PALMER USES GP2 TYRE STRATEGY TO SPRINT FROM THE BACK
GP2 points leader Jolyon Palmer was able to use tyre strategy in Saturday’s GP2 feature race at Monza to sprint from the back after being forced to start last, when his DAMS car was not able to provide a sufficient fuel sample following qualifying.
Palmer was one of just nine drivers who started the race on the P Zero Orange hard tyre, which was nominated together with the P Zero White medium. He ran a long first stint on a new set of hard tyres, which enabled him to gain track position as those in front of him on the medium pitted sooner. Palmer then benefitted from the extra speed of the medium tyre for 10 laps to the finish, ending up eighth – which gave him the reverse grid pole for Sunday’s sprint race.
At the front, it was extremely close with ART Grand Prix’s Stoffel Vandoorne taking his third win of the season by just 0.6 seconds from Campos Racing’s Arthur Pic. The pair qualified first and second respectively, and used a near-identical tyre strategy: starting on used mediums before moving onto hards (the same strategy adopted by the entire top six).
Vandoorne came in for his compulsory stop from the lead one lap earlier than Pic, and some rapid pitwork helped ensure that he retained the advantage after Pic had made his stop – although the gap was always close. Mitch Evans finished third from third on the grid, making his stop on lap 13, like Pic.
As a sign of how competitive the championship has been this year, Vandoorne became the first man in GP2 this season to win a feature race from pole. He commented: “The pace was quite good on the medium tyres and I managed to pull a little gap before the pit stops. The team performed a great stop so I could maintain my lead to Arthur: I even had a little gap after the pit stop.”
Palmer’s charge continued on Sunday, when he was able to win the sprint race from reverse pole using Pirelli’s hard tyres. In second was Stefano Coletti, also on the hard compound, who started from ninth on the grid and pulled off some impressive overtaking manoeuvres – reminiscent of a similar sprint race performance at Spa two weeks ago when the Racing Engineering driver finished in the points from 24th on the grid. Palmer now has a 43-point championship lead with just four races remaining.
The hard tyre was nominated for GP3 at the ‘temple of speed’, with Korainen GP’s Jimmy Eriksson converting pole to victory on Saturday from ART Grand Prix’s Dino Zamparelli, who had started second on the grid. Once more, the winning margin was only 0.6 seconds, underlining just how close the fight was between the leading contenders, helped by a consistent performance from the hard compound tyre at the circuit with the highest top speed of the year. With no compulsory pit stops in GP3, durability and consistency from the tyre is even more important than in GP2.
There was more extremely close racing during the GP3 race on Sunday, which also lasted 17 laps. Marussia’s Dean Stoneman won from fourth on the grid, following an epic duel with points leader Alex Lynn (Carlin), who moved up from third on the grid. Lynn extended his championship advantage and now has the possibility to clinch the GP3 title at the next round in Sochi.
Eriksson, who managed his tyres effectively to win on Saturday, commented: “I was still quite cautious with the tyres as I knew the guys right behind me were starting on new tyres and I wasn’t, so I knew they had more rubber on their tyres than me. My pace was good at the beginning and in the middle of the race. In the end, I was not really going slower but Dino was going quicker. The car felt good and the tyres didn’t feel as though they were dropping off. I was never really worried.”
Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola concluded: “Starting way out of position, Palmer was able to opt for a different strategy that worked extremely well for him and enabled him to make up many places. With a win from reverse pole on Sunday, it was the perfect recovery drive and an excellent demonstration of how the correct tyre strategy can salvage a weekend that starts badly. In GP3, managing the tyre to ensure optimal consistency and durability was key and Eriksson showed this perfectly: managing to keep drivers on new rubber behind him even when he started on used tyres.”
The GP2 and GP3 Series resume at a brand new venue in Sochi, Russia, from 10-12 October.