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Preview: GP2 And GP3 Seasons Resume In Valencia

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After a few weeks away from racing while the Formula 1 grid jetted off to Canada and back, the GP2 Series and GP3 Series seasons resume this weekend in Valencia in support of the European Grand Prix.

For GP2, the end of the weekend marks the halfway point of the campaign. Last year Valencia was just the fourth round of the season, with the top five in the standings separated by just two points. This year the expanded calendar makes Valencia the sixth weekend of the year, and things are somewhat less close at the head of the points.

Davide Valsecchi sprinted out into a healthy lead with his triple victory in Bahrain, and although he's only had a best result of third from the past four races he has managed to extend his advantage in the points from 24 to 31.

Nearest rival Luiz Razia struggled to replicate his early season pace in Barcelona and Monaco, though he used reverse grid pole in Spain to claim victory. He was running down in ninth during the first Monaco race when he picked up a puncture on debris from Esteban Gutierrez in front him.

It's Giedo van der Garde who's emerged as a real contender over the past couple of race weekends. The Caterham man ended his win drought in the first race in Barcelona and then scored a double podium finish in Monaco. That's propelled him from seventh to third in the standings, but he's still 56 points adrift of Valsecchi.

He's going to need to continue that kind of form for the rest of the season in order to overhaul the gap to the leader, and even if the Dutchman is a stronger driver than Valsecchi there have to be doubts as to whether the relatively new Caterham squad can carry the fight to the super-experienced DAMS outfit.

The odds in Valencia for van der Garde are good though – he led the feature race comfortably last year for the home team Addax until he picked up a drive-through penalty for ignoring yellow flags.

It is starting to look like a three-horse race for the title. The rest of Valsecchi's competition have failed to capitalise over the past two events. Max Chilton lies fourth just behind van der Garde, and while he's shown consistency in both pace and in picking up points the Carlin driver is still chasing a first victory and doesn't look like he's got what it takes to close the gap to the leaders.

Gutierrez has failed to live up to pre-season expectations, often lacking the outright pace in qualifying and therefore he hasn't been on the podium since the second weekend of the season. As such he's now sixth in the standings and surely too far away from Valsecchi to launch a title charge. Nonetheless he'll be hoping to really kickstart his season with a repeat of the win he got in Valencia last year. Lotus GP teammate James Calado continues to lie ahead of the Mexican in the points, even if a potential second-place in the Monaco sprint race ended in his first retirement for 56 races.

Marcus Ericsson is another pre-season favourite who had been struggling, but the Swede turned a corner in Monaco with a second place in the feature race. Like Gutierrez, his only win in GP2 came at a Valencia sprint race, but this time back in 2010.

Marcus Ericsson - Photo Credit: Alastair Staley/GP2 Media Service

Ericsson was victorious in Valencia in 2010. He hasn’t won anywhere since – Photo Credit: Alastair Staley/GP2 Media Service

The man who beat Ericsson in Monaco was Johnny Cecotto, who stunned to take his maiden victory. While that will have gone a little way to proving the doubters wrong, he really needs to prove that was no flash-in-the-pan performance in the unusual environment that Monaco produces, and that he can show that pace consistently.

Up to that point he had failed to live up to either of Addax's 2011 drivers, Charles Pic and van der Garde, who last year qualified on the front row at Valencia – the team's home race. No pressure, Johnny.

While GP2 is reaching the halfway point of its season, GP3 is only just getting started with Valencia being round three of eight.

Aaro Vainio emerged as the man to beat in Monaco, at the cost of the overwhelming pre-season favourite Mitch Evans who he displaced at the head of the championship.

Last year in Valencia Evans took the lead of the standings with a strong weekend, and he'll look for a repeat this weekend to overturn the 11 point deficit he has to his Finnish rival.

Marlon Stockinger has been one of the surprise packages of the season so far, and is just four points shy of Evans.

Behind him it's all very close, with Antonio Felix Da Costa, Conor Daly, Kevin Ceccon, Daniel Abt, Matias Laine, David Fumanelli and Patric Niederhauser all covered by just four points and all looking likely to be regular points finishers during the season. They'll all hope they can start taking the fight to Vainio and Evans out front.

The GP3 drivers have been behind the wheel since Monaco, and were last week testing at the nearby Ricardo Tormo Circuit, a little over half an hour's drive away from their venue this weekend.

William Buller was the pacesetter there, and after finishing the Monaco weekend upside down against the Ste Devote barriers after a clash with Carlin teammate Alex Brundle (who returns to GP3 this weekend after his Le Mans adventure) the Northern Irishman is now on a high having won at the recent Euro F3 meeting in Austria.

The grid has taken a bit of a hit for this weekend, with neither Jakub Klasterka or Kotaro Sakurai taking part after being absent from the test last week. Neither are replaced, even though Jenzer ran Venezuelan female racer Samin Gomez in Klasterka's place last week. This reduces the field to 24, six down on what is should be.

Mitch Evans - Photo Credit: Drew Gibson/GP3 Media Service

Evans enjoyed a good weekend in Valencia last year – Photo Credit: Drew Gibson/GP3 Media Service

  • GP2 Free Practice takes place at 11:00 BST on Friday, with Qualifying at 15:00. The Feature Race is at 14:40 on Saturday, with the Sprint Race at 09:35 on Sunday.
  • GP3 Free Practice is at 07:30 BST on Friday morning, ahead of Qualifying at 08:45 on Saturday. The two races take place at 16:20 on Saturday and 08:25 on Sunday.
  • All GP2 sessions, and GP3 qualifying and races, will be shown live on Sky Sports F1 HD in the UK.
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Peter joined the TCF team in September 2010 and covers GP2 and GP3 along with WTCC and Formula Two. You can find him on twitter at @PeteAllen_
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