On Thursday, the weekend got underway with four hours testing. Frank Bird led the team’s attack right from the start and confirmed that he was in the groove with the fifth-fastest time on Friday, while Neil Verhagen and Alexander Smolyar got close to the front-runners. Thomas Neubauer, who had to withdraw from the Red Bull Ring and Spa-Francorchamps rounds, used these sessions to find his marks behind the wheel.
On Saturday, Smolyar took up the running from the English driver and set the fourth-quickest time in qualifying in his group. Despite a grid penalty the Russian, who’s part of the SMP Racing programme, scored points for the first time since Silverstone by finishing tenth, two places in front of Bird. In parallel, Verhagen passed six cars to come home 14th, but Neubauer retired when he was caught out by the soaking wet Astroturf due to pre-race showers.
The next day in Q2 Smolyar again set the fourth-quickest time in his group although his team-mates had to be content with the ninth and tenth rows. After that the storm raged with even-greater intensity. On an extremely tricky track, the young Russian demonstrated his wet-weather skills and moved up into sixth place. Bird, who started the race in 19th position, put on a stunning show in the mid-field and saw the flag in 13th spot in front of Verhagen. Neubauer was again caught out by the treacherous grip on the Hungarian track.
With three rounds to go till the end of the season Tech 1 Racing is in sixth place in the overall classification. In the drivers’ ratings Verhagen and Smolyar are knocking on the door of the top 10.
“The years follow one another, but each one is different,” said Simon Abadie, the Tech 1 Racing team manager. “Last year we won two races here with Gabriel Aubry; this time Budapest has been a bit more disappointing. Neil will have to remobilise himself to find his true place as leader of our team. We know he can do a lot better and we’re going to continue to support him so that he can really show what he can achieve behind a steering wheel.
“Overall it was a pretty satisfactory weekend for Alexander. Over the four days he adopted a methodical approach and got down to the nitty-gritty so he was able to overcome some mistakes to score in both races. We were expecting him to clinch more points, but he drove a very good race on Sunday.
“After very positive practice sessions on Thursday and Friday Thomas was unable to confirm his potential in qualifying. His two retirements are a real pity as they don’t reflect either his investment or the enormous amount of work he’s put in this season. We really hope that his efforts will finally pay off before the end of the year and we’ll do everything we can to help him achieve his aims.
“Frank continues to make very impressive progress. On Saturday his performance could have put him on the third row and he again showed that he’s now a regular contender for a place on the first five rows. Although he was hemmed in at the start he fought back very well and almost scored points the next day. Unfortunately, he lost four places when avoiding a rival who made a mistake just in front of him. Nonetheless, his performance is encouraging. The work is paying off and we’re convinced that his potential will help him to be a regular top-10 finisher before the end of the year.”
Tech 1 Racing will be back in action next week at the Nürburging (14-16 September).
“In 2017, we were very quick on the last four circuits we’ve raced on, but our overall results are less flattering this season,” summed up Simon. “We’re going to redouble our efforts to try and fight our way back up the time sheets and it’s very important that everybody pulls in the same direction. This weekend, Alexander and Frank were in the same tempo, Thomas should soon reap the fruit of his work and Neil must fight to obtain a place more in keeping with his talent. That’ll be our aim at the Nürburgring.”
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