Adrian Quaife-Hobbs took his fifth consecutive podium finish with second place in the opening round of the AutoGP World Series at Marrakech on Saturday. A close-fought fourth place in the second race on Sunday earns the Tonbridge racer a 29-point championship lead after six rounds.
Marking his first time at the African track, Quaife-Hobbs was quickly on the pace, posting the fastest time in the final practice ahead of Friday afternoon’s qualifying session. After starting well and looking good for a repeat of his pole starts of the opening two rounds, red flags proved troublesome for the BRDC Rising Star. Fastest in each individual sector, Adrian was nonetheless unable to capitalise on his pace, as three times his flying lap was ended prematurely relegating him to the third row for race one.
The opening race on Saturday was a nail-biting affair right to the flag, the young Briton losing out by only 0.186 of a second after five frantic wheel-to-wheel racing laps. The race started well for the 21 year-old, with a storming getaway putting him third off the line.
However the supersoft tyres quickly began to cause problems for Adrian, so another early pit stop strategy by the SuperNova team came on lap four. The team once again did a sterling job to turn the 550bhp, Zytek V8-engined Lola round quickly, allowing Adrian to resume in third place with the lead two drivers yet to stop for tyres.
By lap 13 all the field had taken their mandatory tyre change, but a slow stop for the early race leader Pal Varhaug saw him exit in third place, with Adrian now in a good position to challenge new leader Sergio Campana. The fight for victory proved highly entertaining with Quaife-Hobbs piling on the pressure over the final three laps. The pair went side-by-side several times, but without the benefit of overboost Adrian was just unable to make the move stick, trailing the eventual winner by less than two tenths of a second at the finish.
Race two had Quaife-Hobbs start from seventh, and by lap three he was up to sixth before making his pit stop a lap later. Rejoining in fifth place, Adrian was well-placed to take up the battle for the final podium spot, joining Varhaug and Giacomo Ricci in the fight for third place.
Ricci tried to pass Varhaug on lap 18, but had to back off which allowed Adrian to make the most of the opportunity, with a brilliant move around the outside at Turn 3. Steadily applying pressure to Varhaug at the last chicane on the final lap, Adrian eventually got on the inside, for third place.
They both braked as late as possible but Adrian locked up, pitching his car sideways and into the kerb, while Varhaug cut the chicane. Quaife-Hobbs consequently got a bad exit from the corner, allowing Ricci to pass him. Varhaug crossed the line in third place ahead of Ricci and Quaife-Hobbs, but after the race was penalised 25 seconds for cutting the chicane, dropping him to seventh and giving Adrian fourth.
“We knew that from fifth on the grid a good start was needed for any chance of a podium finish, and luckily I got away well,” said Adrian. “My first laps were difficult; we opted to start on very old tyres and that meant that I lost five seconds to Campana before my stop. Once I changed to new softs, I knew I really had to push. I did it, and if it wasn’t for Spavone, who made me lose at least a couple of seconds cutting the chicane when I had already gone through, I think that I would have gone past him when he pitted. Instead, I was right on his gearbox when he came out of the pit-lane.
“In the first couple of laps I tried to understand if he was leaving some gaps, but when I saw that he was struggling with traction I decided to attack. I tried as hard as I could without risking crashing and one time I did manage to get onto Sergio's inside, but he had some power-boost to spare and was able to get ahead. I had used all mine in the first part of the race, and so there was nothing I could do.
“Race two was equally exciting particularly towards the end when I started to close on Varhaug. On the final lap I thought it was possible to get fourth, but I locked up and had a bad exit from the chicane allowing Ricci to get me. But overall it’s been a good weekend. I got the second biggest points haul from the weekend, we are only into the third event with four still to go, so I just want to concentrate on winning races. Everybody can still be a title contender at this stage, so winning is the best thing you can do to keep your rivals at bay.”
Quaife-Hobbs, who remains the only driver to have secured two series wins courtesy of victory in Monza and Valencia, will resume his bid for honours in Hungaroring, Hungary over the weekend of 5/6 May.