All three ART Grand Prix team drivers gambled on slick tyres on a damp track for the opening GP3 Series race of the weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, and for two of them, the result was positive, with Dino Zamparelli grabbing his fourth podium finish of the season, while Alex Fontana took his first points of the year in sixth.
Unfortunately for Marvin Kirchhofer, the young German spun into the barriers on the formation lap, ending his race and any chance of points during the weekend. Fontana followed up his first points on Saturday with his first podium for the team on Sunday, while Zamparelli added more points in seventh.
Zamparelli qualified down in tenth after gambling on dry tyres in qualifying, but was happy to start the race on slick tyres and climbed up into second when the wet-tyred runners either pitted or fell off the pace. He had a good start on Sunday too but finished where he started in seventh.
“After a strong start in practice, we gambled on slick tyres on a wet track for qualifying,” said Zamparelli. “But the track was not ready for them yet and it did not pay off.
“For me, it was never really a risk at the start of the first race when we chose to put slicks on. The formation lap gave me clear indications it was the right call and I was 100% sure of it. The most important thing was to stay on track and to capitalize on our fine strategy. It worked really well for me, a big thank to all the guys!
“It was nice to grab a few more points on Sunday. Off to Monza now, I love this track and my target will be to get on the podium once again, and why not a win for a change after 4 podiums!”
Fontana was relieved to finally score his first points of the year on Saturday, climbing from sixteenth on the grid to finish sixth, finishing on the tail of fifth placed Pal Varhaug of Jenzer Motorsport. He converted his third place on the reverse grid race two to take his first podium finish of the year, and also took the bonus points for the fastest lap on the last lap.
“After a frustrating first half of the season, everything went pretty well this weekend,” said Fontana. “At last! We showed many times that we are quick and that we can fight for pole, but small gremlins hampered us way too often and it’s good to get a nice reward here in Spa.
“The team’s strategy was spot on and helped me to get back from P16 to P6 in the first race. I owe ART Grand Prix this one, as the team had been fantastic on the technical and strategic side. It was a bit difficult at the start of the second race and I struggled to keep the car on track and to find grip. But I could see the cars behind having trouble too and I let the two guys in front open a gap.
“I saved my tyres for the last laps to try and secure the fastest lap. Now I have to stay focused to keep this pace for the next rounds and to get more and more points and podiums.”
Kirchhofer was unfortunate to retire before the first race could get underway, as he hit a puddle of water on his slick tyres and hit the barrier. He would have been the highest placed driver to start on slicks, ahead of eventual race winner Dean Stoneman of Marussia Manor Racing. He has already put the accident behind him, and is determined to learn from his mistake should circumstances be similar again in the future.
“What can I say, It could have been a dream but it was a nightmare,” said Kirchhofer. “Slicks were definitely the best choice and when you see that the winner started from P11 and that I was P7 on the grid, it gives you an idea of what could have been on the cards on Saturday.
“The track was slippery on the formation lap and there was water running across the track. I could not control the car and that was it. It hurts for the championships and I’m sorry for the team because they deserved so much better. But there’s no reason to cry over spilt milk and I guess it’s part of the learning curve. I will come back stronger in Italy.”
Team Principal Frederic Vasseur was disappointed for Kirchhofer, but was happy to see both Fontana and Zamparelli have impressive races on both Saturday and Sunday in tricky conditions.
“It was an intermittent weekend with constant changes in track conditions, but I am satisfied with how the team adapted,” said Vasseur. “We made a bold choice but it turned out to be by far the best one, putting slick tires on the cars at the start of the first race.
“Marvin unfortunately did not benefit after a small error had serious consequences, ruining his weekend. Alex opened his scorecard after a strong and smart first race and he was also excellent in the second event. He has finally scored the points he deserves and it is very satisfying. Dino was just as strong and all he needs now is a little help to take that final step to the top of the podium.”