Riccardo AgostiniRiccardo Agostini helped Manor MP Motorsport make a strong start to the 2013 AUTO GP season at Monza over the weekend, 23rd/24th March – the series rookie securing a top five finish in a rain-hit round two and, memorably, scorching to pole position in his maiden category qualifying session.

Agostini, the reigning Italian F3 Italia and Italian F3 European Champion, began his first weekend in AUTO GP impressively on home soil. After progressing well through the two practice sessions, he stormed to the round one pole position with an outstanding time of 1m35.782 seconds, over 0.6 seconds clear of his closest rival.

While Saturday afternoon’s dry encounter didn’t evolve as Agostini or Manor MP Motorsport would have liked, especially in view of his tremendous qualifying pace, he still delivered a competitive run to seventh.

At the start he made good use of his grid-topping slot, but after an early three-way dice for the lead Agostini went straight on at the first chicane after braking a little too late on lap two. From that point on, the youngster’s hopes of a podium on his debut got less and less as he struggled with tyres.

The seventh place result did, however, give Agostini a front-row starting slot for round two – by virtue of the ruling which sees the top eight finishing order of the first race ‘reversed’ to form the first four rows of the race two grid each weekend in AUTO GP.

Continual rain throughout the morning on Sunday led to a saturated track and officials made the wise decision to begin round two behind the Safety Car. Racing proper got underway on lap four and Agostini was the first of the drivers to take their mandatory pit-stop.

Rejoining in seventh place, he climbed into sixth and remained there until midway through lap nine when slipping behind round one winner Sergio Campana. Four laps from the finish, Agostini moved back into the top six and on the final tour he claimed fifth to cap a very encouraging debut.

“Riccardo had a good weekend, his speed in qualifying was amazing”, said team principal Sander Dorsman, “For sure, a bit of a lack of experience cost him in the races. For a rookie driver to have been so quick, against some really experienced guys, was good and we’re really pleased.”

Team-mate Meindert van Buuren, also a newcomer this year to AUTO GP, took a deserved top 10 finish on his first weekend in the championship and delivered a good account of himself stepping-up from the much less powerful Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup.

Beginning Sunday’s rain-lashed encounter in 12th position behind the Safety Car, the 18-year-old Dutchman – like Agostini – also pitted as soon as possible for his mandatory stop when the action properly got underway.

Feeding back into the running order in 11th place, van Buuren managed to break into the top 10 as the race entered its final third. Despite the difficulty of having a trackside cone lodged in his front-right suspension during the closing stages, he maintained position to deservingly claim a top 10 spot.

For round one on Saturday, van Buuren lined-up 14th on the grid and after his pit-stop he aimed to make progress up towards the top 10. Unfortunately, a spin at the first chicane around mid-distance preceded his unfortunate retirement which was caused by the engine over-heating.

Reflecting on his weekend, the young Dutchman said: “It’s a big step up and I think in qualifying I made a mistake as I maybe put too much pressure on myself, it was still OK though. I had a couple of spins in the first race but the second race was really good. It’s difficult to go to a car with so much more power than you’re used to, but you can learn it quite quickly and I think I did a good job.”

Manor MP Motorsport’s AUTO GP squad will be back in action just two weeks from now for rounds three and four of the 2013 season in Marrakech, Morocco, over the weekend 6th/7th April.

2013 AUTO GP Driver Standings:
6th Riccardo Agostini, 15pts; =12th Meindert van Buuren, 1pt