Former GP3 racer Adrian Quaife-Hobbs leads the 2012 Auto GP World Series after three of the seven round series.
Visits to Valencia and Marrakech last month saw the Englishman pick up a win, two 2nd place finishes and a 4th to build a comfortable 29-point lead over Sergey Sirotkin.
The 16-year-old Russian, however, may arguably be closer had he not fluffed two starts.
Pal Varhaug has also made notable errors, leaving the Norwegian 3rd in the standings, albeit only a single point shy of Sirotkin.
As the halfway point in the season approaches, we have seen five different winners from six races – such is the competitive nature of the series.
There will be some keen eyes focussing on Auto GP as the season progresses – especially as Varhaug and Quaife-Hobbs aim to rebuild their somewhat battered reputations. The real wonder will be whether Sirotkin can make it in the main feeders to Formula 1…
Beyond that, the series is looking at a new car for 2013 as it strives to develop and stretch its legs, while the current chassis’ – second generation A1GP machines – are beginning to age and fall out of fashion.
Series boss Enzo Coloni may bring an outside contractor to design it, he has not ruled out building the tubs in-house.
“We’re happy with the performance of our car, but at the same time we feel that after three seasons with the current design, something needs to be done in order to bring our championship even closer to the standards boasted by the top step of the motorsport ladder.
“In order to do that, you have to go for a major change, and that’s what we’ll do. It’s too early to go into the details, but you can expect an official announcement pretty soon. We don’t want the budgets to start rocketing, we have a strong identity as the only economically viable high-performance intercontinental championship, and we absolutely want to retain it”.
Auto GP still has some way to go before it is recognised as a truly worthwhile endeavour for top-line drivers, but if it continues sensibly on its current path, it will do its reputation no harm whatsoever.
Auto GP (Round 2, Race 1, Valencia, 21 laps)
Euronova rookie Sergey Sirotkin cruised to his first Auto GP victory in Valencia. The Russian jumped poleman Adrian Quaife-Hobbs off the line to grab the lead, rarely looking threatened thereafter.
Sirotkin pulled out a five-second gap on Quaife-Hobbs, only for it to be wiped out by a late safety car period. A single flying lap at the end of the race ensured a small margin of victory come the chequered flag.
Quaife-Hobbs continued home to assume 2nd spot over Pal Varhaug (Virtuosi UK). The Norwegian spent much of the race in 4th, until he swept by a spinning Facu Regalia late on.
It was a stranded Victor Guerin brought out the safety car. The Super Nova racer spun on his own droppings when an oil line gave way on lap 18, causing Regalia and Max Snegirev to spin. Matteo Beretta also spun, clouting Guerin’s car, damaging it too much to continue.
Steady drives from Daniel de Jong and Sergio Campana rewarded them with 4th and 5th respectively, albeit just ahead of Chris van der Drift, while the recovering Regalia and Snegirev rounded out the top eight.
Results: Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Sergey Sirotkin Euronova 32m49.721s 2. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs Super Nova + 0.969s 3. Pal Varhaug Virtuosi UK + 3.374s Full results.
Auto GP (Round 2, Race 2, Valencia)
Stellar pace and tyre strategy helped Quaife-Hobbs to his second Auto GP win of the season. Starting 7th, the Englishman was 3rd by the first corner following a lightning getaway, with the Super Nova crew bringing him in after five laps.
Several fast laps on fresh rubber was more than enough to jump Quaife-Hobbs into the lead ahead of Regalia, easing into a well-deserved victory. Regalia came under late pressure from Sirotkin, who had also made a good start and an early tyre change, launching him from 8th to 3rd.
The big loser was Campana, who led for much of the running, dropping to 9th after he massively overshot his pitbox on lap 14, while de Jong – who was 2nd for the majority – dropped to 4th when he stayed on old tyres for too long.
Guerin enjoyed a stunning drive to 5th from 16th on the grid, aided amply when he bolted off the line, followed by an aggressive drive that saw him take a number of places on track. Unsurprisingly, poleman Snegirev went backwards in the race, with the Russian coming home 6th just ahead of van der Drift, Varhaug and Campana.
Results: Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs Super Nova 30m55.874s 2. Facu Regalia Campos + 5.496s 3. Sergey Sirotkin Euronova + 5.652s Full results.
Auto GP (Round 3, Race 1, Marrakech, 19 laps)
Campana took his first Auto GP win in a thrilling battle at Marrakech. The Italian valiantly fought off Quaife-Hobbs to the flag during an eight-lap tussle that saw Campana win by less than two-tenths.
Despite heavily worn rear Kumho tyres, Campana fended off every attack – no doubt aided by Quaife-Hobbs hitting the rev limiter at the end of each straight, giving the Italian just enough of an edge to garner full points.
Varhaug came home a disappointed 3rd. The Norwegian led the opening two-thirds with relative ease, only to stall during his tyre stop, losing him valuable seconds and positions.
Van der Drift started and finished 4th after an early battle with Giancarlo Serenelli; however it was Giacomo Ricci (5th) and poleman Sirotkin (6th) who briefly troubled the Kiwi during the latter stages. It could have been more for Sirotkin, who bogged down off the line and also misheard a pit call, causing him to lose further spots.
De Jong won a tight battle for 7th, just ahead of Antonio Spavone, while Yann Cunha and Francesco Dracone rounded out the top ten – a mere 0.50 up on the “tyred-out” Serenelli.
Result: Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Sergio Campana MLR 71 29m34.199s 2. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs Super Nova + 0.186s 3. Pal Varhaug Virtuosi UK + 5.951s Full results.
Auto GP (Round 3, Race 2, Marrakech, 19 laps)
Van der Drift grabbed his first win of 2012 after stealing the lead from Sirotkin in a breathless second race at Marrakech. From 6th, the Kiwi jumped to 2nd two laps in when de Jong ran into the back of poleman Spavone.
Sirotkin who built a lead of five seconds, before stopping on lap thirteen; however several tours on cold tyres was countered by four hot laps from van der Drift, earned the Manor MP racer a narrow lead. A manic late push from Sirotkin could not overturn the deficit.
Varhaug would have taken 3rd had he not jumped the first back stretch chicane on the last lap. The Norwegian was busy holding a frantic Quaife-Hobbs and Ricci at bay when he made the error, dropping to 7th following a penalty.
At the same moment, a boatful of wheelspin dropped Quaife-Hobbs behind Ricci for 3rd, while Guerin took 5th, despite losing his front wing in a late clash into the side of Serenelli.
Meanwhile, Cunha closed the top six. Race One winner Campana might have had a top five had he not rashly tried to take Michele la Rosa in the final turn at the halfway point, prematurely ending both their races.
Results: Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Chris van der Drift Manor MP 29m10.823s 2. Sergey Sirotkin Euronova + 0.651s 3. Giacomo Ricci Zele + 20.597s Full results.
Auto GP World Series points standings Drivers’ Championship 1. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs 105 2. Sergey Sirotkin 76 3. Pal Varhaug 75 4. Chris van der Drift 69 5. Daniel de Jong 43 Under-21 Trophy 1. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs 120 2. Sergey Sirotkin 98 3. Pal Varhaug 85 Teams’ Championship 1. Super Nova International 121 2. Manor MP Motorsport 112 3. Euronova Racing 94