ART Grand Prix’s Charles Leclerc extends Series lead in Belgium
ART Grand Prix’s Charles Leclerc claimed his third GP3 victory in Race 1 at Spa-Francorchamps. The Scuderia Ferrari Team development driver started the race from pole and led from start to finish in an apparent effortless style over the 17 laps. Arden International’s Jake Dennis stormed through the field to steal second in the final laps after starting from P13 whilst McLaren protégé and ART Grand Prix’s Nyck de Vries pocketed third place.
The glorious weather conditions continued for Round 6 of the 2016 GP3 Series season. DAMS’ Jake Hughes joined the Monegasque on the front row with De Vries and Trident’s Antonio Fuoco starting from the second row. Leclerc made a clean getaway with Hughes slightly slow away from his grid spot; thus allowing De Vries into second. The safety car was deployed following a Turn 1 incident involving Hughes, Matthew Parry and Arjun Maini: the trio all retired with damage as did Nirei Fukuzumi who was caught up in the accident.
The race was run behind the safety car for four laps with the race resuming on lap five. Leclerc maintained his advantage over De Vries, Fuoco and Dennis, whilst title contender Alexander Albon was up to P12 after qualifying P17.
Trident’s Giuliano Alesi who had started P19, was up to an impressive P8 on lap one and was in the mix of a mammoth battle of drivers eager to grab reverse pole and take the final points on offer. At the midway point, Leclerc maintained his advantage over his Dutch teammate of 0.8s which remained consistent for a number of laps. Fuoco was 3.4s behind his fellow Ferrari junior rival, with Dennis, Steijn Schothorst and Alex Palou completing the top six.
Leclerc began to pull away at the front lap by lap, whilst Albon was desperately trying to claw his way through the pack, but was caught in the fierce tussle with Alesi, Konstantin Tereschenko and Jack Aitken. On lap 13, Fuoco began to close in on De Vries for second but the pair needed to look in their mirrors as Dennis was on a mission and reeled the duo in. The Briton passed the Italian on lap 14 and one lap later he got the job done on De Vries.
At this point, Leclerc’s advantage at the front was over 4s but Dennis did what he could to close the margin to just over 2s ahead of De Vries and Fuoco. Palou who had run in the top six through-out the race lost pace in the final laps and dropped outside the points whilst Albon still was doing everything possible to pass Frenchman Alesi.
There were more position changes on the final lap as some drivers began to struggle with the soft Pirelli rubber with Aitken making the most of his tyre management skills to move up to fifth. At the chequered flag, Leclerc was overjoyed to celebrate another win, ahead of Dennis who achieved a career-best in GP3 in second place. De Vries scored his third podium of the year ahead of Fuoco who pocketed further points in his title bid.
Renault Academy’s Aitken finished fifth ahead of Schothorst, Santino Ferrucci, and Matevos Isaakyan – the Russian will start Race 2 from reverse pole for Koiranen GP. Albon passed Alesi in the dying moments to steal ninth place, whilst Ferrari Driver Academy’s Alesi scored his first point in his rookie season after some enthralling battles.
Leclerc’s smile could not be bigger: the Monegasque driver posted the fastest lap and has scored the maximum points available so far this weekend. Therefore, he has extended his Series lead to 30 points. His nearest rival is now Fuoco with Albon, two points adrift of the Italian. ART Grand Prix sits pretty at the top of the teams’ standings ahead of Trident and Koiranen GP. Tomorrow’s race starts at 09.15 local time (GMT+2).
Spa-Francorchamps Race 1
Charles Leclerc
ART Grand Prix
Jake Dennis
Arden International
Nyck de Vries
ART Grand Prix
Antonio Fuoco
Jack Aitken
Arden International
Steijn Schothorst
Campos Racing
Santino Ferrucci
Matevos Isaakyan
Koiranen GP
Alexander Albon
ART Grand Prix
Giuliano Alesi
Kevin Joerg
Tatiana Calderon
Arden International
Artur Janosz
Alex Palou
Campos Racing
Oscar Tunjo
Jenzer Motorsport
Konstantin Tereschenko
Campos Racing
Akash Nandy
Jenzer Motorsport
Not Classified
Sandy Stuvik
Niko Kari
Koiranen GP
Nirei Fukuzumi
ART Grand Prix
Jake Hughes
Matthew Parry
Koiranen GP
Arjun Maini
Jenzer Motorsport
Fastest Lap : Charles Leclerc (ART Grand Prix) : 2 :09.918 on lap 5