In collective tests on Friday, Alexander Smolyar was the fastest of the team’s drivers and broke into the top 10 straight away, while Neil Verhagen and Frank Bird were not too far behind.
The day ended with the first qualifying session, which decided the grid places for Sunday’s race. In the first group to take to the track, Verhagen finished sixth just in front of Bird. Smolyar then set the fifth-quickest time in Group B only 17/1000th-of-a-second slower than the leading trio.
The Toulouse-based team worked very hard to try and help its four drivers close the gap in Q2. Smolyar was again fifth-fastest, but Bird made a mistake and brought out the red flag, which cost the young Englishman his best time and messed up Verhagen’s flying lap, who was also fifth in his group. Thomas Neubauer was suffering from a painful ankle and decided to call a halt to his weekend so as not to aggravate his injury.
Verhagen put on a scintillating display in the first race. The Red Bull Junior team driver lined up in ninth place and was already sixth at the end of the first lap. He then sliced past two more cars after the safety car interlude. Unfortunately, due to a violent shower the race was brought to a premature halt and the American finished fourth scoring his best result of the season. Smolyar was unable to capitalise on his promising display in qualifying as he was involved in a collision shortly after the start. Bird moved up four places.
On Sunday, Verhagen scored more points after another hard-charging race. He was in 11th place on the grid and fought his way up to eighth. Bird overtook three rivals and clinched his second top-10 finish of the year, while Smolyar got bogged down in the mid-field.
Thanks to his two points-scoring finishes Verhagen has moved into the top 10 in the drivers’ classification. In the team’s standings Tech 1 Racing has tightened its grip on fifth place.
“We’re satisfied to have equalled our best result of the year, but we feel we could do better,” said Olivier Maernhout, the Tech 1 Racing team manager. “Neil continued in the same vein as in Monaco with two hard-charging races. He fought his corner, didn’t give an inch and took advantage of the slightest opportunity. If he manages to really go for it in qualifying, he will be a regular podium contender and score results more in keeping with his talent. We’re convinced that it’ll happen soon as he lets nothing pass and works very hard with his engineer.
“Alexander got his weekend off to a good start. He was on the pace right from the beginning of free practice on a circuit on which he was having his first outing. He could have clinched a place on the first two rows were it not for a small mistake in the first sector on his last lap in Q1. Unfortunately, the rest of his weekend was spoilt by a beginner’s error at the start of race 1 and the grid penalty he suffered for Sunday’s heat as a result. He must avoid this kind of fault at all costs as we know he’s much better than that."
“Thomas, unfortunately, wasn’t 100% physically fit this weekend. After he gritted his teeth in free practice and qualifying, we had a chat and decided not to continue in the races to enable him to recover in time for Spa.
“Frank gathered pace throughout the three days. We’re delighted with the point he scored after an intelligent consistent drive. He never gave up and knew when to push at the right moment. It’s very positive to see him continuing his series of recent promising performances, in particular at Monza in the NEC. Like his team-mates, he still has to work on improving his pace in qualifying as he really does have the potential to score points in every race.”
From tomorrow onwards, Tech 1 Racing will be testing at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in view of the sixth round of the 2018 Formula Renault Eurocup.
“Throughout the weekend we were quick and the drivers were delighted with their progress in each session,” concluded Maernhout. “It’s a cause for satisfaction, but they really must go for it in qualifying to show their true pace in the races. It’ll be our aim at Spa where we’ll start testing on Wednesday morning. We’ve scored excellent results there in recent years and we hope to continue in the same vein.”
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