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GP3: Palou wins race as Esteban Ocon crowned 2015 champion

Alex Palou claimed a dominant win in GP3's 100th race, as the season finale saw Esteban Ocon crowned 2015 GP3 Series champion over Luca Ghiotto.
Sunday morning at Abu Dhabi was the venue for the 100th race in GP3 history since the series began in 2010, and also the final race of the 2015 season. But most of all, it was also the moment when we finally found out who take this year's championship title and follow in the footsteps of Esteban Gutiérrez, Valtteri Bottas, Mitch Evans, Daniil Kvyat and Alex Lynn.

Despite five victories to date through the year, Luca Ghiotto's pace seemed to desert him when it came to the title decider. The Trident man simply didn't have the speed needed to carry the fight to his rival, and when the dust settled it was Esteban Ocon who had clinched the title to secure a clean sweep across the GP3 and GP2 titles for the ART squad.

"I'm really happy, I can't describe what the feeling is," said Ocon, who announced on Friday that he had been retained by Mercedes as a junior driver for 2016. "It's so great, it's what we wanted to achieve since the beginning."

CLICK: Full GP3 race 2 results from Abu Dhabi

Ocon had started the race ahead by six points in the championship standings but once place behind on the grid. Reverse grid rules had given pole position to Campos Racing's Álex Palou with Carlin's Antonio Fuoco next to him on the front row, and then Koiranen GP's Matt Parry was in third place alongside Ghiotto and Ocon a row back in fifth starting next to Parry's team mate Jimmy Eriksson. Behind them, poised to crash the championship party given half a chance, were Arden's Emil Bernstorff and ART's Marvin Kirchhöfer, themselves involved in a tight battle over who would finish the season in third place in the standings.

Tension was high on the grid as the starting lights went on one-by-one in the brilliant sunshine of high noon at Yas Marina Circuit. When they went out, Palou narrowly won the drag down to the first corner over Fuoco. Ocon meanwhile was in a feisty move, making light contact with Ghiotto off the line and then banging wheels with Parry into the first corner which sent the Koiranen car off the track onto the run-off area. Although the Briton recovered, he was heading to pit lane with damage to repair on the #12 putting him firmly at the back for the rest of the race.

Having lost out in his own clash with Ocon, Ghiotto then briefly lost fourth place to Eriksson, but was then able to fend off Bernstorff and then launch a counter-attack on the Swede to win back his lost position from where he could start to hunt down Ocon who was less than a second ahead of him on the road. The Trident was able to close up under braking, but then the ART would pull away with superior traction over the corner making for a fascinating and very even battle between the pair over the opening laps which quickly settled down into a game of who could pull off the better tyre conservation and have something left for the big finish.

As the race passed the midway point, it was clear that Ocon slightly had the upper hand in the tense game of championship cat-and-mouse. He was starting to pull away and pull out a gap over Ghiotto, who was being plagued by Eriksson who was threatening to compound the Italian's woes with an overtake at any moment. Ghiotto's only hope was that Ocon had asked too much of his tyres too early in the day and that the momentum would swing back in his favour in the closing laps.

Unfortunately for Ghiotto, those hopes proved to be no more substantial than a desert mirage. As the laps counted down to the end of the season, Ocon's pace showed no significant signs of waning and when the chequered flag came out it was Ocon who crossed the line in third place with a one second advantage over Ghiotto. It was enough for Ocon to seal the GP3 championship to the delight of the ART team which had already succeeded in clinching team title to go with the its GP2 driver and team equivalents in a dramatic clean sweep across the two series for the French squad.

The only thing that was denied ART was victory in the milestone 100th race. That was clinched by Alex Palou in his maiden series victory in GP3, the Spaniard having never looked back after winning the charge down to the first corner and who spent the entire race out in front completely on his own with a lead that ultimately stretched out to over four seconds over second place man Fuoco.

Ghiotto was able to secure fourth place but it was too little, too late as far as his title hopes had been concerned. Eriksson was able to soak up late pressure from Bernstorff, while Kirchhöfer had a relatively anonymous race to finish the year with as he coasted to seventh ahead of Jenzer Motorsport's Pål Varhaug who claimed the final point of the 2015 season.

Ocon was congratulated by the ART team before heading to the podium; and once the formalities were over, it was time for the real celebrations to begin down in the GP3 paddock now that all the hard work of the year was behind them.

Of course, it's just a matter of days before work for 2016 gets underway with post-season testing at Yas Marina on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The fun never stops for long in motorsport with a new GP3/16, model chassis for the teams to get to grips with before the new season starts in May.

See full GP3 race 2 results from Abu Dhabi and final championship standings for 2015.

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
2015 GP3 Series Round 9. Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Sunday 29 November 2015. Esteban Ocon (FRA, ART Grand Prix), third position, and his team celebrate winning the championship. Photo: Zak Mauger/GP3 Series Media Service.
2015 GP3 Series Round 9. Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Sunday 29 November 2015. Esteban Ocon (FRA, ART Grand Prix) Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series 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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