Vandoorne crowned GP2 champion with Pirelli in Russia

ART Grand Prix driver Stoffel Vandoorne has been crowned GP2 champion in Russia with Pirelli: the same venue that crowned Jolyon Palmer as GP2 champion last year. This year, the GP2 Series had the medium and soft tyre in Sochi while the GP3 Series used the medium tyre. With a very smooth surface and cool weather in Sochi, wear and degradation was generally quite low.

Vandoorne: GP2 champion with Pirelli

However, the complexion of the GP3 weekend in particular took an unexpected twist when the feature race on Saturday was postponed until early on Sunday morning, as a result of barrier repairs before Formula One qualifying. The GP2 feature race was also affected by an early red flag for similar reasons, and this meant that it was shortened to 15 laps, in order to ensure there was enough light to race safely. Although drivers were allowed to change tyres before the re-start, there was still an obligatory pit stop that had to be taken at least six laps after the race start. Having started the race from pole on the soft tyre, DAMS driver Alex Lynn took command and switched to the medium as soon as the pit stop window opened. He seemed to have the race under control but then went off, which handed the initiative to Racing Engineering’s Alexander Rossi, on a similar strategy. The American still had to see off the challenge of Vandoorne, who went long on the soft tyre, but in the end managed to claim his third win from the last four GP2 races, followed by the other DAMS entry of Pierre Gasly. Another stand-out performance was from Carlin driver Dean Stoneman, whose strategy helped him go from 19th to ninth on his GP2 debut. Rossi said: “We wanted to really match the cars around us and Alex and Stoffel were on the softs. Obviously with the softs you cover the chance of a safety car. So for me, our strategy was the right decision. I think we just need to understand why our first lap pace was so much slower because that’s a bit concerning. But other than that, I think once we got up to temperature, the car was really good. I was able to stay ahead of the cars that were on soft tyres. Pierre and Stoffel were coming quite quick, specifically Pierre. He was on soft tyres. It was the hardest win I had this year.” The GP2 sprint race on Sunday morning crowned Vandoorne, a McLaren protégé, as champion after he finished in fourth – which was crucially ahead of Rossi. The 21-lap race had no obligatory pit stops, with all the drivers apart from Rapax’s Sergey Sirotkin using the medium tyre. Again, the race was interrupted by a safety car: this time at the end of the 21-lap race. Status Grand Prix’s Richie Stanaway won from second on the grid, while problems for Sirotkin meant that his aggressive strategy was inconclusive.

Ghiotto was a race winner in Russia

In the 15-lap GP3 feature race tyre management was crucial as well, with Luca Ghiotto (Trident) charging into the lead from from sixth on the grid, to eventually take his fourth win of the year. Again, there was a safety car – halfway through the race – but he resumed command after the re-start to win from ART Grand Prix’s Esteban Ocon, who had started from pole. Unusually, the GP3 field was back in action just a couple of hours later, for the sprint race (which was also 15 laps). Koiranen Grand Prix’s Jimmy Eriksson took his first win, from reverse pole, but second place for Ocon cut Ghiotto’s lead of the championship to just two points. The Italian finished out of the points after some contact earlier in the race. Eriksson said: “It was only a 30-minute race and the tyre degradation was not so bad, so I decided to floor it…I felt in control from start to finish.” Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola concluded: “It was a very unusual race weekend for both GP2 and GP3, where we saw adverse weather on Friday, then delayed races and safety cars on Saturday and Sunday. Because of all these factors, the drivers were constantly looking at a moving target. However, they coped with all these random factors admirably to get the most out of their tyres. Tyre wear and degradation was generally low, with a low-grip surface. Because of all the delays, the demand on the tyres was less than usual due to not as much high-speed running than was expected. However, all the unknown factors also made tyre management a particularly tough task to anticipate. Congratulations to Stoffel Vandoorne, who has been in a class of his own in GP2 all year. He thoroughly deserves the GP2 driver’s title, while we look forward to an exciting finale in the title fight for GP3.” The next round of the GP2 and GP3 Series will be in Bahrain from 19-21 November.


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