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2013 Auto GP season review

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
Photos: Auto GP

Photos: Auto GP

While Auto GP’s 2012 season saw the impressive dominance of Adrian Quaife-Hobbs, the 2013 title was much more of a close contest, culminating in a final round which featured a showdown between four drivers with mathematical chances at taking the glory.

Apart from that, it was a year of entertaining racing and plenty of variety in the results, even if the grid quality didn’t quite live up to the standards of the three previous years.

Below, we review the seasons of the headline drivers in a busy 2013 season of the Auto GP World Series.

1. Vittorio GhirelliVittorio Ghirelli

Italy,?Super Nova International, age 19

222 points, 2 wins, 12 podiums, 2 pole positions, 5 fastest laps

As evident by his solid karting CV, Ghirelli always had considerable potential as a racer. But while difficult campaigns in GP3 and Formula Renault 3.5 – both of which came too early on his progression up the career ladder – didn’t allow him to realize it, the move to Auto GP for year four of his single-seater exploits proved a great decision.

Signing with Super Nova gave him an excellent chance to fight at the front and, during the first round, Ghirelli utilized it well, consistently bringing in points and remaining within a decent range of the title fight ahead. He was done adapting by Hungaroring and, after a solid podium in the first race, took his maiden win in the reverse-grid outing, firmly entering title contention.

An everpresent threat at the front from that point on, he moved into the championship lead with his second win of the season in the penultimate round at Donington and comfortably picked up enough points in the remaining races to become series champion.

Having raced in the latter rounds of the GP2 series in 2013, he could be moving there full-time next year, although he is also eyeing a switch to the US. Season rating: 8/10

2. Kimiya SatoKimiya Sato

Japan, Euronova Racing, age 24

213 points, 5 wins,9 podiums, 5 fastest laps

A race-winning German F3 graduate with plenty of other single-seater experience, Sato entered the season as one of the favorites, bolstered by a rather strong squad in Euronova.

The Japanese driver fully matched the expectations right away, taking a victory in the first round as part of a five-race podium streak that allowed him to take the lead in the standings. He continued to be consistent in the mid-season and, although he was briefly dethroned from first after being taken out at Mugello, he was soon back at the front.

In a season lowpoint, he wound up going off in race one at Donington, which allowed Ghirelli to take the upper hand in the standings. Compared to the Italian, Sato often struggled in qualifying, not once lining up on the front row and, in the end, his best efforts at Brno proved insufficient to take the championship.

He tested with Sauber in the F1 Young Drivers Test and, meanwhile, could be expected to move up to Formula Renault 3.5 after some post-season runs. Season rating: 8

3. Sergio CampanaSergio Campana

Italy, Ibiza Racing Team, age 27

197 points, 3 wins, 7 podiums, 1 pole positions, 1 fastest laps

Despite being 27 and having been present on the Italian single-seater scene since 2007, Campana is no gentleman driver, with race victories in FR2.0 Italy and Auto GP and an Italian F3 title on his CV prior to this year.

Running with Auto GP debutants Ibiza Racing Team in 2013, he made experience count early on in his sophomore campaign, taking feature race wins in the first two rounds. He generally lacked the relentless consistency of Sato, but his sheer pace kept him right at the front of the title fight through mid-season, when he added another feature race victory at Mugello.

However, by the end of the season, Ibiza didn’t quite seem to keep up with the frontrunning teams, and while he was in contention going into the final round, he could only manage third overall.

Campana had a one-off in GP2 at Monza and managed to keep up with the regulars, finishing 15th in the feature race. He also did post-season testing with Auto GP squad Zele and, should he be set for another year in the category, will be a great choice for any of the teams on the grid. Season rating: 8

4. Narain KarthikeyanNarain Karthikeyan

India, Zele Racing/Super Nova International, age 37

222 points, 5 wins, 7 podiums, 4 pole positions, 3 fastest laps

After HRT closed down and left Karthikeyan without options to continue in F1, the Indian began looking for other single-seater opportunities and finally settled on the Auto GP series.

