The ART Grand Prix team had a good first weekend of the tenth season of the GP2 Series in Bahrain, with Stoffel Vandoorne dominating the feature race to win on his debut, while fellow debutant Takuya Izawa used his tyres superbly to advance to sixth. The Sunday sprint race was not so profitable, but overall both drivers impressed.
Vandoorne qualified second on the grid behind pole-man Jolyon Palmer of DAMS, and jumped into the lead at the first corner, and held on well on both compounds of tyre to finish on top. He also managed to control the restart after the safety car was introduced due to a crash involving Trident Racing’s Axcil Jefferies and the Campos Racing machine of Kimiya Sato. At the end of the race he held off the challenge of Palmer and then Carlin’s Julian Leal to take the spoils.
“Overall, this has been a very good weekend,” said McLaren F1 reserve driver Vandoorne. “We had the potential to take pole position, but I had a puncture on my second set of tires, so my time was set with worn tires. On Saturday I had a very good start and I found myself in the lead. After that, the mission was to manage the tires.
“I made my first stop two laps later than my opponents because my tires would allow me to do so. The team was fantastic at the pit stop and everything went perfectly until the end. It was quite comfortable at the front, although [Julian] Leal did come back strong at the end.”
Izawa started a lowly 23rd on the grid after a red flag caused him to lose the benefit of fresh tyres, but used a different strategy running the hard tyres first for the opening 21 laps, and then used the soft tyre to make up a number of places in the closing stages to eventually wind up sixth.
“I did not know what to expect arriving in Bahrain for my first GP2 race weekend,” said the Honda supported Izawa. “Well, all in all, this is a good first step into the F1 feeder series! To live in Europe and to race in the GP2 Series is a massive change for me, but ART Grand Prix make sure they give me everything I needed to feel comfortable.
“Qualifying was not good because I’m not confident enough with the soft tires yet. But then I saved my tires in the first race and I overtook a lot of cars which was really exciting. The strategy was clever with a very long first stint. The pit stop and the car were excellent too.”
The sprint race was not so good, with both drivers making bad starts. Vandoorne was forced into the pits early when he broke his front wing against the rear of Daniel de Jong’s MP Motorsport car on lap two. He was forced to use the rest of the race as a learning experience being so far out of position. Izawa eventually wound up twelfth, but was on the tail of the battle for fifth that raged throughout the final third of the race.
“On Sunday, I had a bad start and found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time”, said Vandoorne. “It is unfortunate and in the future we must ensure to score points in both races, but the most important thing is we have confirmed what we saw during winter testing: we can fight for victory! The team is very efficient in all areas of pure speed, pit stops, tire management and strategy.”
Team-mate Izawa added: “I was aiming for the podium in the second race but I had a bad start and it decided the outcome of the race. I have to improve my soft tyre usage as well as my start and once I do that it will be much better, but this 6th position for my first race is really a good achievement.”
Vandoorne is sitting third in the drivers’ championship after his win scored him 25 points, while Izawa is eighth with eight points. ART Grand Prix sit third in the teams’ championship.
“I’m proud of the whole team, starting with its two drivers discovering a championship whose complexity is very well known,” said ART team boss Frédéric Vasseur. “ART Grand Prix has not made such a good start to the championship for a long time and that bodes well. Stoffel has shown great maturity in qualifying and in the first race, winning rewards for his immense talent. Takuya impressed the team by his combativeness and his excellent first race where he made up 17 places. This is a rare performance for a rookie.
“Finally, the team was outstanding during the pit stops over the course of the weekend. We have a month to prepare for the next round where we will confirm the potential displayed in Bahrain, only this time it will be in both races.”