In her latest Motorsport.com column, Tatiana Calderon reflects on last weekend’s MRF Challenge encounter at the Dubai Autodrome, where she secured her first victory of the season.
Welcome to my latest Motorsport.com column! Christmas may only be a few days away now, but I’ve not had much time to do any shopping – instead, I’ve been busy racing in Dubai, and I’m so relieved to finally able to call myself a race winner again after far too long!
I might not have stood on the top step of the podium, as I was only declared the winner when Tarun Reddy was penalised, but I still took the chequered flag first, which was an amazing feeling. Last time that happened was in the Florida Winter Series last year – I’d almost forgotten what it felt like!
That was the highlight of a great weekend, which started with practice. As I had never been to Dubai before, the first session was about getting to know the track, before we made a few set-up adjustments in the second session – I ended up four tenths off the pace in P3, so everything was looking good.
Unfortunately, there was a problem with the corner weights of my car in qualifying, which made it really difficult to drive and left me 1.3 seconds off the pace and only seventh on the grid for race one. That was pretty frustrating, knowing how good my pace had been in practice.
Fortunately, the car was back to normal for the first race, and I managed to make up some ground to finish P4. I also set the second quickest lap time, so it was reassuring to know the speed was still there.
I didn’t make a good start from third on the grid in the second race, so I dropped to fifth before the safety car came out after one lap, followed by the red flags. I made up the lost ground quickly at the restart, before becoming involved in a scrap for the lead with Reddy and Nikita Troitskiy.
As they were fighting, I was able to pass both of them at Turn 14 on the inside with two laps to go, and after that I pushed hard to get away and cross the line first – only to then be told I’d missed out on winning by two tenths on aggregate times!
I found it unfair that a single racing lap before the red flags counted for the same as five afterwards, but I decided not to appeal. I wasn’t worried – of course, it’s nice to be able to say to the outside world you’ve won, but it felt like I had won and for me that was enough.
But when the news arrived a couple of hours later that Troitskiy’s appeal against Reddy was successful, I could tell the world I had done it after all!
The next day in race three, I moved up from sixth to fourth pretty quickly, and the top four of us were in a big train. But then the red flags came out, and they didn’t restart the race this time, which was a little frustrating because I had some really good pace in that one.
That result put me third on the grid for the last race, and before long I was fighting Harrison Newey for P2. During our battle I went for a gap at Turn 12, but he turned in on me – putting me off track and costing me two places. I was on older tyres too, so there wasn’t much I could do to catch up after that.
Troitskiy later got disqualified for having his ride height too low, which meant I was P3 instead of P4, but I really should have been second without the clash with Newey. But I could see my main title rival Pietro Fittipaldi getting away out front, so I felt I should take a risk to get past. It just didn’t pay off this time!
Racing in the MRF Challenge has definitely turned around what had been a pretty forgettable season for me, and I can head to the final round in Chennai next month knowing everything is to play for. Only 18 points separate me and Pietro, and with four races still to go, anything can happen.
But, before then, it’s time for me to head home to Colombia to relax and spend time with my family over the Christmas break before the hard work begins all over again – although I’m sure it won’t be long before I’m tempted to head back to my local kart track!
Until next time,