Daniel Abt claimed his second GP3 win in the space of a week in a crazy penultimate race of the season at Monza, sensationally becoming the only man who can stop Mitch Evans from winning the title after Evans and rivals Antonio Felix da Costa and Aaro Vainio all hit trouble of some kind.
The race began with drama, as Matias Laine and Tio Ellinas made the best starts from fourth and fifth on the grid to move ahead of front-row starters Evans and Felix da Costa on the run down to the first corner. Ellinas then ran into the back of Laine, sending both across the inside of the chicane and leaving Evans and Felix da Costa on their outside with little option other than to cut the corner too.
Felix da Costa rejoined in second behind Laine, while Evans dropped down the order. There was worse to come for the New Zealander though when he ran wide into the gravel exiting the Lesmos. He plummeted towards the back and then came into the pits before retiring. Evans, who had a 25.5 point lead at the start of the race, looked distraught as chief rival Felix da Costa snatched the lead of the race from Laine at the start of lap two.
After starting seventh, Abt ran fourth at the end of the first lap, but passed David Fumanelli for third at the second chicane on lap three. He was soon into second place past Laine at the start of lap three, and two laps later he was looking for the lead past Felix da Costa, making the move at the second chicane.
On the following lap Abt’s teammate Aaro Vainio took second place from Felix da Costa at the Parabolica, but the Portuguese driver got a better run out of the corner and literally pushed the Finn down half of the pit straight. Disaster soon struck for Felix da Costa as he slowed further round the lap with his car stuck in gear. He managed to rectify the problem, but only after dropping right to the back.
Relegated to ninth on the first lap following the first corner contact, Ellinas had brought himself back into contention in the battle for the win. After trying and failing to find a way past teammate Abt, Vainio was passed by the flying Cypriot at the first chicane on lap 13 of 16. Vainio took the place back at the second chicane, but Ellinas sealed the move for good at the start of lap 14.
Ellinas was eyeing the victory, but was unable to make a move for Abt at the end of the last lap due to yellow flags through the Parabolica after his own Marussia Manor teammate Dmitry Suranovich had run wide into the tyre wall the lap before. Abt took the win ahead of Ellinas while Vainio crossed the line in third place, but further drama was added when Vainio was immediately given a 20 second penalty for setting a personal best sector time in that final sector where the yellows were flying. That dropped him to 11th, out of the points and joining 15th place finisher Felix da Costa out of title contention.
Abt’s win moves him into second place in the standings, 14 points behind Evans. Abt will therefore need to win the race from eighth on the reverse grid and collect the 15 points with it to deny Evans.
Asked on the podium whether he thought such a scenario would have been possible, he said: “To be honest, not at all. We really struggled in qualifying, we had too much understeer on the car. I told my engineer, “Give me a car with oversteer” and that’s what I call a car with oversteer. It was fantastic to drive. The start was really good, it was really close into the first corner and, yeah, suddenly I was in the lead. It was crazy. I just had to defend, I knew the guys behind are also quick and it’s really tough in Monza to pull away. But in the end P1 two times in seven days – that’s what I call a good week.”
Having shown good pace throughout his rookie season, Ellinas’ second place was his first GP3 podium.
“Basically this year we have been quite unlucky with the results,” he said. “We have some issues with the car sometimes and we didn’t deliver the results, but the team did a great job this weekend and finally we are on the podium.”
Laine inherited the final podium spot following his compatriot Vainio’s penalty. Conor Daly came out on top in a battle with Patric Niderhauser throughout the second-half of the race to take fourth place ahead of the Swiss rookie. Fumanelli was sixth after keeping Marlon Stockinger and Giovanni Venturini at bay. Tamas Pal Kiss and William Buller completed the top ten.
The final race of the season takes place at 8:00 BST on Sunday.