GP3: Wickens tops standings after inaugural weekend

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarSunday, May 9th, 2010

 
 

Canada’s Robert Wickens leads the GP3 Series standings after its first weekend of competition thanks to his securing a second place in the feature race and a fourth in the sprint.

Dean Smith was among the field for the launch of GP3

Dean Smith was among the field for the launch of GP3

That was enough to put the Status GP driver a single point ahead of both race one winner Jenzer Motorsport’s Pal Varhaug, and also ART’s Esteban Gutierrez, who bagged a pair of podium spots.

Here’s how the weekend played out:

RSC Mucke Motorsport drivers are free practice stars

RSC Mucke Motorsport’s Renger van der Zande had the measure of the field in free practice, securing the top spot on the timesheets for most of the session, and finishing on 1:38.664 – just ahead of team-mate Nigel Melker.

Gutierrez was hot on their heels for most of the session but could not dislodge the pair and therefore finished third. Wickens was fourth-fastest with Manor’s James Jakes and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs in fifth and sixth.

Addax Team driver Mirko Bortolotti finished the session in seventh after having a torrid time of it in the closing stages. His team-mate Pablo Sanchez Lopez was eighth with ART’s Alexander Rossi ninth and Carlin’s Dean Smith 10th.

Atech Grand Prix driver Oliver Oakes took part only briefly in the session after mechanical issues meant he failed to finish the first lap.

Qualifying: Melker aces close-fought battle

The first-ever GP3 qualifying kicked off in tricky conditions with a low-temperature, drying track – but a close-fought battle for pole in the final minutes saw more than half the field in contention, separated by just a few hundredths of a second.

The GP3 field is made up of 30 cars in 10 teams

The GP3 field is made up of 30 cars in 10 teams

A last-minute push from Wickens looked to have secured the top spot, until Melker crossed the line seconds later, posting a time of 1:52.602. He was then dropped another place by Varhaug, meaning he lined up on the grid in third.

Status’ Daniel Morad finished in fourth followed by Jakes in fifth and Smith in sixth thanks to a late burst on fresh tyres. In seventh was Gutierrez and rounding out the top 10 were Tech 1’s Jean-Eric Vergne, van der Zander and Jenzer’s Simon Trummer.

Rossi and Quaife-Hobbs both crashed, the latter after clocking lap times that saw him in the class of drivers with a shot at taking pole. Oakes was 22nd and Bortolotti sat out the session after injuring his thumb during practice.

Race one: Varhaug claims first victory of new series

Varhaug led the first-ever GP3 race from start to finish, fending off race-long pressure from Wickens in fine conditions following the morning’s tricky qualifying.

As was perhaps predictable there was plenty of action on the first lap, including Morad getting shunted sideways across the grid, an accident which also involved slow-starting pole sitter Melker. Both had to immediately pit.

Meanwhile Varhaug took the lead and tried to pull away from Gutierrez and Wickens. Despite the ART driver’s race-long efforts Wickens did not yield and Guttierez had to settle for third.

By the end of lap four MW Arden’s Michael Christensen and Addax’ Felipe Guimaraes had taken each other out while Carlin’s Josef Newgarden and Lopez performed the same feat, leaving the leaders with that much easier a task.

Smith had a relatively lonely race in fourth, finishing 3.276 seconds ahead of Vergne, Trummer and Carlin’s Lucas Foresti. Rossi climbed from the back of the grid to 15th, eventually finishing eighth and thus claiming pole for race two. Ninth was Jakes and tenth MW Arden’s Miki Monras. Oakes was 14th and Quaife-Hobbs 21st.

Post-race penalties

Newgarden and Sanchez Lopez were given 10-place grid drops for race two.

Newgarden was penalised for causing a collision with Guimaraes and Sanchez Lopez was penalised for causing a collision with Newgarden. Both drivers retired from the race and so lined up on the back row of the grid for the start of race two.

Race two: Rossi makes up for earlier disappointments

Rossi made up for disappointments earlier in his weekend by finishing nearly 11 seconds ahead of his nearest rival and clinching his first GP3 Series victory. The American made a near-perfect start from pole position, and held the place for the rest of the race, leading home Foresti and team-mate Gutierrez.

At the start fourth-placed Vergne pushed Trummer wide onto the grass and then followed up with a similar move on Foresti, earning himself a drive-through penalty. Varhaug and Bortolotti also found themselves casualties of Vergne’s moves.

Meanwhile Rossi was left leading a recovering Foresti as Gutierrez made his way into third. ART’s Pedro Nunes found a way through from 12th to seventh as the safety car came out. With 12 laps remaining Rossi powered away on the restart, with the rest of the field following cleanly into turn one.

Gutierrez lined up Foresti to take second, instead gifting the place to Vergne. Wickens overtook Smith to move up behind Gutierrez – until Vergne served his penalty, which put ART’s Pedro Nunes in line for the final point.

With Rossi leading comfortably the Wickens-Gutierrez battle continued right up until the final corner, allowing Smith to move up behind them with just two laps remaining. Despite his best efforts Jakes was unable to pinch the final point from Nunes who finished sixth after a solid drive.

Oakes was 10th and Quaife-Hobbs the final finisher in 26th.

• Following the first weekend’s racing Wickens leads the driver standings from Varhaug and Gutierrez. For full results, news and standings, visit the series’ official website here.

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