New P Zero makes successful GP3 debut
The medium compound tire was used for the first two rounds in Barcelona and in Istanbul Park. For the Valencia circuit, the soft-compound tire - designed to deliberately degrade and slide - made its first appearance.
The demanding street circuit, which runs around the famed America's Cup harbor in Valencia, incorporates a wide variety of speeds and corners, testing the drivers and their 280-horsepower cars to the limit. The challenge was made even greater by sustained high temperatures in excess of 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
All 30 drivers had a chance to test their cars the week before the race in Valencia, but conditions were quite different than those experienced at race time. For a start, the test took place at Valencia's permanent circuit, instead of the street track, and used the medium-compound rather than soft-compound tires. The test was also held in challenging weather conditions, including some rain that disrupted proceedings.
However, one thing that remained constant was the pace of ART driver Esteban Gutierrez from Mexico. He topped the test times, and a few days later claimed pole position for race one on the soft-compound Pirelli tires. When the lights went to green he was gradually able to pull out a winning margin over the course of the half-hour race, setting fastest lap at the same time. Canada's Robert Wickens was second (to move up to second in the championship) while Spaniard Roberto Merhi - making his GP3 debut - finished an impressive third.
The second race, held on Sunday morning in front of all the Formula One teams and Grand Prix crowds, was won by Swiss driver Nico Muller, who started from second on the grid to claim his first victory. The front of the grid for race two is formed of the top eight from race one reversed, with the rest of the field starting in their race one finishing order. Merhi was second in the race to crown an extremely successful weekend for the local hero while pole-sitter James Jakes was third.
In the championship, Gutierrez has extended his lead while Wickens is second. American driver Alexander Rossi had a weekend to forget in Valencia and so drops to third in the standings. ART Grand Prix leads the teams' standings from Manor Racing and Jenzer Motorsport.
"With the introduction of the new soft tire, we are clearly on the right road as we noticed that there was more degradation and sliding, just as we intended,” Pirelli Racing Manager Mario Isola said. “However, it's also clear that we can go a bit further in this direction to improve the show, and that is something we will work on for the future."
The next two races of the eight-round GP3 Series takes place at the British Grand Prix in the newly developed Silverstone circuit in England from July 10-11.