Motorsport: Evans' GP3 hopes pinned on last race

Mitch Evans and Antonio Felix da Costa run wide into the first corner at Monza to avoid the clash between Matais Laine and Tio Ellinas. Photo / GP3 Media
Mitch Evans and Antonio Felix da Costa run wide into the first corner at Monza to avoid the clash between Matais Laine and Tio Ellinas. Photo / GP3 Media

Mitch Evans is unlikely to know whether he will win the 2012 GP3 Series until the end of last lap of the last race of the season at Monza on Sunday, local time.

The 18-year-old New Zealander started from pole position in the penultimate race on Saturday afternoon but damaged his car at the first chicane seconds after the start and retired to the pits.

All three of his GP3 title challengers were then in a position to upstage him but after 12 frantic, slip streaming laps only one rival survived with enough points to threaten Evans for the coveted GP3 crown.

German driver Daniel Abt went into the Italian Grand Prix feature as the least likely to upstage Evans' title charge; and emerged as the only points scoring survivor from the four pre-race contenders as Evans, Antonio Felix da Costa (Portugal) and Aaro Vainio (Finland) all struck problems.

Abt swept through from seventh on the 25 car grid to win an amazing race of rapidly changing fortunes. He took his first win of the year at Spa less than a week ago and now has a chance to come from behind again.

Abt will start eighth on the top eight reversed-grid, one place behind the grid position he won from in the Saturday race. Evans will start what promises to be a tense finale from 25th and last on the grid.

Evans goes into the showdown race on 151.5 points, 14 points clear of Abt - who must win to steal the GP3 title. Points are awarded to the top eight finishers in the reverse grid GP3 races (15,12,10,8,6,4,2,1) and there is a 2pt bonus for the driver setting fastest lap - providing that driver finishes in the top ten.

So Abt must win with Evans failing to score if he is to snatch the title by a single point. Abt would take the title by 3pts if he won and set fastest lap.

If Abt were to finish second and take fastest lap - with Evans failing to score - the two drivers would be equal on points. However, Evans has won three races this season and Abt has now won two. If the points are equal Evans would win on a count-back.

For Evans to increase his points tally he will need to charge from last place on the grid into the top eight - or get into the top ten and take fastest lap.

The Saturday race unfolded in a dramatic sequence that Mitch Evans was unaware of until the closing laps. He was back in the pits at the end of the first lap and did not want to watch. After three laps his rivals were running 1-2-3 and it looked to be all over for the despondent Kiwi.

"I got a bad start, with too much wheel spin and then the car bogged down," said Evans. He was held out to the left of the track by Felix da Costa going into the first corner as Matias Laine and Tio Ellinas swept through on the right hand side.

The first corner chicane saw the start of the eliminations, as Evans and Felix da Costa - who started side-by-side on the front row - had to straight line the corner because Laine and Ellinas had collided in front of them.

"I had nowhere to go," said Evans. "Then I couldn't see the speed hump in the run off area and I hit the corner of it, which was the worst point because it impacted into the floor of my car."

The damage meant Evans lost downforce and he had dropped back to seventh place before running wide into the gravel at the Lesmos. At the end of the first lap he trundled into the pits to retire.

Evans looked dejected, as his nearest points rival da Costa worked his way past Laine into the lead at the start of lap two. However, the driver on the move was Abt.

Fourth at the end of lap one, he passed David Fumanelli for third at Rettifilo and then towed past Laine for second on the start/finish straight a lap later.

Abt passed da Costa for the lead at the Roggia on lap five, but he now had a new challenge from behind, as Lotus team-mate Aaro Vainio was also on a charge.

Vainio, who could also win the title at this point, passed da Costa when he slid wide at the Parabolica. Da Costa then spectacularly bump drafted Vainio down the start/finish straight, but moments later da Costa's car was touring, stuck in sixth gear.

"I didn't watch the first half of the race. I was gutted," said Evans. "I didn't know that Felix da Costa was out"

Felix da Costa stopped at the Rettifilo escape road where he switched his engine off and back on again, which solved the gearbox problem. He rejoined down in 19th place, and recovered to 15th by the finish. His challenge had ended.

Having dropped as low as ninth, after almost leading into the first corner, Ellinas went on a storming recovery. The Cypriot set a succession of fastest laps to catch race leaders Abt and Vainio with four laps remaining.

Ellinas passed Vainio on lap 14, and was tucked right in behind Abt at the finish. However, he could not attempt a last-corner attack, as Dmitry Suranovich had careered wide into the gravel run-off at the Parabolica on the penultimate lap and there were yellow flags. The gap from first to second was 0.3s.

Although on the road positions remained the same to the finish, race officials gave Vainio a 20s penalty for setting his best last sector time under waved yellow flags, which dropped him from third to eleventh - that last corner penalty ending his title bid.

The final race order was therefore Abt, Ellinas, Laine, Daly, Niederhauser and Fumanelli, with Marlon Stockinger coming through from 15th to finish seventh, ahead of Sunday's poleman Giovanni Venturini, Tamas Pal Kiss and William Buller.

"The title is still achievable tomorrow," reflected Evans after the race. "It will be tough, I've got a lot of work to do - but I'll give it my best shot. I need to pass a lot of people..."

Lotus GP won the Team's Championship for the third year in a row with the points for Abt's win and Daly's fourth place, which took them to 366.5 points, with MW Arden now in second on 63 points.

The 12 lap final race of the 2012 GP3 season is scheduled to start at 19.00 (NZ Time) and will be broadcast live on SkySport 1.

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