Chinese rising star Ye Yifei finished as the vice-champion in the inaugural Asian Winter Series at the weekend despite his best efforts to clinch the title. The Absolute Racing driver won two of the three races of the season finale at the 5.543km FIA Grade 1 Sepang International Circuit.

Ye’s spectacular dominance in Malaysia started in free practice and continued in qualifying on Friday. The Chinese youngster was unbeatable in both 15-minute qualifying sessions, capturing the pole-position for Race 7 and Race 9.

For the first race of the weekend, held on Saturday morning, the #16 Absolute Racing Tatuus F3 T-318 got off the line well in the opener and sustained the pressure from behind. He realized immediately that his pace was far better than his rivals, so he just kept going easily without taking any risks. Two safety car periods didn’t distract the 18-year-old as he powered his way to his third victory in the series, setting the fastest lap on the way to secure the pole-position for the second race.

Saturday’s afternoon race was not very different. Another dazzling start from Ye saw him storm off in pursuit of his fourth win in eight races. With another flag-to-flag win, he has closed his points deficit to championship-leader to just 12, with one, title-deciding race remaining.

However, with guest drivers ineligible to score points in the final round of the series, Ye’s real chances of clinching the title could only be considered rather optimistic ahead of the last race of the season on Sunday morning.

The race start didn’t go to plan. Ye got left behind at the starting line and quickly dropped to third before fighting back to second by the second lap. He was the fastest on track and quickly closed the gap to the leading car.

Ye could content himself with the second place behind a non-scoring guest driver, which would award him the maximum championship points. As that score wouldn’t be enough to win the championship anyhow, without much to lose, Ye took off in the search for a third win at Sepang. On lap 12, in a fierce battle with guest driver Jack Doohan, the two cars collided and Ye was forced to retire (although still classified in 13th).

With 25 points at stake every race, Ye concluded his first ever Asian single seaters campaign in second, 29 points adrift of the championship win. He also helped Absolute Racing to finish second in the teams’ championship standings.

Following the final race, Ye said, “First of all I am very thankful to all the staff at Absolute Racing; the team management, engineers, mechanics and so on. They gave me the opportunity to show everyone what the team and I are able to achieve. I think our pace has been outstanding throughout the championship. The team did amazing all the time. We’ve scored four wins and three second places in just 9 races. Unfortunately we had some technical issues with the car, which were just pure lack of luck and cost us one DNF in the first race of the championship. Then, this weekend we had this rule that newly-joined drivers don’t score points. These factors ultimately cost us the title. It’s a shame for me and for the team that we were not rewarded as we deserved. But that’s racing, and sometimes the results do not show the reality. As a young driver everything’s about learning, and I think that the performance I’ve shown, the team has shown, after all the hard work, is the most important in the end.”

He added, “As a Chinese driver, being able to reach the top with a Chinese team is truly great and I am proud of what we’ve achieved together. I think this winter is definitely unforgettable and I will take all the positives with me to prepare my upcoming season in Europe.”

The new Asian Winter Series runner up is now actively working with his management to make the next step in his racing career.

Qualifying 1: P1 (FL: 2:00.817)
Qualifying 2: P1 (FL: 2:00.468 )
Race 1: P1 (FL: 2:01.151)
Race 2: P1 (FL: 2:01.999)
Race 3: P13 (FL: 2:02.037)

1. Rinus van Kamthout (NLD) Hitech Grand Prix – 184 Points
3. Alessandro Ghiretti (FRA) Hitech Grand Prix – 106 Points
4. Tomoki Takahashi (JPN) Super License – 80 Points
5. Pavan Ravishankar (GBR) Hitech Grand Prix – 73 Points

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