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GP3 Valencia preview: Drivers take centre stage at Ricardo Tormo

by Peter Allen

Photo: Malcolm Griffiths/GP3 Media Service

The GP3 Series holds its first ever standalone round this weekend at Valencia’s permanent Ricardo Tormo facility, giving the drivers the opportunity to take centre stage.

After last month’s season opener in Barcelona, round two also takes place in Spain. The teams and drivers did however travel to the Hungaroring last week for the in-season test, which followed an announcement that harder compounds of tyres will be chosen for the remainder of the season.

The move comes after the Barcelona races were dominated by tyre wear, something that left both drivers and onlookers frustrated, and prompted GP3 and Pirelli to make the change to allow drivers to race harder and show off skills other than just tyre management.

Although pre-season favourite Tio Ellinas won the first race at the season opener and leads the championship, the conditions at the season opener allowed Patric Niederhauser to challenge, finishing on Ellinas’ tail in second in the first race and then charging to third in race two. Known to excel in low-grip situations, it will be interesting to see whether the Jenzer driver can do as well if degradation becomes a less important factor from Valencia onwards.

Perhaps one of the surprises of the Barcelona weekend was the form of debutants Koiranen GP. Formula Renault 3.5 convert Kevin Korjus set the fastest time in qualifying, only to be penalised for ignoring yellow flags in practice. Team-mate Aaro Vainio made a flying start to race two to lead Korjus home in a one-two finish. While both are top drivers and Koiranen a successful team, it was expected they would take time to settle in GP3, but in Barcelona they showed they are right up there already and, if they can keep it up every weekend, title contenders.

Red Bull Juniors and MW Arden drivers Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat were the worst affected by the extreme tyre degradation in Barcelona, but both have been reminding everyone of their outstanding potential in the break between the two race weekends. Sainz, one of the pre-season pacesetters in GP3, ran fourth in his FR3.5 debut in Monaco before slipping back to sixth after brake trouble, though the Spa round that followed was more tough-going. Kvyat is undertaking a parallel programme in the FIA F3 European Championship, and claimed a triple pole and three second-place finishes at Spielberg. Both will hope they can now start showing their speed in GP3 as well.

Practice and qualifying takes place on Saturday at 09:30 and 14:30 local time (GMT+2), with the races at 11:00 and 15:00 on Sunday.