George King has made a habit of finishing races on the podium over the past eight months, but had to work hard to keep his impressive streak alive as the 2022 Ligier European Series staged its fourth round on the hallowed tarmac of the Autodromo Internazionale di Monza.
Fresh from a thrilling last corner move that netted a top three finish at the equally famous Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, King only had to wait a couple of weeks to get back behind the wheel of the #23 Monza Garage entry he shares with Italian Ronnie Valori, but the fact that the round was taking place on his team and team-mate's home soil added to the weight of expectation.
Unfortunately for the Anglo-Italian combination, early problems with both the engine and gearbox meant that the black-and-blue #23 Ligier JS P4 prototype languished further down the timesheets than usual as it struggled to produce the pace necessitated by one of the fastest circuits in the world.
Having posted the seventh-best time in qualifying, the Monza Garage team set about changing the car's gearbox for race one which, despite not completely curing the lack of pace, at least allowed King and Valori to be more competitive in the double-header races that followed.
The Briton started race one from the inside of row four and produced a comparatively rapid stint, taking the #23 up to fourth — and pitting right on the tail of the third-placed machine — before handing over to Valori. Although the Italian was initially unable to gain further ground during his run, discretion was his watchword, aware that the car he was chasing would be assessed a penalty for jumping one of several safety car restarts that punctuated the race. With the obstacle removed by the stewards, Valori was able to press on and maintain third place to the chequered flag.
The seasoned sportscar veteran then started race two and quickly found himself embroiled in a four-car scrap for second place having moved up a couple places over his grid position. With the #23 firmly in contention for further silverware, King took the wheel at half-distance, having taken a gamble on tyre pressures in a bid to combat the high air and track temperatures that afflicted the weekend. Unfortunately for the young Briton, his bid came up short, with Monza Garage entry crossing the line in fifth place.
"There were some insane temperatures out there — something in the mid-to-high 30s, a proper scorcher," King reported. "With that in mind, I gambled on the tyre pressures to try and catch the frontrunners but, ultimately, the plan didn’t work out as we'd hoped and it was a serious workout to get the car home.
"Still, we're happy with the results as a whole, especially given the setbacks we had at the start of the weekend. Third place in race one almost feels like a win, especially with the amount of work everyone put into it. Of course, it sucks that it was the team's home race and we struggled as much as we did but I think, given the setbacks and complications that were thrown at us, we definitely made the most of it."
King and Valori sit third overall in the JS P4 driver standings after four double-header rounds, with Monza Garage holding down a similar position in the teams' championship.
Round five of the Ligier European Series takes place after a well-deserved summer hiatus, with the field reconvening at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium over the weekend of 23-24 September.