Signing with Zele on a race-by-race deal, he endured three difficult first rounds, with the car lacking the pace to fight at the front and Karthikeyan faced with rather unfortunate luck when it came to race starts and incidents.

After round three, he lined up a switch to Super Nova and that gave way to an entirely different campaign. Four pole positions in a row, five victories and every race in the points (although he was later disqualified from a podium finish in the final race due to ignoring black-and-orange flags) made the Indian the class of the field. He closed in on the title fight with every round and went into the finale with an outside shot, but ultimately remained fourth in the standings.

His HRT struggles made many forget that Karthikeyan is still a very competent racer who deserves his opportunities in motorsport. He’s explored options in IndyCar last year and could, perhaps, be looking at those again after his Auto GP exploits proved he still has it in him. Season rating: 8

5. Tamas Pal KissTamas Pal Kiss

Hungary, MLR 71/Zele Racing/Ibiza Racing Team, age 22

99 points, 1 podium, 1 fastest lap (12/16 races)

A racer with proven single-seater ability, Pal Kiss joined the Auto GP field for the Hungaroring round and, following a successful outing, stuck around for the remainder of the campaign.

Throughout the six rounds, the Hungarian racer became the season’s most reliable driver, as he took points on 12 occasions, be it with MLR, Zele or Ibiza. He hasn’t once finished below eighth and, after Karthikeyan’s departure from Zele, scored a podium for the Austrian squad at Silverstone.

He’s tested with Virtuosi UK in the post-season sessions at Jerez and set the fastest time. Tamas is expected to stay in the category for another year and will be a surefire title contender if he does so. Season rating: 7

6. Kevin GiovesiKevin Giovesi

Italy, Ghinzani Motorsport, age 20

91 points, 5 podiums, 1 fastest laps (10/16 races)

Neither the 91 points, nor the lack of wins are accurate in reflecting just how good Giovesi was in his part-time campaign in Auto GP this year.

Having joined the championship after running out of funds to continue his GP2 campaign with Lazarus, he secured a front row spot on his first qualifying appearance and crossed the line in first in his debut race. However, he lost both that win and a victory in race two at Mugello post-race, for a pit stop window technicality and a track limit infringement at the start respectively.

Besides that, there were five podiums (one of them from 13th on the grid), constant frontrunning pace and an overwhelming impression that he could’ve been in the title fight if he did the full season.

He stated he wants to stay in the category for a proper title campaign and it’ll be a huge shame if he doesn’t get that chance. Season rating: 8

7. Daniel de JongDaniel de Jong

Netherlands, Manor MP Motorsport, age 21

77 points, 2 podiums (13/16 races)

An MP Motorsport man from the early stages of his career, the Dutchman had his main goals set in GP2 this year and? it was rather surprising to see him return to Auto GP for a double campaign.

He started out well enough, taking a podium on his return, but de Jong found himself mostly resigned to hunting for top-five finishes for the rest of what was a rather tough year for his squad.

He had a lot of trouble in qualifying, but usually made up for the somewhat poor grid positions in the races. Impressively enough, his second podium of the year came in a reverse-grid race at Nurburgring from 15th on the grid and he’s racked up a decent points haul overall.

He will again focus on a sophomore GP2 campaign in 2014, but is also involved with MP in the new Acceleration/FA1 series. Season rating: 6

8. Robert VisoiuRobert Visoiu

Romania, Ghinzani Motorsport, age 17

67 points, 1 podium

Another driver doing a joint campaign with a different series (GP3), Visoiu was Ghinzani’s only driver for much of the season and did well enough, even if he lacked outstanding results.

He had a very promising start to the year with a podium on his debut and was set to repeat the result in round two at Marrakech, but retired on the penultimate lap. Always rather quick, he often struggle with finishing races and had to wait until the Brno finale to add another podium.

Still, at 17, the inconsistency is more than understandable, given that his attention was split between this and a sophomore year in GP3. He did well enough in both to maintain and good reputation and, given his youth, will continue in GP3 in 2014. Season rating: 6

9. Meindert van BuurenMeindert van Buuren

Netherlands, Manor MP Motorsport,?age 19

57 points, 1 podium

After two competent, if unspectacular years in Formula Renault 2.0, van Buuren sensibly continued with Manor MP, joining the ranks of the Auto GP series.

