Dean Smith secured his first GP3 Series podium of the year at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona this morning, Sunday, 22nd May, with a very well driven third place during the FIA Formula One World Championship support category’s fourth round of the season.
Lining up second on the grid for the 16-lap encounter, having finished seventh during round three on Saturday, 21st May, the Wolverhampton racer unfortunately slipped to third off the start but held his position convincingly throughout to secure his, and the Addax Team’s, first GP3 silverware of 2011.
The 23-year-old former McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner, who only confirmed his place on the grid just a couple of days prior to the season-opening event in Turkey two weeks ago, is now ninth in the championship standings but tied on points with the seventh and eighth placed drivers.
“It’s fantastic to be back on the podium”, said the British ace, “The team has done a great job this weekend, we’ve learnt a lot about the tyre compound so if I’m able to do the next round in Valencia I’m sure we’ll be really strong in qualifying and the races. I want to say a huge thank you to Barwa and all of the other sponsors at Addax, I’m so grateful for the opportunity they’ve given me.”
During the first half-hour practice session at the 2.8-mile Spanish track on Friday, 20th May, Dean started the event promisingly with the sixth fastest lap, only 0.476 seconds away from the top of the times, before opting not to run in session two.
In qualifying on Saturday morning, he posted the ninth fastest time – just 0.5 seconds shy of pole position – although he was later promoted to the fourth row of the grid due to the exclusion of third-placed qualifier Marlon Stockinger for technical infringements.
Making a good start to round three, Dean produced a well judged move into the first corner to grab seventh place and from there he pressured championship leader Nigel Melker for the duration but with no additional position changes.
Third placed Aaro Vainio had problems with a badly flat-spotted left-front tyre and so his lack of pace bottled up the four cars behind. At the chequered flag, Dean was just 0.2 seconds behind Melker with a best lap of the race just 0.3 seconds outside the fastest of all.
Starting round four from the front-row of the ‘reverse grid’, Dean wasn’t able to get away quite as well as he would have liked with lots of wheelspin and simply couldn’t prevent Melker moving through before they reached the first turn. Further behind in the mid-pack, chaos ensued with a multi-car tangle so the Safety Car was deployed for three laps.
At the re-start on the fifth tour, the Addax driver got away cleanly and ran competitively within roughly one second of Melker – posting a best lap time just 0.2 seconds shy of the quickest of all on the seventh tour. Into the final third of the race though, fourth-placed Andrea Caldarelli mounted a charge and on lap 14 he was in a position to attack into the first corner.
Dean defended brilliantly though and after attempting to break the tow into the braking zone, he held his line for the corner as Caldarelli out-braked himself and ran wide on the exit. This gave the Briton an enhanced cushion which he held to the flag on lap 16 – finishing 1.5 seconds to the good to secure his maiden podium of 2011 and second career GP3 Series rostrum.
“The start to race two was tricky, it was quite cool and there was a shadow over the front of the grid so as soon as I let the clutch out we had a loads of wheelspin”, explained Dean, “We haven’t had the traction out of the last corner this weekend, that’s been our main problem and it’s how (Andrea) Caldarelli managed to get close to me into turn one a couple of laps from the end. It was ok though.
“It’s impossible to overtake at a track like Barcelona when you’re all running such similar pace. We were able to do good lap times but every time I pushed harder we lost the grip so I decided to look after third place. I’m really happy to have given the guys at Addax their first GP3 podium of 2011.”
There is now a lengthy break in the GP3 Series calendar with rounds five and six taking place five weeks from now over the weekend 25th/26th June at the Valencia Street Circuit in Spain – supporting the F1 World Championship’s Grand Prix of Europe.
Provisional 2011 GP3 Series Driver Standings (after Rd4):
1st Nigel Melker, 22pts; 9th Dean Smith, 7pts
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