Kacper Sztuka extended his championship lead in the inaugural season of the Formula Winter Series, with a second place finish and a victory at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo. Meanwhile, the debuting Italian Matteo de Palo took his Campos Racing entry to the top step of the podium in his car racing debut.
A lot of competition for Sztuka
After taking a clean sweep of victories in Jerez, Sztuka and US Racing faced increased competition in Valencia. Campos Racing and Phinsys by Argenti both joined the Formula Winter Series field for the first time.
In preparation for a full season in Spanish F4 in 2023, Matteo de Palo was part of a three-car line-up for Campos, also including Nerea Marti and Maite Caceres. In qualifying, de Palo secured pole position for both races, with US Racing’s Kacper Sztuka joining him on the front row for each race.
Race One: de Palo shines, Sztuka stays on
As the first race began, de Palo immediately went defensive against Sztuka, who tried his best to claim the inside line for turn one. Ultimately, the Polish racer had to settle for second place in those early stages, and would continue to follow the leading Campos entry at close range.
Sztuka never allowed de Palo to rest, with less than a second between them for the entire race. But the young Italian withstood the pressure to win his first ever F4 start. Behind Sztuka, Frederik Lund (US Racing) rounded out the podium, some 12 seconds behind his teammate.
Strong lady, de Palo best rookie
Gianmarco Pradel and Ruiqi Liu, also from US Racing, retained their qualifying positions of fourth and fifth respectively. Nerea Marti worked her way to a sixth-place finish, just ahead of Drivex’s Juan Cota Alonso.
As with the overall order, the Rookie standings were topped by Matteo de Palo, with Pradel and Liu joining him on the class podium.
Race Two: de Palo stops and chases forward from behind
The start of the second race was rather less than successful for Campos’ de Palo, as he stalled the car from pole.
Because of this, the stage was set for Sztuka, who swept into an early lead ahead of Frederik Lund. This would be the order at the front throughout the race. Further back, Carl Wattana Bennett (AKM Motorsport) spun in the mid-pack at turn one on the first lap. Miraculously, the field avoided him. Bennett’s AKM Motorsport teammate Tina Larissa Hausmann came to a halt between turns three and four a few moments later, causing the first Safety Car. However, the Swiss racer managed to fire the car up once more.
Rookie crack Tina Hausmann rolls out, others spin
Alas, once the race resumed, it was paused again just as quickly. Hausmann had again stopped in the first sector, this time definitively.
After this delay, the race would only resume for a handful of laps before a second spin for Carl Wattana Bennett. The AKM driver was scrapping for tenth place with Patrick Heuzenroeder (Phinsys by Argenti), who had lost places at the start while avoiding Bennett’s opening lap incident. The pair would almost collide as Heuzenroeder locked up at turn two, and Bennett would spin just two corners later.
The stranded car required a tow, and a third Safety Car. The cars were unleashed once more with a dozen minutes left on the clock.
De Palo’s forward momentum only curbed by safety car
Following his poor start, Matteo de Palo had worked his way back to seventh place. He was soon able to dispatch his Campos teammate Nerea Marti for sixth. And then, as both he and Ruiqi Liu (Argenti) applied pressure to Juan Cota Alonso (Drivex), de Palo took the opportunity to pass Liu for fifth place.
Before the Italian could make any further progress, a fourth Safety Car was deployed for Maxi Restrepo (Drivex) and Issac Barashi (Argenti), who both came to a halt out on track. The clock ultimately ticked to zero before racing could begin again.
US Racing podium, Sztuka extends lead
Kacper Sztuka, Frederik Lund and Gianmarco Pradel sealed a US Racing 1-2-3. Pradel would also claim the rookie class honours, ahead of the other two members of the overall top five; Juan Cota Alonso and Matteo de Palo.
Despite losing his winning streak in race one, Sztuka departed Valencia with an extended lead in the FWS championship. Lund retained second, but lost further ground to his US Racing teammate in the title hunt.
Next stop: Navarra
The next round of the Formula Winter Series will take place on the 3-5 March, at the Navarra Circuit.