The weather for this morning’s 45 minute free practice session at Sochi was cool with air and track temperatures of 18° and 22° respectively for the GP2 Series first outing on the Russian track. All the GP2 teams were anxious to get as much running as possible in order to give their drivers time to become familiar with the circuit and to optimise the set-up on their cars to minimise tyre wear on this new and untried surface. All the cars were running the Pirelli P Zero White medium compound tyres.
Both Racing Engineering drivers took the opening laps slowly as they began to work on the setup of their cars and it was fifteen minutes before both men set their first fast laps with Lello going 9th on 1:49.221s and then Stefano taking the same spot a lap later with a time of 1:49.114s. On his next fast lap Lello reduced his time to 1:48.522s for 10th and Stefano then went 5th with a 1:47.817s.
As the session reached the half-way point the cars returned to the pits for some adjustments and with fifteen minutes remaining both of the Racing Engineering cars returned to the track. Lello quickly improved to 1:47.589s and Stefano reduced his time to 1:47.667s and then returned to the pits for some more fine tuning of his set-up. As the session came to a close a yellow flag prevented either man improving on their earlier time.
It was much warmer for the 30 minute qualifying session with air and track temperatures of 22° and 31° respectively and all the cars were now using the softer Pirelli P Zero Yellow compound tyres. The two Racing Engineering cars took to the track as soon as the session started, Lello immediately went 3rd fastest with a lap of 1:48.658s with Stefano 11th on 1:49.070s. On his next flying lap Lello improved to 1:46.895s to lay 2nd and Stefano was on a quick lap until it was ruined by Nasr going very slowly at the end of the lap which caused the Racing Engineering driver to make light contact with the Carlin car.
Lello improved once again to 1:46.333s as, after 15 minutes, most of the cars returned to the pits for some final adjustments and new tyres. Stefano had opted to take his stop for adjustments a little earlier than most of the cars and, following the contact with Nasr, he also required a new nose and he returned to the track with the advantage of just five other cars out on circuit but his attempt to improve his time was thwarted by an off-track moment in the final sector. Stefano then improved to 1:47.144s with six minutes remaining and with just two minutes to go he went faster still to take 6th with a lap of 1:46.120s before returning to the pits and then just as the clock clicked down to zero Lello went 5th on 1:45.772s.
Tomorrow’s 30 lap Feature Race will see Lello starting 5th from the 3rd row of the grid with Stefano one row behind in 8th and with a number of potential passing places on this new track both of the Racing Engineering drivers will be looking to finish on the podium.
Thomas Couyotopoulo, Sporting Director of Racing Engineering:"An interesting day for us today at Sochi as it was the first time for all the teams to race here, which is always a challenge. We tried different things during free practice and engineers chose the best solution for qualifying. We have Lello in P5 and Stefano in P8. On his first set of tyres Stefano was the victim of Nasr impeding him in last corner on his flying lap. There was actually contact between the two cars and Stefano broke his front wing, an incident which greatly affected the remainder of his session, he had to come to the pits early to change the wing and he was bit out of sequence compared to the rest afterwards. Lello finished the session in P5, 3 tenths of a second off pole. There are still some points to be improved on the driving as well as the car and we know we could have had both cars in the top 5 today. The circuit is interesting, challenging and changing all the time as with each session there is more grip. I am sure we will see an interesting race tomorrow."
Raffaele Marciello:"Today’s qualifying was not bad when compared to free practice where we were not so fast. During the second run on my second flying lap I made a mistake, so I think I lost a bit of time there, not for pole or P2, but P3 was possible. P5 is still a good position to start from and to fight tomorrow. The track is quite nice; it’s a bit like Abu Dhabi and Valencia, quite fast, so I like it.”
Stefano Coletti:"It was a bit of a hectic qualifying. At the end of the first stint, due to all the traffic I was last or maybe second to last, so we decided to go back on track quickly to avoid all the traffic. On my first flying lap I had traffic as someone came out of the pitlane, on my second flying lap I lost it in turn 13. And then I managed to put everything together and set a fast lap, but my tyres were not at their best anymore, but we still saved it by moving from last to P8. In the end it still went OK.”