Mitch Evans sprinted ahead of a huge first corner crash at the start of the Monaco GP2 feature race, held onto a slender lead until his compulsory pit stop and boldly defended third place all the way to the most famous podium in the motor racing world.
A different tyre strategy than his front-running rivals meant Evans on super soft tyres struggled to hold off race winner Sam Bird during his opening stint, but he had pace when he rejoined on a full set of soft Pirelli tyres.
When Evans pitted, Bird gained a lead he held through to his own pit stop where he changed just two rear tyres and stayed on the soft compound. The Englishman romped away to win by 22 seconds.
The longer pit stop to change four tyres brought Evans out behind Kevin Ceccon but he stayed within a second of him for the rest of the 42 lap race in a tight battle for second that also involved Brazilian Felipe Nasr.
The Kiwi teen – as ever, the youngest driver in the 26 car field – started the Friday morning race alongside his Arden International team mate Johnny Cecotto on the front row of the grid. He got a decisive jump at the start and led into the first corner at St Devote.
"Since qualifying I had been focusing on the start, getting a good launch and hopefully get in the lead. I got a really good start and manage to get the jump on Johnny. Then I saw that he was in the wall and I was not sure how many cars were involved in the accident.”
Behind Evans there was chaos as Cecotto misjudged the corner and struck the barrier. The concertina collisions that followed involved 15 cars and took out polesitter Cecotto as well as frontrunners Fabio Leimer, Jolyon Palmer, Robin Frijns, Marcus Ericsson and Alexander Rossi. The race was red-flagged.
The restart behind a safety car was suspended for over 30 minutes to remove the damaged cars and reset the grid, with Cecotto among the nine drivers unable to continue. At a post race Stewards hearing the Venezuelan was excluded from the Sunday sprint race for his actions.
"I just knew I wanted a massive lead and hoped the safety car would not be deployed; or a red flag. But it (the red flag) was and I was then hoping for a safety car restart so the second start would be straightforward.
"The tyre strategy that we chose was a lot different than many others. We decided to go with the (super soft) option tyres which was going to give us a better start than the (soft) prime tyres, but as soon as the race restarted I was struggling a lot for overall grip and Sam was pushing a lot behind me.
"He was very quick with the prime tyres. And then when I came to the pit stop, I think it was a lap too late and Kevin got me. I saw his crashbox (at the rear of the car) until the end of the race. There was nothing I could do about it, but we had good pace.
"We caught up to him, but it’s just too hard to pass around here. The car was a lot better on the prime tyres and I think that if I had got past Kevin, we would have had a similar pace to Sam’s. But I think, today, Sam was too quick.
"Second was definitely possible so I’m a little bit disappointed with having finished only third. The past two races have been really bad, so to be on the podium in Monaco is very special. It’s amazing. I’ll take it,” said a delighted Evans.
Bird took his second victory of the season but needed a new rear wing after taking a hefty hit from Ceccon at the aborted first start. The restart under the safety car was well judged by Evans in his Arden entry but Bird, in his repaired car, was chasing hard from the green flag.
Evans kept the Briton behind him until pitting on lap 13. Bird pitted four laps later to change just his soft rear tyres. Evans's slower stop meant Ceccon, who had a new front wing fitted during the red flag, managed to jump him in the pitstops after opting for an early tyre change.
Ceccon came under intense pressure for second from Evans in the closing stages, but pulled away as the New Zealander had to fend off Nasr, who had edged away from a fight with James Calado. At the line Evans was 1.2s behind Ceccon and a scant 0.2s ahead of Nasr.
Third place improves Evans to tenth overall in the GP2 points standings after four round and he is optimistic about his prospects for the Saturday sprint race. He will start sixth in the non-stop race that starts with the top eight grid places in reverse order.
"We’re in a good position with the tyres because I have a brand new set of primes. A lot of the guys have used both sets of primes today so hopefully I will be able to get some more points tomorrow. Who know? Maybe I could get another podium.”
GP 2 Monaco Feature Race
42 laps (including red flag delay)
Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Sam Bird Russian Time 1h 36m15.919s
2. Kevin Ceccon Trident + 22.077s
3. Mitch Evans Arden + 23.225s
4. Felipe Nasr Carlin + 23.416s
5. James Calado ART + 29.588s
6. Stefano Coletti Rapax + 1m00.519s
7. Rene Binder Lazarus + 1m02.449s
8. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs MP + 1m08.400s
9. Stephane Richelmi DAMS + 1m12.107s
10. Daniel de Jong MP + 1m22.410s
11. Tom Dillmann Russian Time + 1m29.356s
12. Jon Lancaster Hilmer + 1 lap
13. Simon Trummer Rapax + 1 lap
14. Jake Rosenzweig Addax + 1 lap
15. Sergio Canamasas Caterham + 2 laps
16. Daniel Abt ART + 2 laps
Rio Haryanto Addax 26 laps
Johnny Cecotto Jr Arden 0 laps*
Fabio Leimer Racing Eng. 0 laps*
Jolyon Palmer Carlin 0 laps*
Julian Leal Racing Eng. 0 laps*
Robin Frijns Hilmer 0 laps*
Marcus Ericsson DAMS 0 laps*
Alexander Rossi Caterham 0 laps*
Nathanael Berthon Trident 0 laps*
Kevin Giovesi Lazarus 0 laps*
* Did not take restart