Manor MP Motorsport’s Chris van der Drift ended the fourth event of the Auto GP season at the Hungaroring on Sunday, 6th May, within just five points of the championship top three despite a tough and problematic weekend for the Dutch squad which remains second in the team standings.
Arriving in Hungary on a high after taking his and Manor MP’s maiden category victory last time out in Morocco, the 26-year-old endured a nightmare in qualifying when a wheel problem prevented him from posting a competitive lap time and resulted in a back-of-the-grid start for the opening race.
Regardless of the difficulties, van der Drift took seventh place in round seven on Saturday, 5th May, while team-mate Daniël De Jong was the one to this time encounter problems – a certain podium finish ripped from his grasp after a problem firing up the engine following his tyre change pit-stop.
Van der Drift mounted a fantastic drive in Sunday’s eighth round to battle back superbly from an issue at the start when the safety-mode of the engine kicked-in, dropping him from second to 10th place, to take an excellent top five result. De Jong, meanwhile, had to settle for 12th position.
“It’s been a really tough weekend, we had a lot of problems to overcome but Chris and Daniël both did a great job and they were really unlucky not to have a podium each”, said team principal Sander Dorsman, “Daniël was in great shape in race one, the strategy worked well, and he was on for third place at least when the engine stalled when he was in the pit-box. It was a big disappointment.
“Chris had a lot of work to do in the races after the problems with his wheel in qualifying but he still took away a lot of points in the races and he’s closed-up to the championship top three. When we look at the difficult situations we had this weekend, the end result hasn’t been all that bad.”
De Jong robbed of Hungaroring podiumVan der Drift started his weekend very strongly during free practice on Friday, 4th May, by setting the third fastest time in the opening session but in qualifying everything turned sour when a damaged locking pin on the right-rear wheel prevented him from posting a genuine lap time.
De Jong was consistently strong in both free practice runs, sixth and seventh fastest respectively, and in qualifying the 19-year-old continued his impressive momentum to take fourth on the grid for round seven with a time of 1m33.570 seconds, 0.6 seconds clear of his closest competitor.
Under bright, sunny skies the first of the weekend’s races on Saturday morning began well for van der Drift as he made a good getaway while De Jong moved into fifth on the run to the first corner despite being dramatically squeezed towards the pit wall and forced to run through a lot of dust.
Staying close to the top four, the teenager then profited from an incident ahead at the last corner when Sergey Sirotkin, under pressure for the lead from Pal Varhaug, lost the rear of his car and the two made contact – Varhaug forced wide off the track.
Although Sirotkin recovered, the collision allowed De Jong up into fourth place and with a fantastic run into lap two he took third from Victor Guerin at turn one. Pressuring Sirotkin, De Jong remained in third and was one of the last drivers to take his mandatory pit-stop on the 16th tour.
Then, drama – as De Jong went to pull away from the pit-box his car stalled and refused to re-start despite all the team’s efforts. The car eventually fired into life but driver and team were robbed of a certain podium, instead taking a disappointing 11th place.
Van der Drift, having worked his way into 11th on the first lap alone from the back of the grid, ran as high as sixth prior to his pit-stop on lap nine. Rejoining in eighth place just ahead of a tense, four-car battle, the Manor MP driver’s cold tyres couldn’t yet provide the grid he needed to keep Giuseppe Cipriani behind and despite a valiant effort he had to give best at turn two.
With De Jong’s problems though, and a retirement for Sirotkin, van der Drift eventually finished in seventh which also secured him a front row start for round eight. Misfortune again struck van der Drift though at the beginning of Sunday’s race when a good initial getaway turned into a slump back into the pack when the engine slipped into safety-mode, cutting the power.
Forced to mount a major recovery drive from 10th place on the opening lap, behind team-mate De Jong who had made a good start of his own, the Kiwi-Dutch national was one of the last to make a pit-stop four laps from the end and the strategy paid off with a very well deserved fifth place finish.
Having climbed into ninth prior to a brief one lap Safety Car period on the third tour, De Jong took eighth at the re-start with a good move at turn one but an early pit-stop at the end of that lap didn’t quite work out and he had to settle for 12th at the chequered flag.
Auto GP now has a four week break from competition with the ninth and 10th rounds of the season set to take place over the weekend 2nd/3rd June at Portimao in Portugal.
2012 Auto GP Team Standings (after Rd8):2nd Manor MP Motorsport, 126pts
2012 Auto GP Driver Standings (after Rd8):4th Chris van der Drift, 83pts; =6th Daniël De Jong & Sergio Campana, 43pts
2012 Auto GP Under-21 Driver Standings (after Rd8):6th Daniël De Jong, 55pts