SMITH UP TO FIFTH IN GP3 STANDINGS AT CHAOTIC SPA Wolverhampton's Dean Smith produced two very well judged race drives at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium over the weekend, 28th/29th August, to climb into the GP3 Series championship top five and...
SMITH UP TO FIFTH IN GP3 STANDINGS AT CHAOTIC SPA
Wolverhampton's Dean Smith produced two very well judged race drives at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium over the weekend, 28th/29th August, to climb into the GP3 Series championship top five and just miss out on taking his second podium finish of the 2010 campaign.
Rounds 13 and 14 of the season, running in support of the FIA Formula One World Championship's Belgian Grand Prix, were both affected by atrocious weather -- Saturday's opening race, in particular, badly hit by a torrential deluge which caused absolute chaos.
Threading his way through the order well from the back of the grid, after an unfortunate accident in qualifying meant he wasn't able to post a representative time, the Racing Steps Foundation backed driver also benefited from a good tyre-change pit-stop to finish the outing inside the top 10.
Due to numerous accidents in the conditions, the race effectively ended under a cautionary period so Dean was unable to make any further progress from 10th which was a shame considering drivers ahead of him remained on slick tyres. Post-race though, he was promoted into sixth place after GP3 officials hit several drivers with penalties for overtaking under the Safety Car.
Starting Sunday morning's race third on the grid, the 22-year-old McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner held high hopes of taking his second GP3 podium in as many events and did move into an early lead but he had to settle for fourth in the end when the wet-weather tyres he changed to mid-race lacked the grip they should have provided.
"It's good to be into the championship top five but with only a couple of races to go I think that's the best we can hope for", he said, "The whole weekend was pretty chaotic due to the weather and I lacked quite a bit of experience of the track in the dry after my accident early-on in qualifying.
"In the first race I managed to avoid all of the collisions but the conditions were really difficult and once it started raining all I thought about was keeping the car on the track. The team did a good job with the pit-stop so I could get back out quickly on wet tyres and it was just a shame the race wasn't properly re-started as we would have been able to pass the cars in front on slicks."
Dean added: "Everything went well at the start of the second race. I got second at the first corner and then took the lead at Les Combes. I was a bit too cautious when it started to rain but after we changed to wets I just didn't have any grip -- the tyres didn't seem to work at all until the last lap and by then it was too late as I'd slipped out of the top three."
Atrocious weather affects entire Spa weekend
Dreadful weather blighted the practice session on Friday with torrential rain and then fog making track conditions tricky to say the least. Qualifying on Saturday morning was damp and the session didn't go well for the Tomax managed driver when an unfortunate excursion at Les Combes early on led to a heavy impact with the tyre barriers.
For that reason he started round 13 from the last row of the grid, 29th position, meaning he had a mountain to climb but at the start he avoided a multi car pile-up at La Source to move to the fringe of the top 20 prior to the Safety Car being deployed.
Soon after, the heavens opened and torrential rain resulted in further drama. While some drivers remained on track with slick tyres, Dean came into the pits for treaded rubber and a great stop enabled him to rejoin in a superb 10th place. There was no further racing though as the Safety Car was deployed for a second time, but the post-race penalties for others lifted him to sixth.
Lining up third on the 'reverse top eight' grid for round 14, the BRDC Superstar made a good start and challenged successfully for second place into La Source. Then, on the run along Kemmel Straight towards Les Combes, he grabbed the lead of the race.
Opening up a two second gap on the first lap alone, Dean looked well placed but when it started to rain he was obviously the first to encounter the changing conditions. Adopting a cautious approach, he slipped to second at the Bus Stop Chicane on lap four and after pitting for wet-weather tyres at the end of lap five he rejoined in second place.
The new set of rubber just didn't provide the expected levels of grip though and meant Dean was powerless to prevent a slip to fifth place. On the final lap though, he did manage to retake fourth when Nico Muller dropped back with a problem of his own.
Only a fortnight now remains before the conclusion to the inaugural season of GP3 Series action, rounds 15 and 16, which will take place at Monza over the weekend 11th/12th September as support to the FIA Formula One World Championship's Italian Grand Prix.
2010 GP3 Series driver standings (after Rd14): 1st Esteban Gutierrez, 75pts; 5th Dean Smith, 24pts