Ceccon pips Filippi to Auto GP title
3 October 2011
After his success in coming out of nowhere to clinch the 2011 GP2 drivers championship runners-up position behind Roman Grosjean, Luca Filippi had been hoping to go one better in the Auto GP championship, which went into its final round this weekend at Mugello.
Heading into the last event of the year, Filippi was 15pts behind championship leader Kevin Ceccon - the driver from whom he'd inherited his Scuderia Coloni GP2 race seat mid-season, after the 18-year-old Italian had opted to drop out of GP2 in 2011 and concentrate on the Auto GP championship instead.
Filippi admitted that while "the Auto GP points system still gives me a chance," he simply had to win the first race of the last round of the season to stand a chance. "There's no other way to make it," he said. "If you look at Ceccon's season, he was never the best on raw speed but had an incredible consistency, with many podiums and point finishes ... Another weekend in his style, he will win the title, no matter what I do," he said ahead of the weekend.
In the end the Auto GP title would prove one campaign too far even for Filippi. In that first race on Saturday, hw could only manage to take second place behind a lights-to-flag victory for Adrien Tambay; Ceccon came home in fourth place behind Fabio Onidi.
"Second place is not bad, but as I said my aim for today was winning in order to reduce the gap as much as possible," Filippi said after the race. "I could have done that with a quicker pit stop but we weren't perfect, so that's it." While the result left Filippi only 9pts adrift of the lead, Ceccon had the advantage of starting ahead on the reversed grid on Sunday.
"A 9pts gap on Luca and 11 on Sergei [Afanasiev] is not a lot, but considering that overtaking proved to be difficult here, it could be enough," said Ceccon going into the final race of the season. "I start in between them and we are all lined up on the right side of the grid ... I know that they are tough rivals and that they will give all, but I'm in the best position, risking is up to them!"
Any challenge from Afanasiev evaporated when the Russian jumped the start and then stalled his car - but it also meant Ceccon had to take avoiding action off his grid spot. He dropped to eighth place behind Giovanni Venturini, while Filippi was soon up to fourth place behind Fabrizio Crestani, and it came down to which of the two drivers would be able to do enough to advance their position from there. Ceccon managed to overtake Venturini on lap 7, but Filippi was thwarted for the whole race by Crestani and unable to improve. Fourth place for Filippi and seventh for Ceccon meant that Ceccon clinched the Auto GP championship by a mere 3pts over his compatriot.
"It's an amazing feeling," said Ceccon. "After the race I was a bit confused, all those people cheering me, all those pats on my back, all the compliments. It was amazing but frankly I was just overwhelmed by the emotions.
"I had all I could ask from this 2011, going even beyond what were my expectations at the start of the season. My aim was the Under 21 title and I also clinched the overall one; I debuted in GP2 ... what more could I ask? So today I woke up with a wonderful feeling."
For a proud Italian, there was nothing better for Ceccon than managing to seal the deal on home ground. "Clinching the title in Italy made everything even more special, with so many people coming to Mugello just to support me," he said. "They were great in cheering me after the race: the roar they made at the prize giving when I raised the Trophy is something I will never forget, as well as the faces of the Ombra Racing guys that worked so hard to give me a top car."
Ceccon's decision to clear the decks and concentrate on Auto GP had paid dividends: conversely, Filippi's decision to skip the Auto GP round at Oschersleben (which clashed with the GP2 weekend at Hungary) had proved to be the decisive factor.
Now, though, Ceccon is once more looking toward the bright lights of the GP2 feeder series for his next challenge. He was at last week's testing session at Jerez, actually alternating with Filippi in the Coloni ahead of their Mugello showdown. Fortunately it wasn't as awkward as it might have looked from the outside, as it seems that the two Italians have developed a real bond over the course of the year.
"Filippi, in particular, is a real friend: he helped me a lot at the start of the season, never saying no if I needed any help. Yesterday, instead of being pissed off for losing the title by just 3pts, he was happy for me. And at night we went out together to celebrate, together with Tambay, who is another really nice guy."
Ceccon got his four-round outing in GP2 this year as a last minute replacement for Colini's lead driver Davide Rigon, who was injured in a crash in the first GP2 sprint race of the year at Turkey. Despite the unexpected opportunity, Ceccon was sensible enough to know that Auto GP was the more realistic proposition for him in 2011 - and that the four weekends he drove in GP2 this year will be invaluable in helping him secure a full-time feeder series ride in his own right next year.
"After doing my job on track in the best possible way, it's up to the people who work with me to find the right backing for the next aim," said Ceccon, before admitting: "That obviously is GP2.
"Romain Grosjean, who won the Auto GP title before me, this year clinched the GP2 title in dominant fashion," he pointed out. "Obviously that wouldn't be my aim next year: if I manage to get to GP2 at just 18, I will have one full year to learn without pressure, and that would be mega, really."
The gleam in the eye at the prospect of GP2 and that mention of Renault's Grosjean speaks volumes about Ceccon's ultimate ambitions: a spot on the F1 grid by 2015 or so.