Enrico Toccacelo had every reason to smile at Brands Hatch last weekend, by leading the Italian A1GP entry onto the bottom step of the rostrum in both races behind the all-conquering British and German machines.
The World Series by Renault ace had been somewhat off-colour since his landmark feature race triumph in Beijing back in November – troubling the scorers just four times in the space of 14 outings – but both he and the team re-found their form in fine style in the season finale around the undulating Kent circuit, and in so doing lifted Italy up above Switzerland into seventh position in the nations' standings – a seven-place improvement on 2005-06.
After qualifying a strong fourth – six tenths of a second shy of pole position – Toccacelo then pressurised France's Loic Duval into a mistake midway through the sprint race, before coming under pressure himself in the longer feature event as Indian Narain Karthikeyan loomed large in his mirrors. He held firm all the way to the flag, though, to record the third podium finish of his A1GP career.
“If I said I wasn't happy I would be lying,” the 28-year-old said afterwards. “The sprint race was above all a tactical one, so as not to compromise the starting position for the feature, but I nevertheless managed to gain a position.
“The feature race was very hard. When I realised Germany and Britain were in a league of their own, and that trying to follow their rhythm might cause me to take too many risks, I decided to pretend the race was in two groups, with me leading the second one. Behind me were India, the Netherlands and Malaysia who in other races had always been ahead of us, but I managed to control the pace over the last 20 laps.
“Narain was a constant thorn in my side, but I think I did well to fend off his every attack and hold onto my second third-place of the day. It's been too long since I last experienced the pleasure of standing on the podium!”
Team owner Piercarlo Ghinzani was equally delighted by the outcome of the weekend, and confident it would herald an even stronger push for honours when the new campaign gets underway again at Zandvoort in just under five months' time.
“It was truly a great day,” the former grand prix driver enthused. “Climbing onto the podium twice during the same meeting isn't something that happens every day, and we must consider it as a strong starting-point for the next season of A1GP.”