Pal Varhaug claimed a fine victory in an epic second Auto GP race at Monza.
The Norwegian driver started from seventh on the reverse grid, but gradually worked his way forward and jumped into the lead thanks to a quick pitstop from the brand-new Virtuosi UK outfit – making just their second ever pitstop.
Formula Abarth graduate Antonio Spavone started on pole position, but got a poor start and dropped several places. Giacomo Ricci meanwhile got a flyer from fourth place, but would have to settle for second into the first chicane behind front-row starter Max Snegirev.
The Italian tried a Vettel-esque move around the outside of Curva Grande on the second lap, but couldn't find a way through. Chris van der Drift held third place, with Varhaug taking fourth at the expense of Spavone on lap four.
Van der Drift was the first of the frontrunners to make his mandatory pitstop on lap five. Snegirev surrendered the lead when he made his pitstop on the following lap, and soon fell behind van der Drift as he struggled on cold tyres.
Ricci came in from the lead at the end of lap eight, followed by a train consisting of Varhaug, Spavone, Adrian Quaife-Hobbs and Sergio Campana. It was Varhaug who would emerge first to take the lead of the race, and he soon opened up a 3.5 second advantage which he held until the finish.
“Yesterday's second place was a big achievement already, but winning gives you a completely different feeling,” said Varhaug. “Today I had less troubles in getting heat in the tyres, but the first braking after the pit-stop was again a very difficult one, I nearly lost it!
“After that it was just a matter of pushing as hard as I could, and that's what I did. I have to say thanks to the team because today the pit-stop was really quick, and it was a key point to this success.”
Ricci maintained second place, but would then be punted out by Campana, who overshot the first chicane and took out Ricci when he came back onto the track. There was further action in the battle for second, with van der Drift, Spavone and Campana went three wide into the first chicane two laps later. Victor Guerin was just behind in fifth and rammed Campana under breaking.
This helped van der Drift to hold on to second – a fine result for the Kiwi who only found out at the last minute that he would be racing rather than just acting as driver coach for teammate Daniel De Jong.
“Frankly I wasn't expecting such a weekend,” said van der Drift. “My deal for this race was confirmed just on Thursday, I was coming from a long stop and I had no testing at all in this car this year, so there were many question marks.
“Anyway Qualifying was already good and in the races I was feeling even better. Unluckily in Race 1 I did a mistake in Parabolica, but today I made up for it, clinching a podium that is a deserved prize for the team also. The race itself wasn't easy, but the team did a good job at the pit-stop, something that really helped. Then, luckily, I was just ahead of the first corner brawl on lap 10 and so didn't risk my 2nd place.”
With cars all over the place after that first chicane incident, Quaife-Hobbs just about managed to squeeze his car through into third place, capping a fine weekend after winning Race 1. He did come under pressure at the finish from 16-year-old Sergey Sirotkin, who also worked his way through the chaos.
“I'm obviously ok with this podium finish, but with some luck at the pit-stop it could have been even better,” said the Brit. “The team did a wonderful job with the tyre change, but then when my car was already on the ground we decided to avoid a release that could have been a little unsafe, and so I had to let go a train of four cars.
“I had to start over again with my recovery, but luckily I was in the right place at the first chicane when the mess happened and could make the most of it. Then the last lap with Sirotkin so close wasn't too difficult, I just braked a bit more at the beginning of Parabolica to slow him down a bit, and then got a better exit speed.”
Spavone kept Snegirev at bay to take fifth, ahead of Ombra Racing duo Adderly Fong and Giancarlo Serenelli, Facu Regalia and Guiseppe Cipriani.
Varhaug and Quaife-Hobbs are tied for the points lead on 38 points, 13 ahead of van der Drift. The second round of the season takes place at Valencia in three weeks' time.
|1||Pal Varhaug||Virtuosi UK||14 laps in 23:48.744|
|2||Chris Van Der Drift||Manor MP Motorsport||3.519|
|3||Adrian Quaife-Hobbs||Super Nova International||4.445|
|4||Sergey Sirotkin||Euronova Racing||4.520|
|5||Antonio Spavone||Euronova Racing||9.839|
|6||Max Snegirev||Campos Racing||12.332|
|7||Adderly Fong||Ombra Racing||20.060|
|8||Giancarlo Serenelli||Ombra Racing||23.840|
|9||Facundo Regalia||Campos Racing||26.135|
|10||Giuseppe Cipriani||Campos Racing||27.103|
|11||Victor Guerin||Super Nova International||31.180|
|12||Michele La Rosa||MLR 71||48.448|
|13||Sergio Campana||MLR 71||+3 LAPS|
|14||Giacomo Ricci||Zele Racing||+5 LAPS|
|15||Matteo Beretta||Virtuosi UK||+7 LAPS|
|Daniel De Jong||Manor MP Motorsport||6 laps|