Will Stevens takes pressure-filled second victory of 2014 in penultimate race of season
Britain’s Strakka Racing returned to the top step of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series podium at Jerez in Spain this afternoon, thanks to a sensational lights-to-flag drive from series front-runner Will Stevens in round 16.Having earlier taken his maiden FR3.5 pole position for the weekend’s opening encounter, the 23-year-old controlled the race from the outset.
Opening up an advantage of more than a second on the first lap, Stevens increased his lead to 1.7 seconds by the end of the third tour and remained over a second clear up to mid-distance. Compatriot Oli Rowland closed to within just 0.5 seconds by the end of lap 16 but Stevens re-asserted himself and built his lead back up to almost 1.5 seconds with seven laps to go. Driving a faultless race, the final few laps were nonetheless tense for Stevens and Strakka as Rowland closed back in. With nothing to separate the pair on the final lap out of the last corner, Stevens just managed to pip his rival on the line by 0.078 seconds.
“I’m really happy with how today has gone,” said the elated winner, “Pole position and winning the race is the perfect way to start the weekend. We have improved on what we needed to and we can finally show what we are capable of – it’s very pleasing to be able to do that. I am feeling confident moving into tomorrow and hoping to finish the year off in style.”
Matias Laine had a fairly frustrating afternoon with overtaking in the midfield at a real premium. Beginning the race in ninth, the Finnish racer slipped to 12th position on lap one but moved back into 11th spot a lap later. Thereafter, any further gains weren’t possible despite applying plenty of pressure during the first half of the encounter to GP2 Series race winner Marco Sorensen. Post-race, however, a 25 second time penalty for newly crowned champion Carlos Sainz Jnr hoisted Laine into the points-paying top 10.
“The general pace of the car has been very good all weekend,” said Laine, “We missed a few tenths in qualifying so that equated to ninth on the grid. The race from there was frustrating but our pace had potential if we hadn’t been stuck in traffic. We just need to find those three tenths in quali tomorrow!”
Following this afternoon’s race, Stevens is an improved fifth in the drivers’ championship with Laine still in 13th position. In the team standings, Strakka Racing retains sixth place.
Strakka’s fledgling Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 team, meanwhile, was also in action at Jerez today but the first race of the weekend was over almost as quickly as it started for Jake Hughes.
Making their second appearance of the season in the blue riband 2.0-litre Formula Renault category, hopes were high in the Strakka camp after a top five finish for Hughes at the Spanish track a fortnight ago in the Formula Renault 2.0 ALPS series. Unfortunately though, the Briton was caught-up in a multi-car tangle on the opening lap when several drivers were unable to avoid the spinning car of Kevin Jorg. Resulting in damage, the Strakka racer managed to limp back to the pits where he retired.
Qualifying for the final round of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series will get underway at 08.30 (UK time) tomorrow, Sunday, 19th October, with the race itself following at 12.45 (UK time). The last race of the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 campaign precedes the FR3.5 encounter at 11.30 (UK time).