It was the best birthday present ever. Chris van der Drift was supposed to attend the Auto GP World Series in Monza as a driver coach for Manor MP Motorsport driver Daniël de Jong. But after a call last Thursday, the team told him to bring his race gear as well. Despite the last minute offer, the 25 year old from New Zealand was ready for a challenge and drove the black-yellow car to a superb podium finish on Sunday. On top of that, Van der Drift is ranked third in the championship. "I'm so happy to get back on the podium and to deliver good results for the team. I thank them for the faith they have in me and giving me this opportunity", says Van der Drift.
Chris' last race was in July 2011 during the final Superleague Formula event that year. But after a few laps in Friday practice, he knew that the speed was still there. After fine-tuning the car and learning about the tires in just twenty minutes, qualifying was his next challenge. He was pleased with securing fifth place.
Surviving a puncture
Without practising starts, Van der Drift got well off the line with the 550 hp strong single seater when the lights got out for the first race and he moved into fourth position. Only a slow puncture spoilt his race and dropped to eleventh. "I was battling with the 'extra' oversteer for a few laps and then pitted. After the stop I could get back to business and start to take chunks off my lap times and made it all the way back up to sixth on track and then got promoted to fifth after one team received a penalty", explains Van der Drift.
By this stage the fast Kiwi learned how the Kumho tires worked and how the car went over a race distance. He knew what to expect and the confidence was growing. Started from fourth during race two, he managed to get into third until the pitstop window opened. He pitted immediately, but unfortunately the left rear wheel didn't go on and he lost a few seconds. Van der Drift was ranked seventh when everyone completed their pitstop. And this was just the beginning of his race to move up to second.
"That's when it got excited and I quickly got past as many cars as possible", says Van der Drift. "I passed two by this stage and then the next lap into the first corner from 308kph I managed to out brake three cars while they all shot off the track. I went around the chicane and came out in front, from there it was two laps to go and all I could say was: 'wow, did that really just happen'? I was just so happy knowing that I would be back on the podium and so happy for the team that they had faith in me and I delivered with results, many thanks to Manor MP Motorsport for making this happen for me."
A desire to continue
"After this weekend I hope people see that I'm not here to be part of the field, but I'm here to be the best, and after having no testing and not driving for such a long time. I've still got it, just a message to everyone once I'm up and running: try to stop me! A big thanks to the team, especially my engineer and mechanics", says Van der Drift.
The next race in is Valencia during the first weekend of April. Chris van der Drift is looking for budget needed for the running costs in order to pursuit first position in the championship. "So I'll be busy trying to secure some support to make that happen!"