Zhuhai (China), May 10 (IANS) Raj Bharath, the 18-year old from Bangalore, clinched a stunning pole position on his debut weekend with Meco Motorsport in the Formula Masters China Series at the Zhuhai International Circuit here Friday.
Raj clocked one minute, 45.884 seconds while Ren Nagabuchi (Japan) was second (1:47.341) and Adrian Wright (Australia) completed the top three in qualifying.
Earlier in the day, Raj had suffered some electrical issues during official practice and was unable to set even a single timed lap and lost quite a bit of track time in the process.
With two qualifying sessions scheduled later on, rain came down as the pitlane went green, so all drivers, including Raj, went out on wet tyres. The rain ceased within a few minutes and the track eventually dried up which saw drivers switching to slicks.
The team however opted to let Raj stay out on wets as more rain was expected, and eventually the call paid off as the showers returned and Raj managed to secure pole by a humungous margin of 1.5 seconds.
Formula Masters, the erstwhile Formula Pilota China, has undergone a major revamp this year including support from Volkswagen China with the new car being powered by the German marquee’s Formula 3-spec engine and gearbox.
Raj, who participated in the 2012 season of the Asian championship, is all set to build on his experience from last year when he secured ten podium finishes and three class wins.
Meco Motorsport’s full-time participation in the championship this year marks the first time that a fully self-operating Indian racing team will compete and field an Indian driver in an Asia-level championship. Spearheaded by former F3000 racer Akbar Ebrahim, the team has set its sight high as it aims to have Raj fighting at the sharp end of the grid.
“It’s good to have Raj back in our seat for 2013 in a new championship. He will need to get used to the torque levels of the VW F3 Engine used in the German F3 Championship and also the grip levels of the new tyres being used this year.
“Other than that I don’t see him having many issues as he is has worked with the engineers and the mechanics in 2012. It is our goal to finish in the top-three in the Championship which will set the standards for the new drivers to follow in the coming years,” commented Ebrahim.
Earlier in the week, the team’s season got underway at the pre-season test at the 4.32-kilometer Zhuhai International Circuit as it came to grips with the new engine/gearbox package, along with new tyres supplied by Giti which replaces Yokohama.
“The car is quite different to drive. The engine is not turbocharged like last year’s so it delivers power differently. So the performance is in a very narrow powerband,” were Raj’s first impressions of the revamped car.
“But the most surprising difference was the tyres. In the first few sessions I couldn’t get much feedback and grip seemed to be low,” he added.
This is the first-time that Chinese tyre maker Giti has designed a racing tyre for a single-seater and it took a while for the team to understand its characteristics and get the best out of it.
In the second qualifying, Raj went out on a set of new, unscrubbed wet tyres as rains pounded the circuit and struggled for traction throughout the session, ending up 10thon the grid.