a better person and I’ve just really enjoyed it.”