The crowning for the 2015 GP3 Series champion is going down to the final race of the season after Marvin Kirchhöfer took victory in the Feature race in Abu Dhabi after on-track winner Esteban Ocon was handed a five-second penalty.
It had all looked plain sailing for Ocon, as the ART Grand Prix driver led the race from start to finish but the Frenchman was given the time penalty for exceeding track limits and gaining an advantage on the opening lap, which dropped him to fourth as a result.
Ocon was attempting to maintain his lead at the start ahead of fellow front-row starter Kevin Ceccon, but he ran wide, and appeared to gain an advantage over the Italian while exceeding the track limits, which ultimately landed him with his penalty.
Following the penalty, his team-mate Kirchhöfer subsequently won the race, with Arden International‘s Anglo-Danish driver Emil Bernstorff a close second.
Koiranen GP‘s Jimmy Eriksson also benefited from Ocon’s penalty to come home in third, just ahead of Ocon , while title rival Luca Ghiotto finished in fifth place after making a slow getaway from his fourth spot on the grid, and had Ocon kept his win and Ghiotto remained in sixth, the title would have been Ocon’s. However, the two now separated by six points in the championship in Ocon’s favour going into the final Sprint race of the season.
The safety car was deployed early after Carlin‘s Adderly Fong and Alfonso Celis Jr of ART Grand Prix made contact at Turn 6, the latter having to retire in the pit lane.
On lap four, Bernstorff passed Eriksson for fifth place, while Ocon was 1.3s ahead of net race leader Ceccon. Ghiotto knew that if he was to take this title to the wire he was going to have to claw back some positions, and from pushing too hard he ran wide several times due to locking up his brakes costing him valuable time and receiving a warning from the stewards.
Disaster soon struck for Ceccon who saw his chances of the victory dashed after he retired from the race with technical gremlins. Due to this, the battle between Kirchhöfer and Bernstorff became the duel for the lead.
The on-track battles were halted briefly by the introduction of the Virtual Safety Car on lap nine after Trident Motorsport‘s Michele Beretta made contact with Campos Racing‘s Zaid Ashkanani.
Ocon’s advantage at the front remained 1.3s with a six second gap back to Ghiotto. On lap 15, Ghiotto ran wide again leaving him in the clutches of the rapid Matthew Parry.
The battle between Kirchhöfer and Bernstorff had more than just a victory at stake – the two were separated by one point coming into this weekend for the battle for third in the championship, but the German’s inherited victory now sees him leading by eight points.
The top ten was made up of Kirchhöfer, Bernstorff, Eriksson, Ocon, Ghiotto, Parry, Antonio Fuoco (scoring points in Carlin’s last race weekend in GP3), Alex Palou, Matevos Isaakyan (his first points in GP3 in just his third start) and the ever-improving Artur Janosz.
The Sprint Race starts at 1pm local time with Palou starting on reverse pole, but all eyes will be on Ghiotto and Ocon who start fourth and fifth with one of them finishing as the new GP3 championship. Ocon holds the advantage but anything can happen.