Mika Hakkinen won his first race since 2007 on Saturday, despite having being away from competitive motor sport for two years. Hakkinen had partnered up with 17-year-old Hong Kong driver Matt Solomon at the GT Asia series stop in Zhuhai in southern China to represent Australia’s Erebus Motorsports in a one-off race weekend event to promote AMG.
Starting from 6th on the grid, Hakkinen carved his way up to second by the very first corner, though a safety car after 8 laps hindered his attempts to take the lead. When he handed over to Solomon half way through the race during the mandatory pit stop, he was still in second, which was where Solomon remained after all the cars had pitted. But with 8 minutes of the 50-minute race to go, Solomon overtook Samson Chan at the front and cruised to victory from there.
OK, this is no F1, but it’s still pretty competitive: former F1 racer Alex Yoong was among the drivers, and New Zealander Earl Bamber – who has shredded the competition in most of the races he’s entered in this part of the world thanks to talent that many say wouldn’t be out of place in today’s F1 field – was the man holding off Hakkinen at the start of the race.
The series is a fun format in that most teams have two drivers who share racing duties, and in this case it was a classic example of the 45-year-old veteran mentoring the 17-year-old rookie to perfection. They race again on Sunday: Solomon has qualified in second and will drive the first stint so we’ll see if this was a one-off or whether Hakkinen might start questioning his status as otherwise retired.
[UPDATE: In Sunday’s race, Solomon maintained second place for the team during his half of the race, though Saturday’s win meant the car had an additional 15-second time penalty applied during the mandatory pit stop, which dropped them down to 5th when Hakkinen rejoined the field. He closed the gap on the cars in front and, during a daring overtaking move on the final lap, briefly had the car in 2nd, but slightly overcooked it as he went by on the inside and ended up in 4th. Not quite the perfect weekend, but a pretty decent cameo in China from one of the biggest names in the history of motorsports.]