Strategy key to mixed conditions at Spa
Typically mixed conditions at the epic Spa-Francorchamps circuit meant that tyre strategy was key to both the GP2 and GP3 races, with teams looking for the optimal crossover points in order to gain an advantage. McLaren protégé Stoffel Vandoorne (ART) qualified on pole for the GP2 feature race on Saturday, but it was Racing Engineering’s Raffaele Marciello who claimed his first GP2 win, helped by staying out longer before his pit stop. Only three drivers started the race on slicks: Stephane Richelmi (DAMS), Daniel De Jong (MP Motorsport), and Takuya Izawa (ART), all of whom were forced to switch to wet tyres immediately, as the rain intensified so heavily that the race was red-flagged shortly after the start. Following the re-start behind the safety car Vandoorne held the advantage, but Marciello (who started from fourth on the grid) was soon with him as the pair exchanged fastest laps, once the race went live again on lap five. Vandoorne made his pit stop for more wet tyres on lap 17 (of 25), but Marciello stayed out for two laps longer, during which he pushed to the maximum. He came out of the pits just behind Vandoorne but found better grip to claim the lead with three laps to go. Marciello commented: “Before the pitstop, Stoffel was quite far, something like four seconds. So when he stopped, I had two laps to push. I had some tyres left. I was able to reduce the gap. After my pitstop, I had fresher tyres than him and I was able to overtake him. We had a great fight. I pushed but not too much because the track was drying up and I did not want to destroy the tyres.” The GP2 sprint race on Sunday was dry, but with damp patches. All the cars started on Pirelli’s hard compound, apart from Izawa and Simon Trummer (Rapax) which had been nominated along with the medium for Belgium. Carlin’s Felipe Nasr passed Hilmer’s Daniel Abt at the start and was able to control his advantage to the finish, while Racing Engineering driver Stefano Coletti finished in the points despite starting from 24th on the grid. The medium tyre was nominated for GP3, but some drivers gambled on the wet tyre in mixed conditions for the race start on Saturday, including the top six on the grid. With the track drying quickly in the opening laps, title leader Alex Lynn (Carlin) and Status Grand Prix’s Richie Stanaway went into the pits to change for slick tyres before the race start, therefore starting the race from the pit lane. This proved to be a far-sighted move, as it quickly became clear that wet tyres were no longer suited to the conditions, and those who had started on slicks soon came to the front. This included Jenzer’s Matheo Tuscher, who lost the lead when he went off at Eau Rouge, handing the advantage to Marussia’s Dean Stoneman – who secured his second win of the season from P11 on the grid. Lynn started from reverse pole on Sunday by virtue of finishing eighth on Saturday. The Englishman took his third win of the year to extend his championship lead to 34 points, despite being briefly passed by his key title rival Stanaway. All the cars used the slick tyres, despite the circuit being damp in places. Stoneman, the winner of Saturday’s GP3 race, commented: “On the out lap I decided that slicks was the move forward. On the warm up lap it was all about getting the tyres warmed up to temperature. Then I managed to pick off the guys in front of me on wets. I was just being patient as I knew their tyres would over-heat and they would have to pit.” Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola concluded: “As is often the case, Spa threw up a huge variety of mixed conditions, meaning that there were some tough decisions to be made about tyre choice in both GP2 and GP3. Those who opted to gamble were sometimes handsomely rewarded, but in reality these crucial decisions are made objectively on the basis of the tyre information and insight that each team has obtained in practice, as well as the subjective feeling from the driver. Despite the fact that the wet weather was typically inconsistent, with some parts of the track wetter than others, our tyres allowed the drivers the performance and control they needed to demonstrate their racing capabilities in tricky conditions, on the longest lap of the year. Even during the dry races some wet patches remained, which our slick compounds were still able to deal with comfortably.” The GP2 and GP3 Series resume at Monza, the home of Pirelli, from 5-7 September.
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