GP3 Testing, Circuit Ricardo Tormo, Valencia, 25 – 26 April 2017
Iberianmph.com in the form of Diego Merino and I are back at Valencia for the last round of testing before racing begins at Barcelona 12 – 14 May. So let us see if we can predict a winner amongst the drivers competing in 2017. There are 10 drivers who competed in GP3 in 2016 therefore we have 9 new drivers coming up from other series.
The first day started somewhat fresh about 15º but that was not to last as less than an hour later the sun was out and so were the cars.
So what is different this year in GP3? Basically it is the same car as 2016 (GP3/16) with the exception that this year they have DRS (Drag Reduction System) and also have been fitted with a new electronic VSC system (Virtual Safety Car System). It was first tested at Barcelona a couple of weeks ago.
How does it work? Basically as soon as the VSC is called by race control each driver is immediately informed via their steering wheel indicator. The driver has a maximum of 4 seconds to completely remove his foot from the accelerator and reduce speed to less than 80kph. The system will then allow the driver to put his foot down but will control his speed to less than the 80 kph permitted under the VSC.
We asked drivers about the DRS and its effect on the car. They stated that it has helped to increase downforce and straight line speed but the car does require setting up differently to find its ‘sweetspot’. However I think the drivers are still getting used to it and its effect on the car.
The morning session went off without incident as the drivers, especially the new ones got to grips with the Valencia circuit. Fastest for the morning session was Dorian Boccolacci, Trident car #12 with a time of 121.191, second and third were Jack Aitken and George Russell, both with team ART car no #1 and #3 respectively.
In the garage of Campos Racing we spoke to Adrian Campos, team owner and ex-F1 driver. Asked how things were doing in GP3 he said quite clearly that money was in short supply due to the economic climate but that it was the same for all the teams. This season he was only fielding 3 cars. One of his drivers from last year, Alex Palou, is driving this year in the Japanese Formula 3000 and Steijn Schothorst has moved on to drive this year with Arden International in GP3.
After taking pictures outside the official GP3 driver photoshoot we headed for lunch and a chat between us on motor racing topics. It is amazing how Diego and I think alike and especially the demise of F1 today. We both agreed it is not as exciting as a few years ago. (Remember Tony has followed F1 since the late 50s.)
Also in the paddock today was Alan Permane from Renault F1 team. He spent quite a while talking to various teams in the paddock but especially Adrian Campos during lunch. Let’s see if this leads to anything!
The afternoon session got underway at 14.00hrs on the dot. We went and did our obligatory track walk to take pictures. Again no incidents and the final times of the afternoon were George Russell fastest, Team ART car #3 1.21,814, second was Alessio Lorandi, Jenzer motorsport car #22 1.21,816 and third was Boccolacci, Trident with a time 1.21,834.
At the end of the afternoon session I wanted to interview again Tatiana Calderon, who this year is driving for DAMS car #15. We had to wait while Tatiana finished her debriefing with the team’s engineers. However we did not waste our time – we had a good talk with Tatiana’s sister/manager and also one of her team-mates, the American Santino Ferrucci car #14.
Santino explained that he loved his European racing and also told us that as a driver for the HAAS F1 team drivers academy he had been able to try out their 2016 F1 car. He was actually very knowledgeable on not only race tracks in the U.S. but also many of the circuits in Europe. He came across as a very intelligent and informed driver. Santino gave us some insight as to what Fernando Alonso would have to go through for his participation in the Indy 500 and he thought the American fans of motorsport would love it.
Once Tatiana was available to speak to us, she was clear regarding her ambitions in motorsport, her passion for it and about her additional challenge as F1 development driver for Sauber F1 Team. (See our interview later). Let us all wish her well.
Day 2 at Valencia was under overcast skies but not cold. Overnight saw some rain which of course washed some of the rubber off the track. At 9.00hrs sharp the green flag was shown and testing was under way.
Diego and I, apart from seeing the action on track and in the paddock on this final day of testing had arranged an interview with Didier Perrin, Technical Director of F2/GP3 (see the interview here). We also had a quick chat from the press office with Peter Windsor of Motorsport.com.
The morning session ended at 12.00 and the front runner was Leonardo Pulcini, car #6 Arden International with a time of 1.21,233, second went to Jack Aitken, car #1 ART GP also with the same time and third was Dorian Boccolacci, car #12 Trident Racing with a time 1.21,259.
The afternoon session got under way at 13.00 and the teams all wanted to do long runs and race simulations which for sure would include the use of the DRS in race mode. Fastest was Alessio Lorandi, Jenzer car #22 with 1.21,333, followed by a really impressive drive by Raoul Hyman, Campos Racing car #27 with a 1.21,478 and 65 laps under his belt.
So, one may ask, are the cars any faster than last year here at Valencia testing? Well, the answer is yes by just a couple of milliseconds. However with the introduction of the DRS we do expect the cars, especially midfield, to be closer and allow for more overtaking and closer racing. Which is exactly what all of us petrolheads want to see.
How do these Valencian tests compare with 2016? Last year the fastest time went to Matthew Parry, Team Koiranen with a 1.21,476. This year the fastest time went to Dorian Boccolacci, Trident and a time of 1.21,191. There you have it – basically 2 tenths of a second quicker but once the teams have come to grips with the new DRS and the cars set up we will see the cars going even quicker. So for all those out there who follow GP3 expect some good close racing in 2017.
Finally, my prediction for 2017 on which drivers will be at the top gaining the points. They are Boccolacci, Aitken, Russell, Pulcini, Ferrucci, Lorandi, Hyman. One of these drivers will be 2017 Champion. We will see but good luck and be safe to all of the drivers who will be participating this year.
PS: Stay tuned for more GP3 features!