LORDS OF THE RING

By The1nsider 3 weeks ago

With one more stop-off before the 2018 season wound into its summer break, the GP3 Series fraternity found their way to the Hungaroring for the fifth round of the year, overlapping the midway point of the calendar. With sweltering track conditions paired with the soft compound Pirelli tyre, the field had an extra element of degradation to manage as everyone looked to enter the summer break on a high.

In Free Practice, David Beckmann posted the fastest time to get off to the best possible start at his new home; having moved from Jenzer Motorsport to replace the F2-bound Alessio Lorandi at Trident, the German driver settled in quickly to draw first blood in Budapest. A more familiar name appeared at the top of the timesheets when the chequered flag fell in qualifying, and series leader Anthoine Hubert fired in a 1:31.409 to clinch his second consecutive pole position.

“To get a pole position you need to do almost the perfect lap with no mistakes,” explained Hubert, “and it’s quite hard with these tyres because you don’t have too many chances, so you have to be ready on the one or two laps that count. Yeah, we prepared ourselves after free practice, we worked well and I think it paid off today.

“I don’t really know what to expect on the tyres so we’ll see in the race how much degradation we get. This morning, it wasn’t huge, and we could get two push laps out of them – I could have done a bit better on both laps, the car changed a bit, but I did the same lap twice so no big degradation. The target is to get a good start, keep the lead, and I’ll try to do the same as I did in Silverstone and build a gap over a second and maintain it until the end. That’s the way to manage it, but you don’t know what will happen – a storm, rain, a safety car – anything can happen.”

Although Hubert’s examples of force majeure didn’t come to pass, the Frenchman suffered from a slower start than his rivals at the beginning of Race 1, allowing his ART Grand Prix teammate Nikita Mazepin to charge into the lead, bringing Leonardo Pulcini in tow. Mazepin, who had qualified second despite nursing broken suspension as a result of a collision with Niko Kari early in the session, was eager to build a break over Pulcini, who in turn was looking to secure his first ever GP3 win.

Mazepin looked imperious in the early stages, maintaining a strong gap over the Italian racer while simultaneously trying to preserve the life in his soft Pirelli tyres. As the race approached middle distance, it appeared as though Pulcini was beginning to reel the Russian in, prompting Mazepin to respond and keep the gap between the two as stagnant as possible. In the final stages, the Force India development driver began to flex his muscles, tapping into the remains of his tyre life to put the lead out of Pulcini’s reach – crossing the line with a 10.6s lead to clinch his second win of 2018.

“This win feels really amazing to be honest,” Mazepin remarked. “When I first came to this championship and won in Barcelona, I was really quite nervous for the race and I was not feeling it so much. This one today I felt good from start to finish, especially because my expectations were to have a difficult race. It rained just before and I was starting from the inside so I was expecting to have a very difficult start and therefore have difficult opportunities to overtake.

“It went really well for me: I had a very good start and it was a very interesting race from within the car because I would say it was the first time this year we had had very high tyre degradation. It was very interesting to manage that. I was a bit surprised to see how much the tyres went off after seven laps. It made me a bit nervous because I was never in a position like this before. It was the same for everyone and I think that whatever I did was right. I’m just happy it went my way. I won the race and I’m really happy.”

The second race was less auspicious for Mazepin, and was unable to improve from his reversed-grid slot of eighth place. At the front, polesitter Dorian Boccolacci came under pressure from fellow front-row starter Juan Manuel Correa at the start, but the Frenchman hung onto the lead and was able to take advantage at the first corner – scampering away while Correa became entrenched in a battle with the ARTs of Callum Ilott and Hubert. The American lost out, while Ilott assumed second and attempted to hunt down Boccolacci.

Having lost a race win due to technical irregularities earlier in the season, Boccolacci was in no mood to let this one go. Immediately, the MP Motorsport driver rocketed away from Ilott and put as much of a gap over the British driver as he could muster – which stood at six seconds by lap nine. Told by the team to manage his tyres until the end of the race, Boccolacci’s advantage over Ilott began to dwindle, but the Ferrari Academy ace was unable to make any further inroads into the lead – ending the race 2.3s behind Boccolacci.

“Today feels really good,” Boccolacci grinned. “I had a really good pace at the beginning. I saved the tyres, but there was no point to push even more otherwise you kill the tyres for nothing. I’m really happy about today, about the improvements we’ve made compared to yesterday. I would like to thank MP Motorsport, all my family and friends who support me. We focus on the next races and try and win properly a Race 1.

“Yesterday I was in the middle of the pack so it was a lot more difficult because you follow drivers and we picked up a lot of tyre degradation on the front tyres. It is even more when you lead because you have no driver in front. But we improved the car for today because we knew what was going to happen today. We predicted well the set-up for today. I think it was the key: I pushed a lot at the beginning and then once the gap was built, I maintained it.”

With just under a month until the GP3 season resumes in Spa-Francorchamps, the drivers have earned a chance to put their feet up and relax ahead of the next round. You can bet that’s not what they’ll be doing, of course – with Hubert’s championship standing at 15 points, the battle for the title will be close-fought, and everyone will be spending their summer trying to find the smallest advantage possible.

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  ISSUE 120 GP3FEATURE
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