After a low-key debut at Paul Ricard, Tech 1 Racing arrived at Monza on Thursday knowing that the team had to up its overall level of performance. To achieve this aim, Simon Abadie’s men used the four-hour test and free practice sessions to prepare for qualifying.
On Saturday morning, Smolyar and Bird rewarded the team’s hard work with their best results so far in qualifying. The Russian from the SMP driver programme was fifth on the grid and moved up a place finishing just shy of the podium. His team-mates, Verhagen, Neubauer and Bird, lacked just that little bit of extra luck and saw the flag just outside the top 10.
On Sunday, Smolyar was again the team’s quickest driver in qualifying. He was ninth on the grid but his race ended abruptly in a start-line accident. Verhagen, a member of the Red Bull Junior team, also retired early on. This left Neubauer and Bird still in the running and they both fought their way up through the midfield from the ninth row to score their first points in the Formula Renault Eurocup.
In the overall classification, Russian rookie Smolyar is the team’s highest-place driver in ninth, while in the teams’ ratings Tech 1 Racing has moved up to fifth.
“Overall, it was a fairly positive weekend in terms of performance,” said Simon Abadie, the Tech 1 Racing team manager. “Neil, unfortunately, had a trying time. We still have to find the key, but we know what he can do and we’re all fully behind him in this difficult period. We trust him and together we’re going to do everything in our power to fly the Tech 1 Racing colours from the top of the flagpole.
“Alexander confirmed that he’ll be a serious contender this year with two good qualifying sessions. On Saturday he was fighting for pole in Q1 after which he made an excellent start and gained places even though he was hemmed in. As soon as he got past the driver who’d messed up his restart he put together a series of fastest laps and posed a threat to leading trio. On Sunday, he was a bit too greedy and changed his line hitting another car at the start. It’s a pity but Alexander is young; he learns quickly and we’re really counting on him.
“Even if it wasn’t obvious because of a slight error in the final sector, Thomas has made enormous progress in qualifying and he’s now become much more confident and reliable in this aspect of racing. On Saturday, he got up to eighth place before being overtaken by rivals who slipstreamed past him, a typical Monza tactic. Nonetheless, he bounced back the next day by making an excellent start and after a series of ding-dong battles he scored his first points. We’re really delighted to see that our work with him is bearing fruit, but now we have to continue in the same vein at every race.
“We’re also very happy to see that Frank scored his first points. After the best qualifying performance of his career, he learned the lessons of his below-par early laps at Le Castellet by being aggressive right from the start at Monza. We were disappointed for him that he just failed to score points on Saturday. He didn’t make any mistakes the next day putting his rivals under pressure, passing them and moving up the time sheets to break his duck! He did a great job. Frank’s learning very quickly and now his aim is to be on the first six rows and in the points on a regular basis.
“The reaction that I was expecting took place and I’m delighted about it,” summed up Abadie. “Even if the points scored didn’t fully reward our efforts, work always pays off and I know how strong my team is in this kind of situation. We’ve still got work to do and we’re not giving an inch away in the forthcoming rounds.”
Tech 1 Racing’s next rendezvous is at home with the Formula Renault NEC opening round during Pau Grand Prix (11-13 May). It will be followed by the third round of the Eurocup at Silverstone (18-20 May).
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