GP2 rookie Earl Bamber put in a sterling debut performance to claim sixth place, and a second row grid slot for Sunday, in the opening race of the new Asia Series campaign at Shanghai International.
The Kiwi was taking in his first race in a car with ground effect, but showed no sign of nerves as he carried his qualifying form into the 34-lap race around the Chinese Grand Prix venue.
He made a strong start before working his way up from ninth on the grid to run sixth behind GP2 veteran Vitaly Petrov and comfortably ahead of Jerome d'Ambrosio and Luca Filippi in the early stages.
"I had an interesting start and found myself a bit in a sandwich between [Davide] Valsecchi and Filippi where I lost one position, but gained it again in the first corner after going wide," he recounted, "After that, I was fighting with Petrov, and that very soon put me back in sixth place behind strong drivers.
"I was able to keep Jerome d'Ambrosio behind me having passed him at the start, and I was maintaining the pace and lapping consistently. We had decided as part of the team's strategy not to complete our pit-stop in the first laps of the race, so we waited until the safety car was deployed. My stop went rather smoothly but, importantly, because of the safety car, I gained nothing and lost nothing. I rejoined as the safety car was still controlling the race before the tenth lap."
Despite dropping away from Petrov at the restart, Bamber held position once the field was up and running again, and was able to do so again when the safety car appeared for a second time in the late stages.
"As part of my first experience driving under a safety car, I found it hard to keep the tyre temperature up during the five laps that it was out," he related, "The safety car came out another time nine laps before the end and I had the same problem with cooling tyres. Overall, though, my first race in GP2 Asia was really good fun. I had a good pit-stop and do not feel tired, although it was one of my longest races ever."
The Kiwi, a former winner of the FBMW Asia title and frontrunner in Formula V6 Asia over the last couple of years, finished seven places ahead of experienced Meritus team-mate Alex Yoong, impressing those on the pit-wall.
"Earl Bamber had a strong race to climb from ninth on the grid to sixth and take three valuable points for our team on his debut," Meritus founder Peter Thompson commented, "The team has shown it is very competitive in race conditions and we're looking forward to consolidating our strong first race result in the second outing tomorrow."
Bamber will start third on the grid, behind Valsecchi and fellow rookie Chris van der Drift, when the top eight drivers are reversed for Sunday's sprint race.