Australian racing driver Dylan Young has concluded the 2016-17 MRF Challenge Formula 2000 Championship in strong style, claiming further points finishes to secure ninth overall in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
The Melbourne-born 27-year-old performed well in a strong 22-driver field that included the likes of his teammate Mick Schumacher (the son of seven-time F1 champion Michael), Harrison Newey (the son of ace Formula 1 designer Adrian Newey), Japanese Formula 3 champion Yoshiaki Katayama and Manuel Maldonado (the cousin of Pastor Maldonado).
With sixteen races spread across events in Bahrain, Dubai, and India’s Buddh International Circuit and Channai’s MMRT circuit, the championship battle was going to be tight in a high quality field. The Indian-based series secured FIA sanctioning as a Formula 3 championship, ensuring the off-season series would once again attract a strong field of entrants.
The championship-opener in Bahrain saw the MRF Challenge grid play a supporting act to the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship finale, which would mark the competitive racing retirement of Mark Webber.
While many of his fellow competitors were coming into the championship fresh off a full calendar of racing, Young’s return to the cockpit came after a lengthy break on the sidelines as budget constraints prevented him from racing during 2016.
He’d kept himself fit and lean, and even bravely underwent laser eye surgery – performed by the acclaimed Dr Rick Wolfe of Vista Eyes Laser Surgery – in the hope of finding a few extra tenths of a second with clearer vision inside his helmet.
He’d also partnered up with the Australian technology company Optalert, which is developing groundbreaking technology in drowsiness detection – a lifesaving initiative with enormous scope of application in the automotive and racing sectors.
Young’s results across the weekend saw him in the points in each of the round’s four races. Handicapped with an older-spec manual gearshift compared to a number of runners’ semiautomatic units, Young was losing lap time in qualifying, however a succession of great starts in each race helped propel him into the points. Seventh place in the second race of the weekend proved to be the highlight.
“I was happy with how quickly I got back into the swing of it after a few months out of the car. To end up less than a second off the pace over a long lap against guys who have been racing all year long is a fantastic start,” he reflected afterwards.
“Mick is a great teammate and sets the benchmark, so I know looking at the data the little areas we need to work on.”
There was little time to rest before the championship’s second round at the spectacular Dubai Autodrome, where Young was able to announce a new major sponsor would adorn its logos on his stunning black #3 entry. The company in question was Rolld, one of Australia’s fastest growing fast-causal dining restaurants with a focus on a fresh, innovative and quality offering alongside a memorable experience. Offering Vietnamese inspired street food, Rolld has over 52 stores nationally and is continuing to grow at a pace as rapid as Dylan’s getaways off the grid.
Young showed impressive pace in the opening race to finish in eighth place, and backed that up with tenth place in Race 2. Sixth place in Race 3 put him on pole position for the weekend’s final race, where it was hoped that Young’s customary fast starts would prove the launchpad for a potential podium finish.
Luck would not go his way. Fellow front-row starter, the Dutch driver Rinus Van Kalmthout, jumped the start and then boxed Young in at the first corner, costing him valuable places. Fifth place at the end marked his best finish of the season to-date, but it was a case of what might have been.
“I was really confident going into the last race starting from pole position,” he recalled.
“I had a clear strategy to maximise the start and so naturally I’m disappointed to have missed out on a podium given how the first lap unfolded. However, I’m really pumped going into the remaining eight races and I think given the constant improvement we can be fighting at the pointy end for some strong results. It’s a really competitive field and we are ahead of a lot of strong names.”
The MRF Challenge Championship then moved to its Indian roots for the season’s third round at the home of the former Indian Grand Prix, the Buddh International Circuit southeast of New Delhi.
Young was in his element on the flowing circuit and provisionally held pole position in qualifying. Attempting to improve on his lap time, he unfortunately crashed – the impact damage proved too great to have him on the grid in time for the first race, costing him valuable championship points.
His mechanics worked a miracle to get the repaired car onto the grid in time for Race 2, and thanks to his now-customary quick getaways, he was quickly up in the points. Having climbed to ninth place by Lap 3 and on track to make further gains, his car suddenly stuttered to a halt with a fuel pressure problem which forced him to retire.
With the second day marking Young’s birthday, the Australian marked the occasion with two charging drives from near the back of the grid in the round’s final two races. He finished ninth in Race 3 and seventh in Race 4 to end a challenging weekend on something of a high with some excellent displays of racecraft.
“I can’t help think about how well my weekend could have been set up from qualifying, but that’s racing sometimes,” he said philosophically afterwards.
“The first day was definitely one of the most frustrating times I can remember and so I’m really happy to have bounced back on the last day in difficult circumstances to pass my way back into the points. Now I’m just itching to get back out there for the next round and get back on it!”
Two weeks later and the field was back in action for the final round of the season at the bumpy MMRT Circuit in Chennai. Fifth-fastest in practice boded well for qualifying, but Young struggled with terminal understeer and could manage no better than tenth and ninth for Saturday and Sunday’s respective opening races.
The opening race saw Young climb to seventh place, which included a brave passing move on Brazilian driver Felipe Drugovich. On Lap 7, Drugovich tried to claim back the spot, but only succeeded in clumsily forcing Young onto the marbles as he tried to avoid a collision. Unfortunately, Young spun in his effort to avoid contact and was hit by Neil Verhargen, damaging his front wing. He finished out of the points in a frustrated twelfth.
Saturday’s second race was better, with another great start moving him into the points and a ninth-placed finish.
Overnight set-up changes improved things for the final two races of the season, with Young finishing sixth in Race 3. That would normally have given him pole position for the season finale, however the rulemakers opted not to honour that tradition and instead elected to form the grid based on each driver’s fastest race laps across the weekend. Bumped down the grid, Young brought the car home in seventh place.
Reflecting on his fourth season in the championship, Young paid tribute to his mechanics, engineer and his group of sponsors who had supported him through a challenging campaign.
“Firstly, I really want to thank all my team for this season including Danny my engineer, my lead mechanic Les and all the MRF mechanics for all the hard work they constantly put in,” he said.
“I also want to extend a huge thank you to my army of sponsors and investors who are riding the journey with me and I also want to thank my management team as I wouldn’t be able to chase my dream without all the people back home supporting me.
“Overall I’m quite pleased to finish strongly in the Championship against a lot of big names who have much larger budgets and resources than me. It was tough sitting on the sidelines for a lot of the year due to budgetary constrains but I think I’ve shown yet again that when given the opportunity I have what it takes. I’m just itching to be given the chance to go up against these guys on equal footing and fly the Aussie flag.
“I’m really excited for 2017 and beyond. I hope that I can announce some plans shortly with my sponsors so that we can fully attack the front of the grid and have all the pieces of the puzzle in place to go from a strong consistent 2016 season to fighting for wins and podiums in 2017.”
Dylan Young’s campaign came in no small part to the support of a number of Australian-based and international organisations who are prepared to back the next generation of Australian racing talent. These partners include Rolld, Optalert, Secure Parking, IntelliTrac, Melbourne Watch Company, Forum Group, Besser & Co Estate Agents, Urban Maintenance Systems, Jeylabs, Designsport, Vista Eyes, Hi Voltage Karts and Seek. If you’d to get behind Dylan, please visit his website.
Images via Dylan Young