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GP2: Vandoorne way out in front in Hungary practice

ART's Stoffel Vandoorne was comfortably fastest in Friday morning's GP2 Series practice session at the Hungaroring.
It won't come as a shock to anyone who has been paying attention in 2015 to learn that ART's Stoffel Vandoorne has once again firmly set himself up as the man to beat in this weekend's latest round of the GP2 Series championship.

The McLaren F1 test and development driver was four tenths faster than his nearest rival Rio Haryanto at the end of practice, while by comparison six tenths of a second was enough to cover all of the next ten positions by the time the chequered flag came out.

CLICK: Full GP2 Friday morning practice times from the Hungaroring.

Inevitably the day's proceedings were run under the heavy cloud cast by the recent death of former GP2 racer Jules Bianchi, who took part in 48 GP2 and GP2 Asia races between 2009 and 2011 before his move to F1, twice finishing in third place in the drivers championship while competing with ART, Vandoorne's current team. "Jules was a true competitor, a great driver, a fighter, and a winner," the GP2 Series organisers had earlier said in a statement. "Of him, we will remember his genuine smile and friendliness."

However for this year's 26 competitors in the feeder series it was back to on-track business as usual on Friday morning in Hungary, and the actual weather conditions were dry, sunny and extremely hot for the 45-minute practice session, showing no signs of the short but sharp storms that had swept over the 2.722-mile, 16-turn Hungaroring less than 24 hours previously as the 26 drivers set out to get their first taste of the circuit in 2015.

The first driver to set a genuine flying lap time was DAMS' Pierre Gasly who went to the top with a time of 1:30.179s half a second from his team mate Alex Lynn. Inevitably Vandoorne was quick to respond and go top with a new benchmark of 1:29.729s at the same time that Racing Engineering's Alexander Rossi improving to second albeit still 0.242s in arrears of the Belgian.

Lynn then improved on his earlier effort to go to the top for the first time with a new offering of 1:29.549s, before a strong showing from Rio Haryanto was enough to put the Campos Racing driver into second place just 0.153s behind the Briton. With the cars beginning to return to pit lane for a round of set-up tweaks, Vandoorne soon took back control of the time sheets with a lap clocking in at 1:28.969s while the DAMS pair also trimmed off a few tenths to put Lynn second and Gasly third, until Haryanto was able to punch out one final flier that saw him leapfrog the pair and move back into second place albeit 0.415s off Vandoorne's pace.

With 20 minutes of the session complete and most cars back sitting on pit road, Haryanto's Campos team mate Arthur Pic managed to split the DAMS pair and claim fourth for himself, demoting Gasly down to fifth place. That pushed Rafielle Marciello (Trident) down into sixth ahead of Andre Negrao (Arden), Sergey Sirotkin (Rapax) and Mitch Evans (Russian Time) with Rossi rounding out the top ten just two thousandths outside of being within a second of Vandoorne's target time at the top.

Drivers struggled to find any additional pace when they returned to action after their first intermission, and the only change in the top ten was an improvement by Nick Yelloly to eighth place for Hilmer Motorsport. Everyone was still pushing hard, however, as proved by Norman Nato running off in turn 5 in the Arden and kicking up a lot of dust and grass before managing to find his way back onto the track with no lasting harm done.

The cars returned to the track for their final runs with around ten minutes of the session remaining, but the blistering track temperatures hovering at 50C meant that no one was able to find any extra pace compared with their earlier efforts. Green sectors were rare and purples ones completely non-existent as teams appeared to settle for race distance simulations to get a sense of the aggressive tyre degradation experienced by the Pirelli medium compound rubber on this notoriously tight and twisty circuit.

Sergio Canamasas finished the session in 23rd place, with the Spaniard now having taken up a position behind the wheel of the Hilmer #25 car. It's this third team of the season to date, having started off with MP Motorsports before majorly falling out with the squad at Austria, and then putting in a one-off appearance at Silverstone with Lazarus in place of the unwell Zoel Amberg.

Happily, Amberg was quite recovered enough to return to action this weekend. The 22-year-old Swiss driver ended the session in 24th place after running only 12 laps - the least of anyone taking part - and did not even come out for the final part of the session.

Amberg finished just ahead of this week's two new faces in the GP2 paddock, with Nicholas Latifi taking Canamasas' old seat at MP and Sean Gelael making his series début this weekend at Carlin after former driver Marco Sørensen exited the squad last month in order to focus on his GT Racing activities instead.

Latifi at least has some prior experience in the current GP2 car, the 20-year-old Canadian having made starts with Hilmer in the final two races of the 2014 season at Abu Dhabi. Latifi has been confirmed for this weekend's races at Budapest and for "other selected rounds" in 2015 as can be fitted around his Formula Renault 3.5 Series commitments with Arden.

Gelael will similarly miss the GP2 race in Monza as he too takes part in a conflicting round of the Formula Renault 3.5 championship for the Carlin-affiliated Jagonya Ayam team, but the 18-year-old Indonesian will be racing at the GP2 rounds at Spa, Sochi and Yas Marina.

On Friday he was understandably just getting to grips with the new car and learning the track, and so concentrated on the quantity of laps rather than raw pace. Although he was the slowest man in the session, he turned 22 laps in total - more than anyone else, and without incident, putting him on a firm footing going into this afternoon's qualifying session which gets underway at 3.55pm local time (2.55pm BST) following the end of Formula 1 Free Practice 2.

The first GP2 race of the weekend will be the 37-lap feature race on Saturday afternoon at 3.40pm (2.40pm BST), with the Sunday sprint race consisting of 28 laps getting underway at 10.35am (9.35am BST) the following morning.

The GP3 Series is also in action this weekend, starting with practice on Friday evening at 5.50pm (4.50pm BST) with qualifying set for Saturday morning at 9.45am (8.45am BST). Race 1 consisting of 22 laps will be held later in the day at 5.20pm (4.20pm BST) and the 17-lap race 2 following on Sunday morning at 9.25am (8.25am BST).

See full GP2 Friday morning practice times from the Hungaroring.

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
2015 GP2 Series Round 6. Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary. Friday 24 July 2015. Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL, ART Grand Prix) Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Media Service
2015 GP2 Series Round 6. Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary. Friday 24 July 2015. Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL, ART Grand Prix) Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Media Service
Luca Ghiotto - Trident Racing [credit: GP2 Series]
Luca Ghiotto - Trident Racing [credit: GP2 Series]
Antonio Giovinazzi - Prema Racing [credit: GP2 Series]
Antonio Giovinazzi - Prema Racing [credit: GP2 Series]
Pierre Gasly - PREMA Racing
Antonio Giovinazzi - Prema Racing [credit: GP2 Series]
Pierre Gasly - PREMA Racing
Antonio Giovinazzi - Prema Racing
Sergio Canamasas - Carlin
Alex Lynn - DAMS
Alex Lynn - DAMS
Sergey Sirotkin - ART Grand Prix
Sergey Sirotkin - ART Grand Prix
Sergey Sirotkin - ART Grand Prix
Pierre Gasly - Prema Racing
Norman Nato - Racing Engineering

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