With a total of 357 points now (23 more than his immediate rival Pratik Sonawane), Saurav Bandyopadhyay gets one step closer to winning this year's title as only two more races are left in the 2019 season.
Heading into the final (fourth) round of the 2019 MRF Indian National Car Racing Championship (INCRC), the title fight in the Ameo Class (of the Volkswagen Championship) couldn't get more exciting. After a soaking-wet Round 3 at the MMRT, Mumbai-based Saurav Bandyopadhyay (#4) was sitting atop the leaderboard with 305 points. Just 11 points away (294), Pune's Pratik Sonawane sat below him on the points table, in third place (overall). For the fourth & final round, the 2019 MRF INCRC bandwagon is back at the MMRT in Chennai to conclude yet another entertaining season of racing.
The proceedings for the Ameo Class are particularly interesting in the finale as Volkswagen Motorsport India (VMI) is involved in an international driver's exchange programme with Volkswagen Motorsport South Africa (SA). Under this program, both sides send their respective championship winners across borders to race in the other country's racing championship. As a result, Volkswagen SA has sent across four of its talented drivers, out of which, three (Jeffrey Kruger, Tasmin Pepper & Johan Pretorius) will be racing as guest drivers (won't be awarded championship points) in the Ameo Class of the Volkswagen Championship, while Daniel Rowe will be competing as guest in the ITC Class (All Saloons) of the national championship. The aim of this programme is to bring the winning drivers out of their comfort zones and teach them how to adapt to changing conditions, thereby enhancing the experience gained.
For Race 1 of the Ameo Class, championship leader Saurav Bandyopadhyay (#4) pipped guest driver Tasmin Pepper (#21) by a whisker (0.034 seconds) to claim pole position in Friday's qualifying session. Behind Pepper, guest driver Jeffrey Kruger (#22) shared the second row with Sonawane (#7). Interestingly, Kruger was only 0.006 seconds behind Pepper. As the race started, Bandyopadhyay managed to hold a decent lead over Pepper & Kruger. However, he could only manage to do so in the first half of the race, as Kruger & Pepper started narrowing down the gap gradually in the second half. Soon, Kruger found himself leading the race, ahead of Bandyopadhyay. Meanwhile, Pepper too found an opportunity to take on Bandyopadhyay and thus, overtook him on the penultimate lap. As the guest drivers won't affect the championship points tally, Bandyopadhyay did not push too hard & instead, settled for a third-place finish. By doing so, he managed to grab all of the 52 points (50+2), giving his overall championship lead an extension.
Behind the trio though, the battle for fourth was quite intense, between Sonawane (#7) & Jeet Jhabakh (#5). After starting the race from & continuing in P4, Sonawane was keen to secure the final step on the podium. Therefore, he was pushing too hard and as a result, went off the track, onto the grass, while coming out of the final corner. By the time he managed to bring his car back onto the track, Jhabakh had already passed him, giving fourth place to the latter.
With a 23-point lead over second-placed Sonawane, Bandyopadhyay will be going all guns blazing in the remaining two races of this year's championship in order to cement the elusive championship win.