Mugello Auto GP: Van Buuren prevails in fraught opener
Meindert van Buuren claimed his maiden Auto GP victory at Mugello after withstanding constant pressure from Kevin Giovesi and Sergio Campana
The Formula Renault 2.0 graduate maintained consistently competitive laptimes, in the low 1m36s, in a mistake-free drive from seventh on the grid, as several of his more established rivals endured drama-filled afternoons.
Giovesi inherited the effective pole spot when fastest qualifier Narain Karthikeyan encountered throttle problems and was forced to start from the pitlane.
Erstwhile points leader Kimiya Sato meanwhile progressed no further than Turn 1 before he appeared to be tapped into a spin by Christian Klien, and was then collected by innocent-party Michele La Rosa.
Sato's retirement would have repercussions for his championship assault, as the Euronova racer has dropped behind this afternoon's second-place finisher Campana in the points battle.
The safety car was called out while both Sato and La Rosa's machines were removed from danger. At that point Vittorio Ghirelli led the pack after executing a superior initial getaway.
Sometime IndyCar driver Francesco Dracone had jumped the start to go from 13th on the grid to third, ahead of van Buuren and Campana - who had lost several positions when he endured a troubled exit to the first corner.
The restart proved unfortunate for the leaders: exiting the 225km/h final corner, Giovesi appeared to pick up a slipstream on his adversary, but both he and Ghirelli would run off the road mid-way through negotiating Turn 1 in an almost comedic incident.
Both were able to return after trips through the gravel.
The errors promoted van Buuren into the lead, with Campana second and Dracone occupying a third spot he would soon lose.
Unaware that the Italian had been awarded a drive-through penalty, GP3 winner Robert Visoiu attempted an ambitious passing manoeuvre on lap five. The result was a collision that eliminated both cars, and left the race with just 10 runners.
Campana elected to stop from second on lap nine, allowing a recovering Giovesi to charge up onto van Buuren's gearbox.
The lead pair pitted in tandem three tours later. Giovesi's stop for replacement fronts took a fraction longer than van Buuren's change of rears, allowing Campana to tuck back into second when Giovesi rejoined.
The leaders played out the final four laps circulating in close formation, but Mugello's flowing corners added to the difficulty in overtaking and there were no serious passing moves.
Karthikeyan finished just 2.5s behind the victor in fourth after an impressive recovery drive from the rear of the field.
Virtuosi Racing's Andrea Roda briefly held the lead during the mandatory pitstops and claimed fifth ahead of Tamas Pal Kiss.
Former Formula 1 racer Christian Klien took ninth on his return to single-seater competition, battling damaged steering from his contact with Sato.
Results - 16 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Meindert van Buuren Manor MP 30m07.538s 2. Sergio Campana Ibiza +0.546s 3. Kevin Giovesi Ghinzani +1.922s 4. Narain Karthikeyan Super Nova +2.518s 5. Andrea Roda Virtuosi UK +4.682s 6. Tamas Pal Kiss Zele +11.655s 7 Vittorio Ghirelli Super Nova +11.960s 8. Yoshitaka Kuroda Euronova +16.773s 9. Christian Klien Zele +17.224s 10. Maxim Snegirev Virtuosi UK +22.838s Retirements: Francesco Dracone Ibiza 4 laps Robert Visoiu Ghinzani 4 laps Kimiya Sato Euronova 0 laps Michele La Rosa MLR 71 0 laps Daniel de Jong Manor MP 0 laps
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