Zhuhai: Two-time Formula 1 champion and winner of twenty F1 grands prix Mika Häkkinen enjoyed a successful return to motor racing this weekend in the GT Asia series driving a Mercedes-AMG gullwing. Häkkinen and his 17-year-old Chinese co-driver Matthew Solomon won the first of two races at Zhuhai in an SLS AMG GT3 entered by AMG Customer Sports team Erebus Motorsport.
Starting from sixth on the grid in the first of the weekend's two races, Häkkinen immediately moved up to second position. After a safety car period in the first stint, the Mercedes-AMG brand ambassador handed over to Solomon at the mandatory pit stop with the car still in P2. Shortly before the end, the Chinese junior overtook race leader Samson Chan to secure a historic maiden win for the SLS AMG GT3 in China. Häkkinen picked up his first winner's trophy since the 2007 DTM race at Mugello in what was also his last full professional campaign.
Häkkinen and Solomon were in second place on the grid for the second race of the weekend. However, their victory in Race 1 resulted in a 15-second handicap on their mandatory pit stop. After an exciting charge up the field, Häkkinen had fought his way into second place on the final lap but his overtaking manoeuvre took him too far to the outside and he ultimately finished the race in fourth position. The second gullwing of AMG Customer Sports Team Erebus Motorsport driven by Lance David Arnold started from pole position. He had a 24-second lead on the final lap in the 50-minute race but ran out of fuel and coasted to a stop.
This was not the first time that Häkkinen has competed at Zhuhai: in 2011, he briefly made a comeback partnering Germany's Lance David Arnold in a gullwing at the Chinese circuit. That occasion was the first outing for the Finn since the 2007 DTM grand finale at Hockenheim. In the 2005, 2006 and 2007 seasons, Häkkinen contested a total of 31 DTM races as a member of the Mercedes-Benz squad, winning three of them. When the veteran was claiming the first of his two Formula 1 titles with McLaren Mercedes in 1988, his current 'apprentice' Matthew Solomon was just two years old. Solomon started off in karting and single-seater racing. More recently, he has been through an intensive programme of test drives at the Lausitzring to prepare for his debut in the SLS AMG GT3 gullwing.
The GT Asia Series race weekend at Zhuhai has had an extra significance for Mercedes-AMG and for the development of motor racing in China, as it coincided with the successful launch of the AMG customer sports programme on the Chinese market. Since the programme began in 2010, AMG customer teams fielding the gullwing have won more than 100 races worldwide. In 2013, the SLS AMG GT3 won the 'Grand Slam' of GT3 endurance races, with victories in the 24 Hours of Dubai, at the Nürburgring, at Spa-Francorchamps and in the 12-hour race at Bathurst. AMG Customer Sports junior Maximilian Buhk also took the championship title in the Blancpain Endurance Series. As a reward for their achievements in the framework of the AMG Customer Sports programme, Buhk and ADAC GT Masters team-mate Maximilian Götz were invited to test-drive a DTM Mercedes AMG C-Class at the Lausitzring.
"It was wonderful to see how much the enthusiasm for motor racing has grown in China. The races were exceptionally exciting, and it makes me proud that we were able to score a maiden win for the AMG Customer Sports programme in China on its very first outing. Erebus Motorsport have made me feel very welcome, and I immediately adapted to the feel of the gullwing cockpit. Matthew is a fantastically talented young man. It was a pleasure for me to pass on useful tips to him and to see how quickly he was able to put into practice everything he had learnt, not only in the garage but also of course out on the track. His overtaking manoeuvre in the battle for the lead in Race 1 was superb. If he carries on developing at this pace, there will certainly be more race wins to come."
"It was a great honour to share a cockpit with a two-time Formula 1 champion and motorsport legend such as Mika. I used to watch Mika racing on TV, and one of my most vivid memories is when I saw him overtake Michael Schumacher and Ricardo Zonta at Spa-Francorchamps in 2000. We hit it off immediately, and I have learnt so much from him this weekend. It was great fun talking to Mika about the technicalities of the setup and about racing in general. That helps me a lot in my development as a racing driver and is a great preparation for my future career."
Uli Fritz, Head of AMG Customer Sports:
"That was a dream start for the AMG customer sports programme in the GT Asia series. Obviously, I want to congratulate our drivers Mika Häkkinen, Matthew Solomon and Lance David Arnold as well as our AMG Customer Sports team Erebus Motorsport. These great results are merely the latest in what has been a highly successful year for Mercedes-AMG, in which our customer teams have won the Grand Slam of GT3 endurance classics. This weekend, the SLS AMG GT3 was on the winning trail in China, one of the most important markets for Mercedes-AMG. We would be very pleased if we could carry on in the same vein with future customer sports involvement in China."
Source: Daimler AG