Photos: Auto GP
Entering its fourth season Auto GP appears to be in good health. Its inaugural champion Romain Grosjean is a podium finisher in F1, whilst its 2011 and 2012 champions both line up on the GP2 grid at the opener in Malaysia (along with last season’s runner up).
This season boasts some highy rated talents on the single-seater ladder, some of whom may have bright F1 futures, but there are also some who’ve found little success in their careers so far.
Here is the lowdown on the 15 drivers presently confirmed for the season, which begins in Monza this weekend.
Embarking on his second year in the category, switching from Euronova to Super Nova, the personable Italian will be hoping to improve on the tenth place he secured last year.
He made his single-seater bow in 2010 in the Italian based Formula Abarth series, finishing 34th and 13th respectively in his two seasons. This was enough for a GP3 seat with Trident for 2012 coupled with his Auto GP commitments. In GP3 however Spavone looked a bit out of his depth, failing to score a point in the four rounds he took part in and generally qualifying towards the rear.
As for this season, the title would appear to be out of reach for him but challenging for podiums in what is a smaller-grid than last season is not out of the question and improving on last season’s final position should be fairly likely.
After two pointless seasons in GP3, Ghirelli made the huge step up to FR3.5 for 2012. In what was arguably the most competitive grid last season he did not completely disgrace himself, finishing in 24th with five points to his name, beating a couple of other full-timers who have remained in FR3.5 for this year.
Ghirelli may feel hard done by given his inexperience compared to the other two but a step down to Auto GP may give him a first chance to prove himself against similar opposition of similar ability.
He should be able to beat his teammate Spavone and compete for race wins on occasion but a title challenge could still be just out of reach.
Moving across from F3 is Roda, who began his career in Italian Formula Renault in 2006 remaining in the category for four-seasons with a best finish of 12th in 2009 (having score no podiums during this time). He then stepped up to Italian F3 for 2010 where he similarly struggled finishing a distant 21st with one point. He remained in the series for a further year improving to 12th with 20 points.
This was enough to convince Jo Zeller to allow him to race the team’s only F312 in the F3 Euro Series last season, where Roda was out performed by his teammate Sandro Zeller in an F308. Roda finished last of the drivers to complete a full-season.
Roda will most likely be the slowest of the non-gentleman drivers this season and, on his day, you wouldn’t bet against Cipriani beating him as well.
Continuing in the series for a second season is Russian Max Snegirev. The 24-year old could probably be termed a journeyman having taken part in Formula Palmer Audi, British Formula 3, Formula 2 and Auto GP with moderate success.
He was relatively consistent in the midfield in Auto GP last season although in F2 he was commonly a long way off the pace behind less experienced rivals, which doesn’t bode well for an improved quality Auto GP grid this season. Should score points but most likely won’t challenge for race wins.
At the last minute F1 refugee Narain Karthikeyan has secured a place on the grid for Monza, with the 36-year old Indian with 46 F1 starts to his name joining Luciano Bacheta at Austrian outfit Zele Racing.
Karthikeyan’s career in single-seater’s began all-the-way-back in 1992 before several of his current Auto GP competitors were born. A moderately successful three-year stint in World Series by Nissan – where he finished ninth, fourth and sixth respectively – yielded an F1 drive with Jordan in 2005.
If he completes a full-season he could well be a force to be reckoned with but he may well be using this as a stepping stone to an Indy Car drive or a Le Mans seat.
Bacheta will start the season as the overwhelming favourite having won the roughly equal F2 category last season that resulted in a Williams F1 test. He was looking for a well-deserved chance in GP2 before financial constraints led to him making a switch to Auto GP.
Despite a lack of testing he is deserving of the name favourite notably given his almost title winning performance in the Eurocup in 2010, his T-Cars title (2006) and the aforementioned Formula Two title last season. His likely strongest challenger will be his teammate Agostini who has no race experience of a car this powerful.
And with Bacheta’s funding problems anything less than the title will be seen as a disaster for him.
Competing alongside his GP3 commitments with MW Arden is 17-year old Romanian Visoiu. Visoiu’s single-seater career began in 2011 in the Formula Abarth championship where at the age of 15 he finished in sixth. This and his considerable financial backing from his homeland earned him a step up to GP3 with his Formula Abarth team Jenzer combined with an Italian F3 campaign.
Visoiu instantly impressed in GP3, scoring points on his debut and a reverse grid podium. He scored points on two further occasions to end the year in 14th ahead of several single-seater veterans.
He will likely be concentrating on a strong GP3 season but he will also be quick in Auto GP and it would not be out of the realms of possibility that he could win the title in both, but a top five finish in Auto GP should be very likely. He should get a teammate for later rounds.
The first driver of an all-Japanese line-up for Euronova is entering his third season of association with the outfit.
Kuroda’s single-seater career began all the way back in 2005 in the New Zealand-based Toyota Racing Series before moving onto Europe for Formula BMW ADAC. After time back in Asia he returned to Europe in 2011 to compete in Formula Abarth and although in the National Trophy he was able to mix it with the likes of Patric Niederhauser and Sergey Sirotkin (and would have comfortably beaten both Robert Visoiu and Riccardo Agostini had he been eligible for points).
