Dean Stoneman made it clear that he's not conceding the FIA Formula Two championship to Jolyon Palmer, taking a convincing victory today at this weekend's first race at Zolder. Stoneman outdrove Palmer to take a 7.5-second victory over his fellow Briton.
"The car felt really good," recalled Stoneman. "I knew I was consistent in the race and I was able to keep my last six boosts for the final two laps, and I was able to set my fastest time on the very last lap."
Stoneman had taken pole position yesterday with a comfortable 0.243-second margin over Kazim Vasiliauskas, and he made no mistake in getting away from the grid when the lights went out out for the start.
Palmer, meanwhile, was working hard to make up for his fifth-place starting position, and took fourth from Armaan Ebrahim into the first corner, and then passing Vasiliauskas. He then moved into second before the first lap was over by passing Benjamin Bailly, who had claimed the spot from Vasiliauskas at the start. Vasiliauskas, too, made his way past Bailly, as the Belgian driver quickly dropped from second to fourth in front of his home-track fans.
"I got Armaan away from the start," Jolyon explained. "Then I got a good exit from the first chicane, hit the boost straight away and got round the outside of Kazim and then managed to dive down the inside of Bailly."
Stoneman pulled away from Palmer, with Vasliliauskas keeping close tabs on the two. The gaps were closed up when Natalia Kowalska's spin into the turn three barriers brought out the safety car on the eighth lap.
While Stoneman was effectively unchallenged after the safety car period, Vasilauskas was pressed by Sergey Afanasiev, who drove a storming race from 11th on the grid to finish fourth, less than a second behind the Lithuanian.
"Dean pulled quite a big gap and it was pretty hard to make it up," Palmer recounted. "The safety car gave me a chance, but Dean was a bit too quick in this one."
Ebrahim took fifth, some four seconds further back, followed by Bailly, Ivan Samarin and Mihai Marinescu.
Championship challengers Philipp Eng and Will Bratt, third and fourth in the points standings coming into this weekend, lost ground on Palmer and Stoneman as the two tangled with five laps remaining. The two were able to continue, albeit out of contention, but their incident also took out Jack Clark, who suffered too much damage to be able to finish the race.
Going into this weekend's second race, Palmer still leads the title chase with 121 points, five more than Stoneman, but Eng is now 41 points adrift. Afanasiev is a further 17 points behind Eng at 63 points, and Bratt has 60 points.