Daniel Abt and Matias Laine celebrated their maiden GP3 victories at Spa-Francorchamps at the weekend during a round that saw the title favourite stumble rather than stride amidst the forests.
It was bound to happen to Mitch Evans eventually. Where consistency is a vital component in any championship charge, it is difficult to expect a trophy of some sort every weekend.
Admittedly, Evans’ ambitions have been helped by the recent inability of rival Aaro Vainio to score big points and in a round where Evans faltered somewhat, Vainio happened to have a nightmare.
Evans did indeed nab a podium during the opening race to follow a hard earned pole position, but as the race was concluded after only four laps, the reward was of reduced value.
Meanwhile, a reinvigorated Antonio Felix da Costa keeps surging forward. The Portuguese racer has nabbed 82 points in the past two rounds, compared to the 34 of Evans and the 24 scored by Vainio.
It is a strong run that has propelled da Costa ahead of Vainio in the standings, while Evans’ lead shrunk to 21.5 points.
Suddenly the final round at Monza this week takes on an extra vitality and judging by their respective performances at Spa, da Costa is in the hot seat and is setting Evans up for a surprise.
Meanwhile at Spa-Francorchamps…
Race 1 (September 1st)
Daniel Abt took his first GP3 win of the season in an accident marred opening race at Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday.
The German made the key move on the third lap, when he slipped past the duelling Antonio Felix da Costa and Mitch Evans in the middle of Les Combes in a beautifully executed and opportunistic move. Abt spent the next two laps defending hard against da Costa, yet despite his best efforts, the Portuguese racer could neither intimidate nor force an error.
Their battle almost came to a head on the fourth tour – again at Les Combes – when da Costa slipstreamed alongside Abt, only to be forced wide and onto the escape road, damaging the floor of his Carlin car in the process.
Evans finished 3rd after several brief battles in the shortened event. When Evans’ new clutch proved less than effective, the poleman was passed by teammate Laine off the line; however the Kiwi retook Laine on the approach to Les Combes. Running wide as a result, Laine dropped to 5th behind the fast starting Tio Ellinas.
Almost immediately, da Costa clung to the rear of Evans, eventually sweeping by on the Kemmel straight on lap two, before both lost out to Abt the next time around.
Meanwhile, Ellinas jumped from 10th on the grid to a stunning 4th thanks to an aggressive start; however the Anglo-Cypriot could do little about Evans, despite pressing the Kiwi hard on Spa’s long lingering bends.
Aaro Vainio passed Lewis Williamson for 6th on the opening tour, finishing just ahead of Lotus teammate Conor Daly come the flag.
Indeed, a poor start by the Irish-American dropped him from 5th to 8th as the field unravelled; however Daly made up one spot – again on Williamson – on the second lap to claim 7th place.
Williamson made best with 8th and reverse grid pole for the Sunday morning race, as he kept ahead of the battling Giovanni Venturini and Alex Fontana.
The race was red flag on the fifth lap following a massive accident for Robert Cregan just before the fiercesome Pouhon.
The Ocean Racing Technology driver was squeezed in between David Fumanelli and Alex Brundle on the approach to the turn, with Cregan’s left rear suspension taken the brunt of the hit.
Robbed of control as his left rear wheel mounting collapsed, Cregan slid hard into the tyre barrier, destroying both his machine and the protective barrier in one large hit. Frighteningly, Cregan’s flailing tyre – pinched in place by its protective tethers – swung gangly into the Irishman’s cockpit, pinning him into place.
Thankfully, the Irishman was uninjured beyond a stiff neck; however as only a single round remains for this chassis, it is thought that he may now not have a car at his disposal for this weekend’s visit at Monza.
2012 GP3 Series Round of Spa-Francorchamps (Rd 7, Race 1, 4 laps) Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Daniel Abt Lotus 8m54.720s 2. Antonio Felix da Costa Carlin + 0.321s 3. Mitch Evans MW Arden + 1.410s 4. Tio Ellinas Manor + 1.971s 5. Matias Laine MW Arden + 2.655s 6. Aaro Vainio Lotus + 3.157s 7. Conor Daly Lotus + 4.679s 8. Lewis Williamson Status + 6.081s 9. Giovanni Venturini Trident + 7.024s 10. Alex Fontana Jenzer + 7.584s 11. Patric Niederhauser Jenzer + 9.396s 12. Kevin Ceccon Ocean + 10.170s 13. Will Buller Carlin + 10.790s 14. Marlon Stockinger Status + 11.119s 15. Robert Visoiu Jenzer + 13.438s 16. Vicky Piria Trident + 15.145s 17. Tamas Pal Kiss Atech CRS + 16.967s 18. Alice Powell Status + 18.793s 19. Alex Brundle Carlin + 19.166s 20. David Fumanelli MW Arden + 19.480s 21. Robert Cregan Ocean + 19.787s 22. Dmitry Suranovich Manor + 20.844s 23. John Wartique Atech CRS + 22.634s 24. Ethan Ringel Atech CRS + 23.445s 25. Fabiano Machado Manor + 24.117s 26. Carmen Jorda Ocean + 27.131s
Race 2 (September 2nd)
Laine claimed his first GP3 win on Sunday morning at Spa, thanks mainly to a stunning start from the second row.
