American Rossi romps to victory at Paul Ricard
American Alexander Rossi (Fortec Motorsports) came out on top in the weekend’s second FR 3.5 Series race at the Paul Ricard HTTT, taking the flag ahead of Daniel Ricciardo (ISR). Third-placed Jean-Eric Vergne (Carlin) also had every reason to be cheerful, the Frenchman collecting 15 points to cut Robert Wickens’ (Carlin) championship lead to just two points after the Canadian suffered a blowout, leaving the title race wide open ahead of the season finale in Barcelona in October.
|Alexander Rossi, one of the fastest young drivers in Europe looks set to become the next American in F1|
The teeming rain and two spins did not prevent Vergne from taking pole position in morning qualifying ahead of Rossi. Thankfully the forecast was brighter for the start of the race, prompting the whole field to opt for slicks.
Producing the perfect start, Rossi made an instant attempt to snatch the lead from Vergne only for the Frenchman to hold his line on the inside of turn one and retain his position. The safety car was soon out, however, when Jan Charouz (Gravity-Charouz), Daniel McKenzie (Comtec Racing), Nelson Panciatici (KMP Racing) and Daniil Move (P1 Motorsport) were all involved in a shunt at the first chicane.
Vergne held onto his lead on the restart, followed by Rossi, Ricciardo, Wickens and Jake Rosenzweig (Mofaz Racing), the Frenchman posting a succession of fastest laps in the run-up to the obligatory pit stop. Rossi kept pace with the leader, while Ricciardo was the first of the frontrunners to make his stop, pitting right at the start of the window. Meanwhile, a mistake by Wickens allowed Rosenzweig to leapfrog him into third.
|(L to R) Daniel Ricciardo (2nd) Alexander Rossi (1st) and Jean Eric Vergne (3rd). All three will be in F1 someday - bank on it|
|Diederik van der Laan / Dutch Photo Agency|
On lap 4 and with only a 0.4 second gap between them, Carlin’s Vergne chose to pit early, on the same lap as the Fortec Motorsports team strategy had for Rossi. Fortec made an instant decision to keep Alexander out on track to push as hard as he could to open up the gap behind him as race leader.
Rossi led after his perfect Fortec pitstop on lap 10 for fresh tires. He then, with clear air ahead of him, increased the gap between himself and HRT F1 driver Ricciardo to over three seconds. Although Rossi’s car appeared to be showing great race pace as he set the fastest lap, the engine overheating alarms showed in the cockpit of the young American.
Alexander, concerned about losing the engine before race end, informed the team on the out lap from his stop that the engine temperature had climbed over 35 degrees Celsius. Alexander began to short-shift for the remaining 12 laps of the race to save the engine, managing to maintain a comfortable three seconds gap to Ricciardo, taking the win by 4.5 seconds at the end. Post race the team found a large piece of paper that had blown in to a side pod, covering the radiator and causing the overheating. Team data determined the incident happened on Rossi’s out lap after his pit stop.
His tactics having worked to perfection, the American was on course for victory, with little to choose between the four men behind him and Spain’s Sergio Canamasas (BVM Target) also moving into contention. Under pressure, the Canadian went wide round a corner and punctured, forcing him into the pits once more and down to 19th place, well out of the points.
|Rossi acknowledges his pit crew as he crosses the line for victory|
Encountering no such problems except that he was nursing an overheating car, Rossi held on to his lead to complete his second win of the season. Competing in his last race in the series, Ricciardo, who will be driving at the Japanese Grand Prix on the same weekend as the FR 3.5 Series finale in Barcelona, took second ahead of Vergne. The Frenchman’s third place completed a near-perfect weekend for him, as he now lies just two points behind Wickens in the overall standings with two more races to come at Catalunya.
||Jean Eric VERGNE
||INTERNATIONAL DRACO RACING
||Daniel DE JONG
||INTERNATIONAL DRACO RACING
||TECH 1 RACING
||GRAVITY - CHAROUZ
Arthur Pic Tech 1 15 laps
Walter Grubmuller P1 13 laps
Sten Pentus Epic 4 laps
Daniil Move P1 1 lap
Daniel McKenzie Comtec 0 laps
Jan Charouz Gravity-Charouz 0 laps
Alexander Rossi: “I’ve had my ups and downs this year so it’s great to get a win. There was a little bit of rain at the start and the conditions were tricky. Staying out on my own while everyone else went into the pits made the difference I think. There was a lot going on at the start but things had settled down by the end and it’s a great result.”
Daniel Ricciardo: “I’ve had some great years in the World Series by Renault, in the Eurocup FR 2.0 and the FR 3.5 Series. My thanks to everyone. We put on a new set of tires in the pits and I was surprised to see Jean-Eric behind me after my stop. I was struggling with the car halfway through and I knew I wasn’t going to win. All the same, this second place is a way of saying thanks to ISR.”
Jean-Eric Vergne: “I should have won this race by a distance, but didn’t turn out that way. I lost time in the pits and then I just couldn’t find a way past Daniel. He blocked me off and we collided. The points are still valuable though, and it’s going to be more open than ever in Barcelona.”
Jamie Dye, Team Manager, Fortec Motorsports “Simply brilliant! Alexander performed faultlessly from start to finish and the team strategy was spot on. Congratulations to everyone in the Fortec team and to Alexander after what has been a challenging weekend. The result today is extremely well deserved.”
The drivers were all on wet weather setups for the weekend’s second qualifying session. But if the weather conditions changed the hierarchy did not. Jean-Eric Vergne (Carlin Motorsport) set the pace in front of his team-mate, Robert Wickens.
The drivers tried to up the pace, which led to a few spins including Vergne who put a foot out of bed. Halfway through the session, Daniel Ricciardo (ISR) was on provisional pole with a time of 2m 14.399s in front of Alexander Rossi (Fortec Motorsports) Wickens, Albert Costa (Epic Racing) and Daniil Move (P1 Motorsport).
The track improved towards the end of the session as Vergne proved with a lap in 2m 14.045s. Several drivers pitted to prepare for a final run. Rossi set a 2m 13.956s, but Vergne wasn’t having any. He put in a final flying lap in 2m 13.142s to bag his second pole of the weekend, while his main rival for the title, Robert Wickens fell back to seventh on the grid.
Jean-Eric Vergne: “It was like a skating rink out there. I spun twice. With these tires you’ve got one or two good laps; after that it’s difficult to improve. So you can’t screw up. I’d prefer a dry track this afternoon as in the rain it can all go wrong very quickly!”
Alexander Rossi: “We were quick in the dry and we’re also on the pace in the wet. Yesterday, my race was ruined by a piece of another car which got stuck under the flat bottom. Today, I have to win!”