GP3: Christensen, MW Arden deny Gutierrez sweep
15 April 2010
As the chequered flag dropped on the final pre-season GP3 Series test in Barcelona, a last minute push from MW Arden's Michael Christensen snatched a top spot that appeared firmly in the grasp of ART Grand Prix.
Up to that point, the two-day session had been dominated by Esteban Gutierrez, but the final session threw up a few changes at the top, with Dane Christensen posting the quickest time of the afternoon in 1min 37.716secs, just five hundredths of a second ahead of Mexican Gutierrez.
“It's obviously really positive for us to finish the last test so competitively, especially as the first event is back here so shortly," MW Arden team manager Julian Rouse noted, "ART have been so competitive, so it feels good to finally go quicker than them at a circuit on the GP3 calendar.”
Continuing his strong run in third spot was Renger van der Zande for RSC Mucke Motorsport, with a time of 1min 37.913secs just good enough to fend off Carlin driver Dean Smith, while the second MW Arden car of Miki Monras rounded out the top five just 0.008secs behind the Briton. In all, eight different teams filled the top ten places, with Status GP's Daniel Morad finishing sixth, followed by Pal Varhaug (Jenzer Motorsport), Morad's team-mate Robert Wickens, James Jakes (Manor) and surprise package Ollie Oakes, who put in a stellar performance to take Atech CRS GP's first top ten finish.
“I'm very happy with the testing we have completed this spring," Trevor Carlin confirmed, "We've have three new eager drivers in the team who have done plenty of mileage to get to grips with the car, and have been steadily improving lap by lap. Although Dean has been setting the bench mark for the other drivers in Barcelona, everyone is progressing, and we now have a good bank of data to compare. As a team, we still have a lot to learn to get the best out of the cars, but we are finding them responsive to change and easy for the teams and drivers to work with. Barcelona in three weeks time is going to be very exciting to watch.”
The previous three sessions had been the domain of Gutierrez and ART, who were immediately on the pace once the team finally ventured out onto a damp Circuit de Catalunya.
Overnight rain and temperatures hovering around 14 degrees meant that the track was slow to dry, and it was Morad who was first to brave the conditions. For the next three hours, a total of 414 laps were completed, although the session was marred by a number of red flags as the young drivers adjusted to their first damp GP3 Series test.
ART were one of the last teams to take to the track but it didn't stop them picking up from where they left off in Le Castellet two weeks ago. This time it was Gutierrez who posted the top time, his 1min 37.850secs effort seven-tenths quicker than second placed van der Zande and nearly one second quicker than team-mate Alexander Rossi in third.
After topping the time sheets in Le Castellet two weeks ago, Nigel Melker continued his good form in fourth spot, closely followed by new Carlin signing Smith and an impressive drive from Tech 1 Racing's Doru Sechelariu,with Christensen, Jakes and Pablo Sanchez Lopez (Addax) next up.
The three-hour afternoon session offered a few surprises – and a few more red flags – but ART kept a firm grip on the coveted top spot as a few other drivers successfully added themselves to the mix. Gutierrez posted an improved time of 1min 37.480secs to claim the number one spot again, this time nearly half a second clear of the rest of the pack. Second to the 18-year old was Monras, the Spaniard heading Wickens, van der Zande and Smith. Christensen finished sixth, ahead of Mirko Bortolotti (Addax), Simon Trummer (Jenzer), Melker and Rossi, as reliability continued with 1457 laps being completed over the two sessions.
“I've been enjoying the test in Barcelona and it's been more interesting for me because the car behaves so differently to Circuit Paul Ricard," Gutierrez reported, "We've been using all of our data from the two previous tests and running to a really busy testing schedule, especially working on race set-up. Even though ART have been at the top of nearly every test session we never get over confident. I am ready for the first race, but as always we will keep trying to improve and keep pushing tomorrow.”
The second morning started on a drying track after heavy rain, with teams initially opting for wet weather tyres. However, the 30 youngsters on show didn't let the weather dampen their spirits, matching fast laps and offs as they continued to push to find their limits.
As the track tried and drivers were able to go out on fresh slick Pirelli tyres the lap times dropped rapidly. Gutierrez matched his best time from day one almost exactly, while Christensen took second spot for MW Arden after posting his best time of the test so far. van der Zande finished the session in third spot, while Varhaug bounced back from an off on the opening day to put in an impressive performance in fourth spot, the 19-year-old's highest placing in a GP3 test to date.
Jakes rounded out the top five for Manor, ahead of Rossi, Morad, Nico Muller (Jenzer), Monras and Wickens, with the top ten drivers were separated by just six tenths of a second.
"ART Grand Prix look strong in all track conditions, but drivers and teams have been testing with different fuel levels and set-ups, so it's not until qualifying at the Spanish GP that we will truly all know where we stand," Status team manager Simon Cayzer summed up, "What's a clear factor, though, is that there are 30 very equal and competitive cars out there, and there will be multiple stoppages in sessions - there's a going to be a great skill in finding a clear lap to set a time, and the fact that some front-runners will sometimes be unlucky is going to mix up the grids and make the racing even more exciting."
GP3 will be back on track in Barcelona for the opening round of the series on 8-9 May.