The 21-year old Kiwi delivered arguably the best drive of his career thus far in Saturday’s 30-lap feature lap to take third place after storming through from 23rd on the grid. A top six grid position set him up nicely for today’s 21-lap sprint race and having sat in second place for most of the distance, Evans pulled off a brilliant last lap overtake on erstwhile race leader Arthur Pic to score his and Russian Time’s first win of the season.
Evans arrived in Monza keen to build upon his third place finish at Spa two weeks ago and set the early pace in qualifying with a time of 1min 31.424s. Pierre Gasly was the only driver to improve upon his time on the second tyre run to claim pole position with a 1min 31.272s ahead of Evans and champion-elect Stoffel Vandoorne. However, Mitch’s hard work was all to no avail when he was disqualified from the results after his car failed to meet the minimum tyre pressures and he was bumped to the back of the grid in 23rd position.
Mitch’s start and opening laps promoted him up into 17th before the safety car was deployed on lap four. It helped Mitch’s cause by closing the field back up and once the race went back to green, Mitch put his head down and stayed out longer than most on the option tyres. He ran as high as fifth before pitting and then from down the order in 17th again, he began his charge through the field. With six laps remaining, he was fifth and had Norman Nato and Pic within his sights although he also had his own mirrors full of his fellow Kiwi and house-mate, Richie Stanaway!
The final laps boiled down to a raging battle between Nato, Pic and Evans with Mitch passing Pic on the final lap to take fourth. Nato who finished third on the road had been issued with a five-second penalty which was added to his finishing time and with Mitch finishing within a second of him, he was promoted to third. The race was won by American Alexander Rossi from Vandoorne.
"I don’t know how I really did it! It’s all a bit of a blur to be honest,” said a bemused Mitch afterwards. "I was so disappointed at being disqualified but I drove my heart out to try and get on the podium. I had a decent start and first lap and at the safety car I was 16th or 17th. I still had eighth in my sights and thought that was realistic so I went long on the option tyre and was one of the last to stop. After my stop, I started pinging them off and I thought I was good for fifth. But, the guys came on the radio and said if I could pass Pic I was on for a podium because Nato had a penalty – that was a bit of a surprise. I just wanted to keep it on the track and bring it home. Obviously Friday was a huge kick in the guts – it was nothing intentional and a complete accident, so it was good to come back and really show what speed we’ve got now. It’s so good to have the car back to performing well and underneath me. I think today really proved that.”
Sunday’s 21-lap was just as thrilling with plenty of excellent wheel-to-wheel racing up and down the order. Evans started from sixth but a clean and tidy start helped by contact between Jordan King and Nato at the first corner left Mitch running in third place behind Pic and Stanaway.
Once DRS was enabled, Mitch made short work of Stanaway with a nice run down the inside into turn 1. Vandoorne made the same move a lap later. After a brief safety car period when Rossi and Robert Visoiu touched, the three leaders began pulling away from the rest of the field with often less than a second separating them. Evans and Vandoorne traded fastest laps as they piled on the pressure on the race leader.
With four laps remaining, Evans was within DRS range of Pic, while Vandoorne had dropped to more than a second but the battle for the lead reignited on the final lap after it appeared Pic made a mistake and suddenly there was nothing between the three drivers. Evans who had been mighty on the brakes all weekend dived down the inside of Pic into turn 1 and pulled off a stunning move to take the lead. Despite Pic coming back at him and having a look, Evans kept his nose in front and raced to a memorable Monza victory and a rare (by GP2 standards) double podium.
"After yesterday, I thought a victory was possible but it wasn’t really that easy,” said a delighted Mitch on the podium. "Arthur was very quick and the DRS was not that effective but on the last lap I hoped to God I could pull the move off and gain the lead. It was mainly the tow that let me catch him down the straight.
"To get this win and put another strong weekend together is really what we needed. I know I’m able to push for more wins – our pace is good enough to challenge for poles and victories. It’s been a really tough season so it’s really great to repay the team like this and get my season back on track. I didn’t really lose faith but I was getting to a point where I was getting very frustrated with everything, so this has really sparked me back up.”
Mitch has now moved into fifth place in the championship on 89 points. Rounds 11 and 12 take place at Sochi, Russia on October 9-11
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