Adrian Quaife-Hobbs has extended his AutoGP World Series lead with an impressive victory in the second double-header round of the series in Valencia this weekend to take his fourth successive podium finish. Second place in the weekend’s opening race, from his second consecutive pole position, also extends the 21 year-old’s series lead to 21 points.
The Tonbridge racer set a searing pace in testing at the Spanish track on Thursday with the quickest lap, before posting the second fastest time in practice on Friday. The Super Nova racer then converted that to pole position in Saturday’s crucial qualifying to earn a front row start for the first of two 40-minute races.
As the field of 550bhp, Zytek V8-engined Lolas headed out onto the grid, tyre choice was to prove critical to the outcome of the race. Adrian’s original plan was to go out on a fresh set of medium tyres, but with his rivals opting for used soft tyres, the decision was taken to go the conservative route and follow suit.
However in the closing minutes prior to the formation lap, fellow front row driver Sergey Sirotkin, was able to make a late call and switch to medium tyres, giving him extra grip off the line and allowing him to get the jump on Adrian at the start.
With that advantage and despite Adrian’s best efforts to close down the gap over the opening laps of the race, it was left to the compulsory pit-stop to offer him any hope of clawing back the deficit. A superb stop by the Super Nova team, and a rapid in and out lap by the Briton did indeed allow him to reduce the gap from four and a half seconds to just one and half seconds.
A safety car period four laps from home helped to close the advantage. However with just one racing lap remaining when the race resumed, Adrian was unable to challenge for victory, crossing the line less than a second adrift, but extended his series lead.
In the weekend’s second race, which featured a reverse grid for the top eight in race one, Adrian lined up seventh. A lightening getaway allowed him to make up four places before the first corner and a superb pit-stop strategy early on meant he could make the most of his strong pace on a clear track.
Emerging from the mandatory pit stop in ninth place, Adrian quickly capitalised on the better tyres and started gaining a second a lap. After all the stops had been completed, he found himself in the lead by an amazing seven seconds, going on to take a well-deserved second series win.
“We were quick straight out of the box in testing, and in the first practice we ran on very used tyres, just bedding in the pads,” said Adrian. “In the second I was on the pace again, and so was really confident going into qualifying. However we’d never tried the new-spec soft tyres before and therefore we had some decisions to make but the Super Nova engineers got it right for pole position.
“In the race though, we didn’t quite get it right. I was supposed to go out on the fresh set of mediums, but then we saw that everybody, including Sergey, was on the used soft tyres. We decided to go conservative and do what the others did so we switched to the softs just before going to the grid but unfortunately it was the wrong choice. I think that was the turning point. With new tyres Sirotkin, on mediums, had much more grip than me at the start and in the opening laps, and that’s what made the difference.
“We managed to close the gap at the pit-stop, with a quick in and out lap and a superb job by the team, but the soft tyres in the extreme temperatures were wearing really quickly, so I didn’t have a real chance to fight.
“We definitely didn’t expect to be up in third at the first corner, but I made a great start. And as we’d committed to starting on old tyres, I stuck to my pre-race strategy, which was to come in early. After that I had a clear track and pushed like it was qualifying. It worked well because after the stops I’d built up a seven second gap but my only thought was to keep pushing as much as I could.
“We knew that a podium finish was possible but victory was more than we could have hoped for and was a welcome surprise. To have two pole positions, two wins, four podiums from four rounds, and leading the championship is a good place to be as we head into the next rounds in Morocco in two weeks time.”
The next round at Marrakech, Morocco will take place on 15th April, marking Adrian’s first visit to the African track.