Nicola De Marco claims maiden win in Brno opener
Italian takes assured first victory as Stoneman snatches championship lead
Nicola De Marco claimed his first F2 victory in today's opening race at Brno, the Italian jumping polesitter Dean Stoneman at the start and looking assured throughout the 20 lap contest.
Once into the lead De Marco set about establishing an impressive early pace that Stoneman could not quite match, building up a gap of around two seconds by lap eight which he then gradually extended during the remainder of the race.
De Marco, who qualified on pole and then slipped up from the lead in last year's two races here in Brno, was justifiably delighted: "This is a really important win for me - it's my first in F2 but also because it's here in Brno where last year I did a mistake when I was first."
Stoneman could not quite challenge De Marco for the lead, but nonetheless took an impressive second place in his first ever race on the Brno circuit - his haul of 18 points helping him wrest the overall championship lead from Jolyon Palmer, who finished the race in fifth.
Russia's Sergey Afanasiev finished a relatively quiet third - his third podium this year following top three finishes at Silverstone and Monza - with Benjamin Bailly looking comfortable in fourth.
Bailly had lost out to the fast-starting Philipp Eng on the opening lap, but went round the outside of his Austrian rival at turn three as Jolyon Palmer also looked to challenge Eng on the inside. Palmer was unable to find a way past Eng, setting up an engaging duel for fifth which saw the pair often separated by just over half a second during the opening stages.
Palmer eventually found a way through on lap 13, completing a well-worked pass on the inside of Eng going into turn three. The Austrian tried to respond with a challenge just two corners later, but Palmer defended well and Eng was forced to back out of the move - eventually coming home in sixth, several seconds down the road from Palmer.
Behind that battle, Kelvin Snoeks - starting from seventh on his return to F2 - was working hard to keep Britain's Will Bratt at bay. Bratt himself had Tom Gladdis less than one second behind for much of the race, and was ultimately unable to find a way past Snoeks, even when Gladdis fell back to 12th after spinning at turn seven. Snoeks finished seventh, his second best result of the year after a podium at Marrakech, with Bratt finishing less than six tenths of a second behind.
Ricardo Teixeira and Benjamin Lariche enjoyed a race-long battle for ninth, with the Angolan eventually claiming the position by just over six tenths of a second - Lariche settling for tenth to continue his remarkable record of scoring points in every event this year.
Outside the top ten, Mihai Marinescu had an eventful race after clattering cones on the final corner in the opening lap. One cone became wedged in front of Mihai's left sidepod, and the resulting loss of aerodynamic performance caused him to drop back through the field until he eventually pitted to remove the item.
Jack Clarke and Armaan Ebrahim endured a disappointing opening race as the pair collided on the opening corner - Clarke seemingly spinning on the apex of the right-hander and collecting Ebrahim in the process.