Aucklander Mitch Evans had an up and down weekend at the opening round of the 2012 GP3 championships at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya in Spain. The category was a support class for the fifth round of the Formula One series.
Evans, driving for MW Arden, had been fast in pre-season practice and qualified fourth for the first race last Saturday and romped away to win the first race to get his season of to a champion start. He was one of the fastest drivers last year but was hampered by bad luck and misfortune towards the end of the season.
Evans got away to a good start and made his way into third early on and played a waiting game behind Daniel Abt and Antonio Felix da Costa. His patience paid off when the two leading drivers were handed drive-through penalties for jumping the start before the lights went out.
"The car felt good in qualifying, although there were more yellow flags during the first few laps," said Evans.
"I was able to trade fastest times with da Costa once the track went green and I was on top halfway through the session.
"I didn't make any set-up changes and thought I could get more from the car, but I made a couple of mistakes on what should have been my fastest lap and that cost me about two-tenths, so I had to settle for fourth.
"My race plan was to make the best start I could and take things from there. I got away well and was third into turn one, but both guys ahead had apparently jumped the start and ended up with penalties.
"That was fortunate from my perspective, but I felt very comfortable and the car was good, so I was able to control the pace once I was in the lead."
Evans' race cadence was put to the test on lap nine when Kevin Ceccon beached his car and the safety car came out. On the restart Evans hooked up nicely and pulled away to finish nearly three seconds ahead of Marlon Stockinger and Aaro Vainio.
It was MW Arden's third win in the GP3 Series, with Evans making the best possible start to his racing year by pocketing 25 points.
Sunday, however, was a different story. Evans got off to a flyer but there was an opening lap melee that saw four cars end their race in turn four. Evans suffered a left rear puncture and had to return to the pits.
It was too much to ask the young Kiwi to make up so much ground on a track known for its lack of passing places so Evans played the sensible game and finished down the field in 27th.
"Overall my weekend was pretty good. When you come away with a race win and the championship lead you must have had a reasonable weekend.
"Race two was one to forget. I was hit from behind which gave me a puncture and I had to pit so was was basically dead last. After that though, I was lapping around a second faster than the frontrunners so we had really great pace again - gutted we couldn't show it at the front though."
He holds the lead in the GP3 Series standings on 25 points, with Daly and Vainio on 23 points each. GP3's next stop is Monaco on May 24-26.
Pointing the way
In case some of you are wondering how Evans is still leading the point's table when he finished at the tail of the field, read on.
Four points are awarded for pole position and the top 10 drivers score points in Race One (25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1) with two points being awarded to the driver who set the fastest lap of the race.
In Race Two the top eight finishers score points (15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1) and the driver who sets the fastest lap scores two points.
The point for fastest lap in both Race One and Race Two will only be awarded to a driver who finishes in the top 10, and who has started the race from the grid.