In what will be his last season of racing in the UIM F4 class PRW caught up with Stefan Arand to wish him a Happy Birthday and talk about the F4 European Championship that took place last weekend in Aluksne, Latvia.
Well, the weekend was definitely a batch of mixed emotions. Saturday started ok at first with me qualifying in third place but quickly took a turn after some technical checks revealed that me and the team had made a crucial mistake with the engine set up.
It meant that Arand would have all his qualifying lap times deleted and the Estonian would have to start in sixteenth place, last on the grid for the first heat. With this class of racing so evenly matched any chance of getting the weekend off to the perfect start had now clearly diminished.
I got an incredible start and managed to get up to sixth place after the first lap. The leaders were too far in front, and I ended up fighting for fourth place. When I saw the results the Race Officials deemed that I broke the rules of keeping my line through the first corner, this resulted in a one lap penalty dropping me back to eleventh.
Arand and his team protested the decision and pleading his case to the race jury he managed to convince them to replace the one lap penalty with a yellow card, thus allowing him to keep the fourth place points from the first heat.
The second heat was more straight forward and after passing the local hero Nikita Lijcs he managed to secure third place.
As the race teams packed their equipment away after an eventful first day, it was Norway’s Andre Solvang that topped the points table with eight hundred followed by Finland’s Tino Lehto on six hundred. Arand was next tied with Lijcs some two hundred points adrift.
Lehto topped the Free Practice time sheets first thing on Sunday morning, closely followed by Lijcs with both Solvang and Arand opting to sit this one out.
Heat Three saw Arand produce another perfect start and after just one lap he held the lead over Lijcs. Solvang had not had a great first lap and was now battling it out for fourth place with Lehto with both of them some distance behind Jarno Vilmunen.
In the third heat I managed to take the lead early on and kept it until the very end. Finally, everything was coming good. It meant that I would have a chance to win the championship if I won the fourth heat and Solvang finished lower than third position.
The fourth and final heat would certainly be the one which got everyone talking. Solvang was involved in a crash with another competitor which effectively ended his chance of the European title. The Norwegian driver escaped unhurt and posted on his social media ‘accidents happen.’
Following the restart, the leading drivers were rounding the turn buoy at the furthest end of the course when coming in from the outside line Lehto’s boat suddenly skipped over the wash sending him through the air. When the Finnish driver regained control, his boat immediately hooked and sent him heading back in the direction of the oncoming drivers.
With nowhere to go Nils Slakteris collided with the stricken Lehto and in the impact the Finish driver was trapped inside his cockpit with a broken wrist and injuries to his leg. The Latvian Rescue Team were quickly on the scene and with the help of Slakteris they managed to keep Lehto’s boat afloat whilst carefully extracting the injured pilot who was then rushed to hospital.
The information we have is that he is still currently in the hospital receiving treatment and is doing well considering the circumstances.
So, with the news reaching the drivers about the extent of Lehto’s injuries the teams now lined up for the second restart. This time the heat was completed without any further incidents and was won by Arand from Lijcs and Vilmunen. With the best three heats out of four counting towards the title Arand was crowned European Champion.
The fourth heat was definitely a difficult one with there being two restarts and a pretty bad accident following the first restart. It was tough getting back into the boat having seen Solvang crash out and then the smash involving Lehto but knowing they were both ‘ok’ meant you could know concentrate on getting the day done.
First up onto the podium went Lijcs to collect his UIM Bronze medal. His thoughts now will be on the upcoming opening round of the UIM F2 World Championship. Next up went Solvang and collecting a UIM Silver medal in his first season of racing this class certainly bodes well for his future. Finally, up went Arand who quickly paid tribute to his entire team and family who came out to support him.
I couldn’t do it without all of you!
Next up for the Estonian is a trip to his capital city where he will carry out further tests with his current F2 race boat before he gets his brand-new DAC, I wonder if it will be gift wrapped.