For reigning Teams’ champions ART Grand Prix, the opening round of the 2014 GP3 Series season saw a podium finish for Brit Dino Zamparelli in race two after finishing sixth in race one, while German debutant Marvin Kirchhofer took a brace of fifth places. Unfortunately for Swiss driver Alex Fontana, he finished out of the points in both races, after a gamble on wet tyres in race two backfired.
Reigning German Formula 3 Champion Kirchhofer qualified an impressive second on debut, but was disappointed firstly to miss out on pole position due to traffic, and secondly for losing a few places at the first corner when he made a mistake under braking. He was happy to take two fifth places away with him from Spain however, and is taking the Spanish weekend as good experience to learn from.
“Practice and qualifying were really good as we were always at the front,” said Kirchhofer. “Unfortunately I had bad traffic in my very last sector which prevented me from securing pole position. At the start of the first race, I missed my braking points because the car was heavier with fuel and that’s something I have to learn more about. I cut the second turn and another car pushed me and forced me to run wide in turns 3 and 4. After that, I expected to fight a bit harder but I was losing too much downforce following another car. Plus, the tyre degradation was not as bad as last year.
“The second race was tricky with mixed conditions. I tried to be smooth this time. I lost several positions but it was exciting to get them back after some nice fights. Two P5 places is definitely not a bad start. I made mistakes but that’s part of the learning process. The good thing is the pace is there in both qualifying and the race.”
Zamparelli had a reasonable weekend, though he felt he could have done better in qualifying that left him down in sixth. A reasonable start saw him stay in sixth, and due to the nature of the Circuit de Catalunya that makes overtaking very tricky to undertake, he would remain there until the end. In the damp race two, the Brit was one of the quickest out there, but could not pass the Jenzer Motorsport machine of Matheo Tuscher for second so was forced to settle for third, and his first career GP3 Series podium.
“Qualifying was not too bad but not that good either,” said Zamparelli. “It was the first one of the season and I need to find a bit more confidence, because the goal was to be fast and the team did a great job. We’ll be stronger next time! After a tricky start, I finished my first GP3 race in 6th place and that was nice.
“For the second race, the conditions were the hardest ever because the track was so slippery on slick tires. I was faster than the two leaders and I could have won the race, that’s a certainty, but I just could not get past them. Anyway, it was a very good start to the championship and ART is a great team. We’ll make some improvements before Austria and I’m sure we’ll be stronger there.”
For Fontana, it was a weekend to forget and move on from. The young Swiss driver qualified in eighth but a slow start left him out of the points, and like team-mate Zamparelli, could not overtake, ending the race on the tail of his fellow Swiss driver Patric Niederhauser. For race two, Fontana gambled on switching from dry tyres to wet tyres, but the gamble did not pay off as the track dried out, leaving him to struggle near the back of the pack.
“I had a bad start and lost several positions in both races and we all know that in Barcelona, it’s all about a good grid position and a good start,” said Fontana. “In the first race, I was stuck behind my fellow countryman, Niederhauser, and was unable to get past even though I was faster.
“In the second race, I had nothing to lose and we decided to switch to rain tires. Unfortunately, that’s when the track started to dry out. No regrets, we HAD to give it a try. The next round will be better, that will not be too difficult! Such an unfortunate start to the season!”
Team Principal Frederic Vasseur was happy that the team took points away from Spain, and was happy to see both Zamparelli and Kirchhofer make promising starts to the season. He also praised Fontana’s efforts, which despite him not scoring points, showed flashes of speed.
“This was a very good start and together we can take the championship,” said Vasseur. “It is especially a great satisfaction to see that ART Grand Prix has negotiated the first round of the new GP3 season so well. Marvin made a very promising start being fast and consistent from the first to the last lap. Dino also had a very solid weekend and ART Grand Prix is pleased to have contributed to his first GP3 podium finish.
“Unfortunately Alex had a complicated weekend where he had a lot of bad luck, but he is also very fast and has the potential to fight for the podium. The most important thing is to keep the same momentum throughout the season and even amplify it a bit. ART Grand Prix and its drivers have a lot of room for improvement.”