The 20 year old Aucklander opened his GP2 race weekend with tenth place in free practice: ‘We struggled a little bit with the balance at the beginning of the weekend and weren't too competitive. We turned the car around ahead of qualifying but there was a question mark whether it was going to be okay.’
A cooler, cloudier and windier qualifying saw the drivers putting in their best times early in the session. ‘I felt that the car wasn’t at its best on the first lap and the track conditions weren’t as smooth as in the morning. However throughout the session the car improved, we had a good pace on the second set of tyres and I went purple in the first sector.’
The overnight changes on the Russian Time driver’s car paid off and proved to be a big step forward for Mitch who qualified third fastest, only 0.006sec off Jolyon Palmer in second and 0.033sec off pole-sitter Raffaele Marciello: ‘I wasn't really sure what the car was going to do, so I'm really happy to be in the top three and knocking on the door for pole. The step we made was really positive and puts us in a great place for the first race.’
The getaway for Evans in Saturday’s feature race didn’t quite go to plan, however he managed to recover and caught Palmer to overtake him at turn three only for the Briton to snatch back the place on lap four. ‘The clutch didn’t feel overly great at the start so I lost out a bit there to Jolyon but managed to get him back. After a couple of laps I felt the car had improved so I stuck with the guys in front. The tyre deg wasn’t too bad and I had a nice balance.’
Raffaele Marciello, who started on option tyres and ran the reverse strategy to Evans and Palmer, came in for an early stop but was caught up in traffic before having to retire his car halfway through the race. Evans stayed out a lap longer than Palmer, pushing hard on his in-lap and, after an excellently executed pit stop by his team, the Kiwi rejoined the track ahead of Palmer. Mitch had to fight hard to stave Palmer off on cold tyres. The
DAMS driver gave it his all and they ran side by side through the second sector before Evans managed to squeeze his rival at Club. Once ahead, Mitch was able to extend the gap to Palmer and by the chequered flag he was almost five seconds ahead to score his maiden GP2 victory.
‘When we stayed out a lap longer than Palmer, I knew I had to push as hard as I could to over-cut him. The guys did a great job at the pit stop which was crucial for us and I came out ahead and had to hold him behind me. The car worked better on the options than on the primes which helped me bring it home.
‘To get my first win in GP2 is a big relief. It came at a crucial time for me and it’s really important for the Championship. I haven’t won in a while and it was great to hear my national anthem.
To get a podium is always nice but when you win it is emotionally very satisfying and to have my parents here this weekend, Mark (Webber), Ann and a lot of people who have been important in my career makes it even more special.’
Mitch started Sunday’s 21-lap sprint race from eighth, got a good start and climbed up to sixth after the first lap but fell behind Richelmi into seventh. He increased the pressure on Richelmi from half distance but despite some good efforts to get past in the final five laps, with both drivers setting their personal best sectors in the last lap, Evans had to settle for seventh. ‘The car wasn’t very stable in the first two laps, but got stronger towards the end of the race. We weren’t as quick as I would have liked today but we’ve made some good strides in the last couple of races and we’re getting stronger which really showed this weekend.’
Round 6 takes place in Hockenheim, Germany on July 19/20.
With 29 points from this weekend, Mitch has moved further up the ranks into 4th position with 67 points.
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