Tyre strategy key to GP2 in Barcelona as GP3 makes debut
|Cecotto won the GP2 feature race|
The first weekend of GP2 and GP3 took place this year in Barcelona, meaning that together with its Formula One commitment, Pirelli brought the highest number of tyres it has ever taken to a race weekend: 3224 in total, including 728 for the 26 GP2 cars and 648 for the 27 GP3 cars. The two nominated compounds for GP2 in Spain were P Zero Orange hard and P Zero Yellow soft. This year both compounds have to be used in the race, just like Formula One. In GP3, the hard tyres only were nominated (with all the compounds in GP3 carrying yellow markings). The new rules in GP2 once again opened up several possibilities for strategy, with Trident driver Johnny Cecotto winning the 36-lap feature race on Saturday from 16th on the grid, thanks to an innovative strategy. Cecotto was one of the few drivers to start on the hard tyre, which is slower over one lap, but he stayed out for a full 27 laps on those tyres, moving up the order as those who had started on soft tyres came into the pits. The Venezuelan judged the crossover point perfectly, bolting on the rapid soft tyres with just nine laps to go and the cars running with light fuel. He was the only one of the top six finishers to start on the hard tyres, pulling out a 33-second lead before his pit stop and using the speed of the soft tyres to win the race after some thrilling on-track battles. The Trident driver said: It was difficult to drive at the pace because you never know if it's enough or it's too much, but I made my pit window. I maybe had one more lap but I think it was the right call. When I came out we had a good battle for half a lap. I thought we were P5 or P6 because there were cars in front of us and I didn't know they had to pit: I was pushing really hard to catch them and the team came on the radio and said ‘calm down, you're already leading the race!’ I had fresh tyres and I just had to conserve them, which was quite easy at that point. The team kept saying to slow down but I had enough tyres to battle at the end if I had to.”
|Lynn won the GP3 feature race|
In GP3, Red Bull driver Alex Lynn won the feature race for Carlin. On his debut in the series, the Englishman took pole position and fastest lap as well. Like all the GP3 drivers, he had the opportunity to familiarise himself with Pirelli’s hard compound tyre during a pre-season test in Barcelona: an essential ingredient to his victory. Lynn commented: “After the start I was able to build my lead and conserve the tyres to drive away for the win, which is really cool. The guys behind were battling together for half a lap so I was able to be more careful and that for sure saved a bit more tyre life.”
The GP2 drivers all used the hard tyre for their 26-lap sprint race on Sunday, which does not feature a compulsory pit stop. Nonetheless, using the tyres properly in challenging conditions due to overnight rain was important, with Carlin’s Felipe Nasr taking his first GP2 win from sixth on the grid. Key to his victory was getting in front on lap two, ensuring that he could conserve his tyres without getting drawn into on-track battles. Russian Time driver Mitch Evans, by contrast, charged up to sixth place from 14th on the grid but then tumbled down the order because of excessive degradation in the closing laps. Marussia Manor’s Dean Stoneman took an emotional GP3 sprint race victory on Sunday. The circuit was extremely slippery due to the overnight rain, with Stoneman even spinning on the warm-up lap. Despite this, the hard compound tyres were able to find grip in extremely marginal conditions. The previous day’s feature race winner, Alex Lynn, gambled on a switch to wet tyres during a safety car period – an indication of how difficult the conditions were – but this did not work out for him. Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola concluded: “Just like Bahrain, strategy proved to be vital to Cecotto’s GP2 victory on Saturday, after a very entertaining race. The drivers in GP2 have an even greater opportunity to benefit from strategy than they do in Formula One, so the latest rules should prepare them well for the top category. In GP3 we introduced some changes for this year, with slightly harder compounds and a larger front tyre. We consequently achieved our target of having a car balance that is biased towards oversteer, making it more challenging to drive.” This year’s GP2 season takes in 11 rounds and 22 races, while GP3 comprises nine rounds and 18 races. The next round of GP2 is in Monaco, while GP3 resumes in Austria.
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