Buoyed by this success he moved up to Italian F3 for 2012. Unfortunately whilst Agostini flourished in the new series Kuroda performed poorly finishing tenth and last of the drivers to complete a full-season. Can he fight for the title? The answer is probably yes but his past form shows that he suffers from a lack of consistency,? however a top five finish should be expected given his wealth of experience.
The second member of the Japanese duo is 23-year old F3-veteran Sato, whose single-seater career began in 2006 in Formula BMW UK, finishing fourth in 2007. A return to Asia followed in 2008 where he was runner-up in the Formula Challenge series in Japan. A step up to the National Class of Japanese F3 followed in 2009 where he finished second after this he returned for a second shot at the title but could only manage fourth.
After switching back to Europe he contested the F3 Euro Series with Motopark in 2011 (after competing for them at Macau the year previously). He could only manage tenth beating only?one other full-time driver. This encouraged him to step down to German F3 alongside teammate Jimmy Eriksson but whilst Eriksson dominated, Sato tailed off after some early good performances and finished below F3 rookie Lucas Auer in third.
He will be expected to challenge the likes of Bacheta and Agostini given his experience and will most likely finish as the best Japanese driver of the two.
Ibiza Racing Team
After taking the Italian F3 title at the third attempt in 2011, Campana made the step up to Auto GP last year. He was a frontrunner on occasions, winning an epic duel with Adrian Quaife-Hobbs in Morocco. After switching from MLR71 to Euronova and then to Zele for the last two rounds of 2012 he finished up sixth in the standings.
His deal with the new Ibiza team is a late one, but 26-year-old Campana will look to improve his finishing position with more regular wins.
What can you say about Cipriani? The gentleman racer has been an ever-present fixture in Auto GP for the past three seasons with reasonable point scoring performances, and for the most part he has certainly not looked out of his depth. The one-time hotelier has now created his own team named Ibiza Racing to allow him to compete again this season and I for one say why not. He won’t win races or challenge for the title but he’s just doing it because he likes racing.
Michele La Rosa
Another gentleman racer/team-owner, La Rosa is embarking on his second full season in Auto GP with his own team. The 42-year old is actually only in his second full season of racing having made his single-seater bow in the 2011 Auto GP finale.
Starting racing in your 40s is always going to be tough especially when you’re up against some of the brightest young talents and plenty of single-seater experience and as such unsurprisingly La Rosa struggled last season consistently qualifying and finishing near the bottom. To be fair he did score four points but most of these came when only nine or ten drivers finished.
Returning for what will be his third year in the category is former GP2 race winner Giacomo Ricci, embarking on what will hopefully be a first full-season. With the team he completed last season with, Ricci should be expected to challenge for the title.
Ricci is actually a former champion the series during its previous incarnation as the Euroseries 3000 which he took the title of in 2006. Before that he had competed with relative anonymity in various Formula Renault and BMW series since his single-seater debut in 2001.
This was followed by three part seasons in GP2 with DPR where he scored points on three occasions in his third year in the category (2010) although budgetary constraints meant that he was dropped after his maiden win. He had intended to return to GP2 in 2012 with Super Nova after driving for them at the 2011 GP2 Final but the team’s collapse forced him into a part season in Auto GP where he finished 11th from three rounds.
One of the main title contenders and a revelation of 2012 is Agostini. He began his single seater career in 2010, and like many Italians in Formula Abarth, where he finished in 11th – a respectable result given it was his first year of car racing. However he performed poorly in 2011, finishing behind a number of rookies.
This did not dampen his spirits as like the bulk of the 2011 Formula Abarth grid he moved up to Italian F3. There he performed significantly better than his previous record suggested, fighting for the title against second year drivers Brandon Maisano and Eddie Cheever until the last race and ultimately coming out on top.
He will be expected to compete for the title but against Bacheta he faces a more experienced and rounded driver whilst Agostini has been prone to inconsistency, however a top three finish should be expected from Agostini with a view to a move in-to GP2 with MP for 2014.
Daniel de Jong
Having become a regular fixture with his father’s MP Motorsport team, Daniel de Jong will embark on his third season in Auto GP, dovetailing it with his GP2 commitments with the same team. Since he will miss several rounds including the opening one it is unlikely he will be a fixture in the title fight but his experience in the category should allow him to fight for wins and give him an opportunity to hone his racecraft.
Meindert van Buuren
18-year old Meindert van Buuren embarks on his third year of single-seaters and his second with the Manor MP outfit. He was largely under the radar in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC in 2011 & 2012 finishing 21st and 11th respectively with no podiums to show for it and Auto GP represents a significant step up in power.
That will likely mean than van Buuren struggles but at his age this is more about learning the circuits and learning high-powered machinery, will most likely score regular points without troubling the likes of Bacheta, Agostini or Visoiu.