bothAs Hugh stepped foot in the paddock at Monza, he took a moment to take in the sights and atmosphere at this historic and exhilarating track. Dubbed the Temple of Speed, Hugh couldn’t wait to get on track to test his limits.
Free practice came with mixed results, and although the on-track results may not be an accurate representation of the maximum output achieved, Hugh expressed that he felt good and comfortable in the car, and the performance was “better than what the lap times show.” While the top three runners had new sets of tyres for the session, Hugh was driving on an old used set, with the front left facing notable degradation. Overall, despite not running an optimal setup, “the technique and driving was there, and I was adapting well to the track and learning more with every lap.” As practice came to a close, Hugh felt prepared and optimistic ahead of qualifying.
Given the track layout, getting a tow from a driver ahead is extremely important. Conversations developed amongst the field, with drivers pairing up to grant each other the much-needed tow to take advantage of the high speeds. However, the traffic would inevitably cause complications, with Hugh needing to take three full laps to get organized in the train to find his tow partner. In addition to this, red flags resulted in further obstacles for him, blocking him from setting a qualifying lap until the session had nearly ended. Even in adversity, he kept his head down, drove intelligently, and focused on the task ahead. Ultimately, qualifying went very well for the Australian, qualifying second for both the first race and third race. In typical fashion, he was still left wanting more; “It was both rewarding yet frustrating. I had pole for about half a lap and was just beat out in the end. But I know the pace is there, I’m very close.”
Starting second on the grid, Hugh’s aim was to pull ahead in first quickly and build a lead from there. Unfortunately, this plan was not in the cards for him. Off the start, the drivers behind in P3 and P4 used the slipstream and tried pulling off risky overtakes on either side of Hugh’s car. He got squeezed in the middle and both wheels got hit, knocking them out of alignment and disrupting the balance. The collision and damage knocked him back 7 positions and forced him to run wide at the first turn.
Driving with a significantly damaged car was a new experience for Hugh, as he had to manage the unpredictability of the car, determining what he could and could not do throughout each lap, and maneuvering in a way to avoid locking up into the corners. Alas, the bad luck continued, as a steering issue caused him to run wide again. As he took the escape route, he realized he was unable to upshift into fourth gear. Ultimately the damage was too consequential and he was forced to retire from the race.
Hugh lined up last on the grid as a result of his DNF in the previous race. The race started under the safety car as it was raining heavily and the visibility was poor. They did three laps under the safety car before the race went green, until a crash on the lap corner brought the safety back out for another two laps. By the time it was safe to go racing again, there were only 11 minutes left in the session. Hugh had moved up to P11 for the restart, and immediately made a move on the car ahead to slot into P10. From there, he continued to pick off his competitors one by one until he crossed the finish line in sixth, after setting the second fastest lap of the race on the last lap. While this was a strong comeback performance, Hugh felt he would have moved into podium position if the rain delays hadn’t halted his progress.
As the weather worsened and the rain continued to wreak havoc, and the final race was cancelled due to extremely poor track conditions, abruptly cutting the weekend short.
While this wasn’t the outcome Hugh wanted, he kept his head held high with the confidence that his qualifying pace has seen significant improvement over the course of the season.
Going into the next round at Circuit Paul Ricard, his aim is to win races 1 and 3, while making up as many positions as possible in the second race with a reverse grid start. With two main overtaking zones on track, Hugh is looking to capitalize on every opportunity.