Adrian Quaife-Hobbs remains the clear leader of the Auto GP championship despite narrowly missing out in a thrilling battle for victory on the Circuit Moulay El Hassan in Marrakech.
In the first of the weekend’s races, the Tonbridge racer spent the last five laps battling side-by-side with Italian Formula Three champion Sergio Campana before falling less than 0.2sec short at the line.
Pitting early after starting the race on worn tyres, Quaife-Hobbs was the beneficiary when former GP2 driver and closest championship rival Pål Varhaug stalled during his pit stop and lost a probable win.
Quaife-Hobbs, who competed last season in GP3, now leads the championship with 95 points to Varhaug’s 71 ahead of tomorrow’s second Morocco round.
After the race, Campana said he had initially expected the Briton to drive cautiously and protect his championship positon. He said: “At first I thought that maybe he would have been happy with second place, as it was good for his championship aims. Anyway, I soon realised that he was going to give me a hard time. It was an hard but fair fight, I enjoyed it a lot.”
That was never an option, according to Quaife-Hobbs: “It’s too early for that, we are just into the 3rd event and still have four to go, so I just want to win races. Everybody can still be a title contender at this stage, so winning is the best thing you can do to keep your rivals at bay.”
He said the start had been vital: “We knew that from P5 on the grid a good start was needed to hope for a podium finish, and luckily I got away well. My first laps were a bit difficult: we opted for starting on very old tyres and that meant that I lost five seconds to Campana before my stop.
“Once I changed to new softs, I knew I really had to push. I did it, and if it wasn’t for [Antonio] Spavone, who made me lose at least a couple of seconds by cutting the chicane when I had already gone through, I think that I would have gone past Campana when he pitted. Instead, I was right on his gearbox when he came out of the pit-lane.
“I tried to understand if Sergio was leaving some gaps, but when I saw that he really started to struggle with traction I decided to attack. I was trying as hard as I could without risking crashing and one time I did manage to get onto Sergio’s inside, but he had some power-boost to spare and was able to get ahead. I had used all mine in the first part of the race, and so there was nothing I could do.”
Campana added: “It was really hard, because in the last few laps my rear tyres were really gone. I had wheelspin everywhere, even on the straight, and so keeping Adrian at bay was really difficult. He had more traction than me and that meant that at each corner exit he was getting really close.
“He came alongside me more than once, but I was determined not to let him through and that’s what I did. At the last chicane he managed to get the inside line but as soon as I realised that, I decided that I was going to brake as late as possible and I kept the lead.”