The Italian round of the GP3 Series allowed me to keep up my run of podium finishes with a second place, which at least made a very long wait due to the torrential rain worthwhile!
It was only four days between leaving the previous race at Spa and arriving at Monza on Thursday. I’d done my preparation with the ART Grand Prix team for Spa and Monza together, the week before Spa, and we were confident of hitting the track in good shape.
Free practice on Friday was fairly strong, despite ‘only’ being fourth fastest. I was happy with that, because I managed to try a lot of things on the car and experiment with my driving, and I was pleased with what I found. As a team we were a little lucky in the end that we did our performance runs to be near the top of the timesheets, as Saturday was effectively washed out for us! Qualifying was abandoned in the morning and Race one, which was due to take place at the end of the day, was postponed until the Sunday morning. This was disappointing enough, but then Race two was cancelled too due to a lack of time on Sunday.
On the grid for Race 1 I was effectively promoted to third before the race even started because my team-mate and poleman, Nirei Fukuzumi, had a problem with his car. I got a really good start and edged ahead of Anthoine Hubert into Turn 1. I held the position but he was really close behind me on the exit and there was no way I could prevent him passing with the tow before the second chicane. We had an early safety car, and once the race restarted I sat back behind George Russell and Anthoine, trying to bring in the tyres nicely, making sure everything was as it should be and content to let George and Anthoine fight. Sure enough, Anthoine pushed hard and suffered a lot of tyre degradation by the end.
Not long after, we had a virtual safety car, and at the restart I caught George and Anthoine napping while they were looking at each other by going all the way around the outside, all of us 3 abreast at one point! That put me into the lead, but I was struggling to switch the front tyres on, and suffering from understeer. George repassed me after a bit of a battle. I thought I’d be able to stay within DRS range of him, but the turbulent air when I got close made it even more of a struggle to manage the understeer.
I kept the gap relatively constant and I thought I’d be able to have another go on the last lap. I was finding ways to manage the understeer, but the safety car came out again and ruined any chance I may have had of making a move. But I enjoyed the race. All the moves with my team-mates George and Anthoine were fine and good fun, although we were very close in the early stages! I imagine the ART guys on the pit wall were a bit stressed! We were all pushing but it was good, hard racing. Track conditions were not easy after overnight rain, as the pack behind us proved, so bringing 3 ART cars home was an achievement in itself.
The result means I’m still second in the championship heading to the penultimate round at Jerez in October. I really hope the organisers can figure out of a way of adding the race we lost at Monza to the programme in Jerez, and make it three races that weekend, as it would be another chance to cut the gap to George. Either way, we’ll head there pushing as hard as ever.