ART Grand Prix’s Nikita Mazepin moved himself into championship contention with victory in the second GP3 race of the weekend in Spa.
The Russian, who now sits third in the standings, took the lead early on from team-mate Jake Hughes and never looked back, winning the race by 1.8 seconds from championship leader and fellow ART driver Anthoine Hubert.
After a short delay to the start of proceedings due to poor visibility around the back of the circuit, the drama started on the formation lap. David Beckmann, the winner from Saturday, slowed on the formation lap and whilst he managed to return to the pits, he would take no further part in the action.
Joey Mawson made the perfect start from pole position as Callum Ilott managed to squeeze past fellow Brit and ART team-mate Jake Hughes into La Source. Hughes settled into third with Pedro Piquet being passed by Nikita Mazepin at the top of the Kemmel straight for fourth.
The drama did not end there on the opening lap as Trident team-mates Ryan Tveter and Giuliano Alesi touched in the chicane at the end of the lap. Both cars continued with Alesi ahead and Tveter with damaged steering, showed by the angle his steering wheel was on the straights. Leonardo Pulcini managed to make it around the outside of Tveter to relegate the American to tenth.
Back to the top of the Kemmel straight on lap two and it was the leader under pressure as Mawson defended from a slipstreaming Ilott. The Brit tried to move around the outside of the Australian and the pair clipped wheels with Ilott running wide and having to defend from Hughes as he rejoined. As the pack went down the hill to Pouhon, Ilott had dropped to fourth as Hughes and Mazepin squeezed passed as the Brit ran wide on the exit of turn ten.
The action continued on the Kemmel straight again on lap three as the ART’s of Hughes and Mazepin easily made their way passed Mawson with the help of DRS. In the meanwhile, MP Motorsport’s Richard Verschoor, in only his second GP3 start, had made his way up from 17th on the grid to ninth in three laps.
Mawson continued to drop back into the clutches of Ilott as Mazepin used DRS again to pass Hughes for the lead. Ilott used his DRS to claim third, quickly closing on his team-mate Hughes. Another lap went by and Mawson must have wondered how many more ART’s were going to fly by on the Kemmel straight as Hubert made it an ART Grand Prix top four.
Lap six and the story was the same for Arden and Mawson. Up the Kemmel straight, Piquet deployed one of his DRS uses to breeze past the Australian, who had fallen to sixth from pole position. The next driver to put the Arden driver under pressure was Campos’ Leonardo Pulcini, who had made his way through from 15th on the grid. Again, Pulcini and Alesi made their way past Mawson up the Kemmel straight.
Almost immediately, Mawson gained a place back as Pulcini, who was third in the championship coming into this weekend, pulled to the side with a mechanical issue. A poor weekend for the Italian, who will have to pray for huge issues for ART team to win the championship.
Meanwhile, at the front, Ilott had made his way passed Hughes to start closing the two second gap to the leader Mazepin. Hubert also made his way passed Hughes, who looked like he was struggling compared to his team-mates.
With five laps remaining, Verschoor had continued to make progress as he was the next to pass Mawson. The positions were soon reversed as Mawson made his way back through on the Kemmel straight. The pair continued to swap positions with Verschoor making his move into the final corner. This battling brought Tveter and Calderon into the battle and they both made a move on Mawson. Mawson will certainly be questioning the speed and handling of his Arden after this race.
Hubert continued to close on Ilott with three laps to go and the Frenchman got a great run out of Raidillon on to the straight and pulled to the outside into Les Combe. Ilott could do nothing but defend the inside line but this left the championship leader to breeze around the outside. Whilst Hubert closed the gap slightly to the leader, it was not quite enough for the Frenchman.
Nikita Mazepin claimed his third win of the season and managed to include the extra points for fastest lap to keep himself in the championship fight. ART team-mate Anthoine Hubert extended his championship lead to 26 points with second as rival and Ferrari Acadamy driver Callum Ilott managed to restrict the damage with third.
ART dominated the race with their fourth entry of Jake Hughes coming home in fourth for a total lock-out by the French squad. Trident were again their closest challengers with Pedro Piquet and Giuliano Alesi in fifth and sixth respectively. The battle between the two sons of former Grand Prix racers will go down to the final race of the season, with Piquet currently leading Alesi by 13 points.
MP Motorsport had a dismal weekend saved by a charging drive by rookie Richard Verschoor. The Dutchman, who joined the squad last week to replace the promoted Dorian Boccolacci, had only finished 17th in race one from a pit lane start but the Formula Renault Eurocup graduate showed skills beyond his experience in these cars to charge through the field to finish seventh, ahead of his more experienced team-mate Niko Kari, who could only finish 12th.
Ryan Tveter managed to hold off a late challenge from Tatiana Calderon and Juan Manuel Correa to bring his damaged car home with the final point.
It was an extremely disappointing weekend for Leonardo Pulcini, who drops to fourth in the points after a non-scoring weekend. Two drivers who will have expected more from this particular race were David Beckmann, who failed to take the start after claiming his maiden win yesterday, and Joey Mawson, who started from pole but continued to fall back with an ‘undriveable’ car.