Antonio Felix da Costa took his second runner-up spot of the weekend, while Conor Daly added a sixth podium to his 2012 collection when he crossed the line in 3rd spot.
As in the opening race, Laine launched off the line with vigour, passing a surprised Williamson in the short entry at La Source; but would lose the lead prior to Eau Rouge.
This time, the determined Laine slipped back passed on the Kemmel Straight and held the front thereafter.
It helped too that Daly recovered from a poor getaway to also charge passed Williamson, although the Scot would correct that on the following lap to retake 2nd place before Les Combes.
Of course, little of this mattered to Laine, as he escaped the frantic battle in his mirrors, although the MW Arden racer did not simply drive away.
Where Williamson and Daly were busy making life difficult for themselves, Laine edged away, with the lead tricking outwards – 1.5 seconds by lap six; then 2.4 seconds after the final tour, yet Laine rarely looked truly threatened.
It was a prime example of close measured racing – dominant without being unnecessarily exuberant.
Meanwhile, da Costa was busy scything through the field. Starting 7th, the Portuguese racer inherited two spots almost immediately when Ellinas and Vainio clashed on the opening lap, removing each other from contention. That became 4th when Evans’ pace dramatically fell away, leaving only Williamson and Daly in the near distance.
Indeed Williamson too was struggling for speed and grip. With Daly persistent in his attacks, the Status GP racer defended hard – too hard at times to be frank – a tactic that only served to let da Costa close in.
Both Daly and da Costa would be ahead of Williamson by lap nine – rather easily – but da Costa was not ready to relent.
Having pressed Williamson for much of the race, now Daly was being pressurised by da Costa, with the Carlin man finally forcing his way passed his Irish-American rival on the penultimate tour.
Amidst the squabbling, da Costa also secured two bonus points for the fastest lap, just as he had in the previous three races. For Daly, another podium was a decent result, although the Lotus racer was probably expecting a touch more for his troubles.
Fontana impressed in his final outing before returning to the Formula 2 next weekend. The Swiss racer made an excellent start from 10th place, driving a rather conservative race and grabbing positions while others erred.
Behind Fontana, it was all rather close for comfort, with Fontana, Abt (5th), Patric Niederhauser (6th) and Williamson (a disappointed 7th) all covered by 3.8 seconds.
Like Fontana, Abt and Niederhauser climbed the leaderboard as others fell off it. The duo enjoyed a brief battle of their own at the start thanks to a poor start by Abt; however the German had retaken the Jenzer racer come the second tour.
They group stayed bunched together through the mid section of the race, mainly because they all held up by Evans, making for some startling action as they tooed-and-froed for position.
For Williamson, his race fell apart once Daly was by. With nothing left in reserve, the Scot dropped down the order – easy meat for those on fresher Pirelli rubber.
Will Buller claimed the last point of the race after passing Venturini on the final tour. The County Down man launched his way from 13th on the grid, winning out in tight group battle with Venturini, Tamas Pa’l Kiss (10th, after starting 19th !!) and Brundle.
A special mention for Alice Powell, whose late charge to 12th spot included overtaking Evans and Marlon Stöckinger around the outside of Les Combes in one move.
In the final laps, Evans could not control the slide and finished 15th,
2012 GP3 Series Round of Spa-Francorchamps (Rd 7, Race, 12 laps) Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Matias Laine MW Arden 26m39.329s 2. Antonio Felix da Costa Carlin + 2.404s 3. Conor Daly Lotus + 3.460s 4. Alex Fontana Jenzer + 7.151s 5. Daniel Abt Lotus + 8.494s 6. Patric Niederhauser Jenzer + 9.671s 7. Lewis Williamson Status + 10.961s 8. Will Buller Carlin + 17.259s 9. Giovanni Venturini Trident + 18.754s 10. Tamas Pal Kiss Atech CRS + 19.460s 11. Alex Brundle Carlin + 19.828s 12. Alice Powell Status + 22.462s 13. Robert Visoiu Jenzer + 23.628s 14. Aaro Vainio Lotus + 26.226s 15. Mitch Evans MW Arden + 28.547s 16. Marlon Stockinger Status + 29.267s 17. John Wartique Atech CRS + 29.469s 18. Dmitry Suranovich Manor + 30.471s 19. Vicky Piria Trident + 31.849s 20. Kevin Ceccon Ocean + 33.410s 21. Fabiano Machado Manor + 33.967s 22. Ethan Ringel Atech CRS + 34.451s 23. Carmen Jorda Ocean + 54.689s Retirements: David Fumanelli MW Arden 6 laps Tio Ellinas Manor 4 laps