What resulted from that was an encouraging rookie campaign. The Dutchman took a couple of rounds to get on-pace but became an occasional presence at the front, displaying a particular proficiency for reverse-grid races. He was another driver to lose a maiden race win due to a misunderstanding with the pit window and came close to winning on another occasion, losing out to Super Nova’s Karthikeyan on strategy.

The 19-year-old tested with Draco in the Formula Renault 3.5 post-season test and could be joining the grid in 2014, albeit a campaign in the new FA1 project with MP or a sophomore year in Auto GP with Super Nova also seem to be possible. Season rating: 7

10. Riccardo AgostiniRiccardo Agostini

Italy, Manor MP Motorsport,?age 19

53 points, 1 podium, 1 pole position (8/16 races)

A rookie champion in the now-defunct Italian F3, Agostini came into Auto GP with a lot of ambitions, but ultimately cut his campaign short halfway through.

The high expectations seemed to be confirmed early on, as Agostini took pole in his first qualifying in the series, but he proceeded to struggle throughout the rest of the Monza round and missedd out on the podium both times. Despite generally being Manor’s best hope over the next few rounds, he only managed a single podium at Hungaroring and called it quits on the campaign after a particularly tough outing at Silverstone.

It’s well-known that Agostini is a solid driver and the hardships he’s encountered here shouldn’t do much to impede his career progress. He’s extensively tested in 3.5 post-season, but he will instead move to FIA F3 with EuroInternational. Season rating: 7

11. Luciano BachetaLuciano Bacheta

United Kingdom, Zele Racing, age 23

49 points, 1 win, 2 podiums (8/16 races)

Another winner of what is now a defunct championship, F2 champion Bacheta was expected to switch to FR3.5 or GP2, but couldn’t find the funds and instead entered Auto GP to boost his career record.

While he was also caught up in the Zele struggles that impeded Karthikeyan’s first half, Bacheta actually seemed to get more out of the opportunities presented by the Austrian team. Despite a lack of qualifying pace, he managed to maximize points by securing good positions for reverse-grid races, which yielded his maiden win at Monza and a podium at Marrakech.

Still, after weak results at Hungaroring and Silverstone, Bacheta also wound up leaving Zele and did not return to the series with another squad. It is unclear where he will race in 2014. Season rating: 7

12. Andrea RodaAndrea Roda

Italy, Virtuosi UK, age 23

45 points

After several years of local single-seater racing and one quiet campaign in Euro F3, Roda entered Auto GP as a likely backmarker.

However, that was not the case. The Italian got up to pace in a very short time and managed to qualify in fourth for the season opener, only to wind up beaching the car in gravel on the first lap. That seemed to set the tone for the rest of his season, as Roda was very erratic – often qualifying exceptionally well, but sometimes unable to fight for good grid positions.

Still, the positives mostly outweighed his raggedness. The 23-year-old came rather close to a maiden podium, as he finished fourth on two occasions, and ended up providing the majority of Virtuosi’s points haul. His progress suggests he should do well on his recently announced return to the championship in 2014. Season rating: 6

The rest of the field

Sophomore racer Max Snegirev, who repeated his 2012 result in 13th, was mostly resigned to collecting points in the lower end of the top ten, as was Euronova rookie Yoshitaka Kuroda.

MLR 71 team owner Michele La Rosa completed another year in the category, while his Ibiza Racing Team counterpart Giuseppe Cipriani cut his efforts short to concentrate on his restaurant business.

Antonio Spavone scored points in all four races he contested, but ended up leaving Super Nova early on. Francesco Dracone also made appearances with the teams’ champions, while also contesting two rounds with the runner-ups at Ibiza.

Roberto La Rocca was a reliable points-scorer in a late-season part-time campaign, with a possible view of doing the series full-time in 2014. Meanwhile, there were guest appearances from GP2 race winner Josef Kral, ex-F1 racer Christian Klien, former series frontrunners Giacomo Ricci and Fabrizio Crestani and Superstars and Italian GT race winner Michela Cerruti.