Hungaroring Auto GP: Sato snatches unlikely victory from Ghirelli

Kimiya Sato snatched an unlikely victory from pitstop-delayed Hungaroring pacesetter Vittorio Ghirelli in a battling performance in Sunday's opening race

Hungaroring Auto GP: Sato snatches unlikely victory from Ghirelli

The result is Sato's fifth consecutive podium, and extends the German Formula 3 graduate's lead in the drivers' standings to 14 points over third-placed finisher Sergio Campana.

Sato made a flying start from third on the grid to cut between polesitter Ghirelli and Auto GP debutant Tamas Pal Kiss into the lead.

"That was a really tough race," said Sato. "The pace was not there, the car struggled for grip and the tyres went away quickly - so I think today we were lucky."

But the Japanese's early tenure at the head of the field would be brief. Ghirelli, who demonstrated a marked performance advantage throughout practice, appeared set to recover his position swiftly.

The Super Nova racer picked up the lead in a well-executed manoeuvre around the outside of a slightly cautious Sato on the approach to Turn 1 on the second lap.

Once in clear air, Ghirelli established an 8.4-second lead over Sato before his adversary made his mandatory tyre change on lap 12. Regularly the only man lapping in the 1m34s, Ghirelli appeared on course for victory until pitting four laps from home.

A troublesome left rear tyre set up a tense closing laps. Ghirelli returned to track just a car length ahead Sato, but struggling on cold tyres was powerless to prevent him from sweeping around the outside of Turn 2.

Insufficient laps were left for Ghirelli to remedy the situation, and the former Formula Renault 3.5 racer finished 0.356s adrift at the chequered flag.

"I think I lost 10-15s in the stop," said Ghirelli. "The left-rear wouldn't come out, so we need to investigate that.

"Then my tyres weren't up to temperature in Turn 2, so I couldn't hold off Kimiya. That's it, I was happy with the pace but we were unlucky in the pits."

Riccardo Agostini demonstrated a strong turn of speed after an early pit call on lap four, and ended the morning in fourth.

After hounding Sato in the early laps, Kiss lost ground with a slow change to his right-rear and was forced to settle for fifth, a comfortable eight seconds clear of Agostini's Manor MP Motorsport team-mate Meindert van Buuren.

Former grand prix driver Narain Karthikeyan endured a tough race with Zele Racing.

The Indian leapt from seventh to fourth in a fighting opening lap, before falling back after his pitstop. He will start the reverse-grid race from pole.

The second Zele entry of Formula 2 champion Luciano Bacheta retired in a crash with Robert Visoiu at Turn 9 two laps from home.

Results - 19 laps: Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Kimiya Sato Euronova 30m55.139s 2. Vittorio Ghirelli Super Nova + 0.356s 3. Sergio Campana Ibiza + 1.787s 4. Riccardo Agostini Manor MP + 5.649s 5. Tamas Pal Kiss MLR 71 + 6.740s 6. Meindert van Buuren Manor MP + 14.290s 7. Daniel de Jong Manor MP + 28.387s 8. Narain Karthikeyan Zele + 32.670s 9. Andrea Roda Virtuosi UK + 33.233s 10. Maxim Snegirev Virtuosi UK + 39.842s 11. Francesco Dracone Super Nova + 50.337s 12. Yoshitaka Kuroda Euronova + 51.568s 13. Giuseppe Cipriani Ibiza + 59.066s 14. Michele La Rosa MLR 71 + 1m02.587s 15. Robert Visoiu Ghinzani + 2 laps 16. Luciano Bacheta Zele + 2 laps 
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Hungaroring Auto GP: Vittorio Ghirelli carries dominant form to pole

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Series Auto GP
Author Peter Mills