It was the young Kiwi’s first return to the podium since Barcelona at the start of the European season and helped to achieve an altogether much more positive weekend for the Russian Time outfit which has struggled of late, with team-mate Artem Markelov taking third (his first ever podium in the category) in Saturday’s feature race and fourth today.
Qualifying saw Stoffel Vandoorne continue to set the pace but behind him it was very tight, with just 2/10ths separating the next four drivers including Mitch who set the sixth fastest time of 1:56.661s. "I had a decent qualifying session but lost the 2/10ths that could have put me on the second row with a downshift glitch at Puhon and my mistake at the Bus Stop. But I felt I was in a pretty good position and I was confident going into the race.”
Although Mitch got away to a sluggish start to the 25-lap feature race and slipped several places, it proved a blessing in disguise as those ahead of time tripped over themselves around La Source; Oliver Rowland and Nobuharu Matisushita being the main casualties. Evans quickly recovered and mounted a big move on Alex Lynn into Eau Rouge to move into fourth and by lap four the 21-year Aucklander used his DRS to good effect to pass Russian Sergey Sirotkin to take third at Les Combes behind Alexander Rossi.
The race however, was brought under the safety car on lap six after Daniel De Jong crashed heavily at Blanchimont. Those who had started on the softer option tyres, including pole sitter and championship leader Vandoorne, Arthur Pic and Markelov, took the opportunity to make their mandatory pit-stop. This proved to be the pivotal point of the race as the laps under the safety car effectively gifted them a free pit stop, particularly so when the race was red-flagged on lap nine to allowed the injured De Jong to be released from his car and the damaged barriers to be repaired.
As per the regulations, Rossi and Evans who had been running first and second at this point after staying out on their harder prime tyres, were allowed to change tyres during the stoppage but they still had to make their compulsory stop once the race went back to green. The duo led on the restart but they soon pitted again for another set of option tyres and fell back to outside the top ten. However, on fresher tyres they were flying and although they were never in with a shout of closing on those who had pitted during the safety car, they picked off several places and enjoyed their own close scrap for fifth position which went all the way to the last corner. In fact, neither driver could stop in time for the second part of the final chicane and overshot onto the run-off area; Mitch returning to the track ahead of Rossi to claim fifth position. The incident was investigated by the Stewards who deemed it a racing incident and therefore no penalties were applied. The race was won by Vandoorne on home soil from Pic and Markelov.
Mitch started Sunday’s 18 lap sprint race from fourth position but slipped back three places before going on the attack. By lap seven, Evans was up into fifth and closing fast on Vandoorne as they both arrived on the back of Nathanael Berthon who had lost touch with the Racing
Engineering duo of Rossi and Jordan King. Vandoorne nipped past Berthon for third on lap 10 and Evans did likewise at Les Combes two laps later.
A virtual safety car negated the race for a couple of laps as the marshals recovered the beached car of Pic. Evans lost ground to Vandoorne at the restart but then the McLaren junior driver made life hard for himself when he locked up and flat-spotted his tyres at the Bus Stop chicane. After that, it was just a matter of time before Evans was within DRS range of Vandoorne. He got a great exit out of La Source which gave him a good run through Eau Rouge to snatch the final podium position away from Vandoorne at Les Combes. The final order being Rossi, King, Evans, Vandoorne and Markelov.
Mitch has now moved into eighth place in the championship on 57 points, four points shy of sixth, and will be looking to build on his Spa results when he competes in round nine and 10 at Monza on September 4-6.
"A few changes have made a lot of difference,” says Mitch of his Russian Time team after both he and Artem Markelov stood on the Spa podium. "We felt we had one of the fastest strategies out there this weekend and we could have taken it to Stoffel Vandoorne and ART in the feature race.
"The car was very good all weekend, very competitive and it was one of the most competitive performances we’ve had. I made some good moves and enjoyed my whole weekend. It was great to be fighting where we should be – it’s a bit late in the season but if we can keep this momentum going, it will be great for all of us. It’s a very big boost for the drivers and the team. We’re not focussed on the championship so we can just take each race as it comes and let’s see what happens at Monza.”
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