Excellent race one drive from Laine after superb testing pace secures seventh points result of 2014 while Stevens posts weekend best of eighth in race two
Formula Renault 3.5 Series front-runners Matias Laine and Will Stevens each delivered deserved points scoring results for Strakka Racing at Paul Ricard in southern France over the weekend, 27th/28th September, during the penultimate event of the season. Laine’s ninth place result in round 14 on Saturday, following a great drive from 14th on the grid, was the clear highlight for the Finnish driver who remains 13thin the championship. Stevens, meanwhile, goes into the season finale next month sixth in the standings while Strakka is also in the top six of the Team’s Championship.
Laine was extremely quick in collective testing on Friday, 26th September, with the second fastest time overall, just 0.096 seconds shy of the outright pace. The pace wasn’t reflected in Laine’s qualifying and he started race one from 14th place. Team-mate Stevens began the encounter two positions higher up the order, on row six, and both Strakka drivers gained ground on the first lap before the Safety Car was deployed. Running in 11th and 12th places respectively, Stevens and Laine made no mistakes at the re-start on lap four and shortly afterward the Finn managed to squeeze past his team-mate. Making continued progress, Laine broke into the top 10 on lap seven after passing Nicholas Latifi and Stevens too gained a place at the expense of the Canadian a lap later.
Rapidly closing up behind Zoel Amberg, Laine worked hard to finds a way past his rival and on lap 15 the Strakka racer moved ahead into ninth. He then set about reeling in Marco Sorensen and after stringing together some sensational laps, the Finn latched onto the tail of the Lotus F1 Team reserve driver with a couple of laps to go. At the flag on lap 22, only 0.3 seconds separated the pair. After slipping to 12th place on lap 15, having clattered the kerbs heavily in avoidance of another car, Stevens remained there for the rest of the contest.
Beginning round 15 on Sunday from 11th on the grid, Stevens moved into ninth place on the opening lap and looked very competitive. Running an early pit-stop strategy, the Briton took his mandatory stop on lap six and emerged in 13th position. When the race order had settled, Stevens held ninth position but after Beitske Visser made his late stop on lap 13 Stevens moved into eighth place which he held to the flag on lap 22. Laine, who qualified 13th fastest roughly 0.2 seconds shy of his team-mate, gained three places on the opening lap to run close in the wheeltracks of Stevens and, remaining on track as a number of drivers began to serve their stops, he climbed the order.
Up into fourth place by the start of the ninth tour, the Finn made his pit visit at the end of the lap but emerged down in 19th place and with a huge amount of work to do. Ultimately, he ended the encounter in 17th position.
“Friday was fantastic, it was so nice to be second fastest and looking really good – so Saturday qualifying was a bit of a surprise but I was really pleased to pass five cars and get ninth place”, said Laine. “Sunday’s qualifying was cut short by a red flag but our race pace was again good, we just need more luck in quali!”
Stevens added: “We were quick in the first two sectors but couldn’t get the balance we wanted for the last sector. In the first race I had to hit a kerb to avoid another car and in the second we pitted early and jumped a couple of cars. I’m always quick at Jerez, so can’t wait for the final round.”