Richard Verschoor crowned 2016 SMP F4 NEZ Champion | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

Richard Verschoor crowned 2016 SMP F4 NEZ Champion

The sixth and penultimate round of the 2016 SMP F4 NEZ Championship certified by FIA took place this weekend (2-4 September) in Anderstorp, Sweden, as Richard Verschoor sealed the title with a third straight hat-trick of victories
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Richard Verschoor moved into an unassailable lead in the Formula 4 North Europe Zone Championship this weekend (2-4 September) in another action-packed event unfolded.

Wet conditions struck just before qualification got underway. Drivers had completed just three laps done when Nikita Volegov spun out, and the red flag was waved, stopping the qualification to allow the Marshalls to retrieve the car.

Jarno Opmeer had his gaze focused straight ahead, and took P1 on the very last lap of the fifteen minutes session with a fastest lap of 1.42.527. Roope Markkanen was trading P1 with his fellow countrymen Tuomas Haapalainen and Juho Valtanen during the whole session and was the sole driver to squeeze in an additional lap to snatch P2. Richard Verschoor, who was P1 on his last lap, dropped to P3 as his two challengers improved after he’d taken the chequered flag.

The rain had stopped by the time the fourteen drivers made their way to their starting positions for race one and the sun was even shining as the lights went out, giving the start of the 25 minutes + 1 lap Race.

Opmeer had a good start and stayed in lead but Roope Markkanen had an even better one and was already side-by-side with the Dutch driver into T1. By defending his position too harshly, Opmeer pushed out Roope Markkanen, causing a collision. Both cars rejoined the track, but in P6 for Markkanen and P9 for Opmeer who threw away all his chances to close the gap to championship leader Verschoor.

That mistake paved the way for Verschoor who took the lead, with Finnish duo Haapalainen and Valtanen right on his tail. By the end of Lap 1, Tzortzis and Lloveras collided, forcing both drivers to retire and Safety Car to make its appearance on track.

After 3 laps, the Safety Car came in and the race could resume with a neat start from Verschoor who made a comfortable gap to Haapalainen. Behind him, the fight was raging as Opmeer mounted a challenge on the top order, taking down the drivers one by one, passing young Alexander Vartanyan for P5 on Lap 6. But Nikita Sitnikov was the one to stop his ascent.

As the chequered flag was waved, Richard Verschoor took another victory, the eighth one in a row for the young Red Bull Junior driver who’s drifting away a bit more from his main challenger Jarno Opmeer.

Tuomas Haapalainen scored an impressive second place, and managed to keep Juho Valtanen behind him who completed the podium.

Sunday morning started with the second qualifying of the weekend which had to be delayed due to a lack of visibility with the thick Swedish fog enveloping the circuit. One hour later, the fourteen cars could hit the track for the fifteen minutes session determining Race 3 starting positions.

The clock only had time to tick down to 10 minutes before Nikita Sitnikov hit the barrier in his second warm-up lap and destroyed his car. The driver came out unhurt, but it was the end of his session.

As the action resumed, Vartanyan set the fastest time on his flying lap in 1.33,200 followed by Roope Markkanen and Juho Valtanen. However, times improved from all sides and Opmeer lit up purples, going 0.015s faster than fifteen year old Richard Verschoor to take his second position of the weekend. Roope Markkanen, Alexander Vartanyan and Rasmus Markkanen completed the top 5.

"I got a 10-second penalty yesterday for the incident involving Roope Markkanen at the start, so I will be starting Race 2 from P11. But I know I have the pace to come back!" said Opmeer after the session.

Race 2 got underway with the grid formed up based on the Race 1 final classification. As the lights went out, the drivers went cleanly into T1 with Verschoor in the lead in front of Tuomas Haapalainen and Juho Valtanen. But the fight went on behind a few seconds later as Nikita Volegov, Roope Markkanen and Tuomas Tujula spun out in T2, losing their positions, but rejoining the race. Unfortunately Tuomas Tujula was forced to retire three laps after with too much damage on his Tatuus F4 car. Alexander Vartanyan was also force to retire because of an electrical failure.

Jarno Opmeer, who started in P11, took his opponents down one by one and made his way up to P4 and started a battle with Juho Valtanen for the podium. However the Finn defended his position hard, fighting for the previous points and Jarno Opmeer finally made a mistake allowing Juho Valtanen to cross the finish line P3. The young Dutchman's mistake took him down to P5 behind Nikita Sitnikov.

Richard Verschoor took another lights to flag victory, the ninth one in a row for the young Red Bull Junior Driver this season, while Tuomas Haapalainen and Juho Valtanen completed the podium.

After the race, Jarno Opmeer got penalized with a 10 seconds penalty, dropping him to P9, and edging the championship further out of reach.

As the final race of the weekend got underway in Anderstorp, it was a chaotic start as Jarno Opmeer starting from Pole Position stalled on the grid, giving Richard Verschoor the opportunity to continue his winning streak and grab overall championship victory.

In P2, Roope Markkanen was trying to contain Alexander Vartanyan who was pushing hard. As Roope dropped back, Jarno became a threat to Rasmus Markkanen, both driver were fighting, allowing Alexander Vartanyan to take the advantage. Eventually Jarno Opmeer got the upper hand on the young Finn and set his eyes on Vartanyan gearbox and started to cut the Russian driver’s lead lap by lap.

And the drama continued for Opmeer as in the penultimate corner on the very last lap of the race, when it was clear that he could not overtake Vartanyan anymore, the young racer went off and hit the wall. He came out unhurt, but ended all his chances in the championship.

Out front, Richard Verschoor won his tenth race in a row and scored his third hat-trick this year with a gap over 8 seconds to Alexander Vartanyan who crossed the line in second with Rasmus Markkanen completing the podium.

Victory put Verschoor out of reach of his competitors in the standings, and was therefore crowned 2016 SMP F4 NEZ Champion, with one round to go. It has been an amazing performance from the young Dutchman, who'll head to the last round in Ahvenisto with much less pressure on his young shoulders.

Richard Verschoor said, “I am very happy and I would thank everyone who has been supporting, helping me and believing in me this season. From my mechanic to my driver coach and of course Red Bull Racing. The beginning of the season was not easy, but I managed to keep my head straight and eventually it paid off. See you in Ahvenisto!”

The last round of the 2016 season will be held next week (9-11 September) in Ahvenisto, Finland.