Norman Nato has claimed his first GP2 victory in style, overtaking poleman Pierre Gasly late on in a dramatic season opener in Barcelona and holding on in a feature race which saw three safety car periods before the Frenchman was greeted by the chequered flag ahead of Nicholas Latifi and Gasly.
The grid lined up for the start of the 2016 season in glorious sunshine and were soon underway, with the Red Bull tester easing in front of his countryman into turn one as they just held off a fast starting Sergey Sirotkin, who easily dispatched Alex Lynn and Latifi into the first corner and who themselves held off Gustav Malja and Artem Markelov (who dispatched the Swede in short order) around the circuit.
A virtual safety car for Luca Ghiotto’s escape at turn four a lap later quickly turned into a real one, but the track was cleared for a lap five restart, comfortably held by Gasly as Sergio Canamasas mugged Malja further behind, with Lynn and Jordan King starting the pit visits for the super soft shod drivers one lap later: the Williams tester was looking to mug his former DAMS teammate on strategy, but it soon became clear that Gasly had the pace to control the race.
Sirotkin was pushing Nato all around the circuit as he looked to take more from the race, but the Frenchman was a rock in defence until lap 23 when the Russian uncharacteristically spun at turn two, stalling the car and prompting another safety car period for the distraught Renault tester and opening a window for the remainder of the field to pit for free, with Gasly, Nato, Latifi, and Sergio Canamasas emerging before Lynn rolled around.
With potentially 14 laps remaining the race wasn’t over yet as all eyes were watching to see how long the leaders’ super softs would last. Artem Markelov wasn’t waiting to find out: the Russian made quick use of his new rubber to easily dispatch Jordan King and Lynn for P5 when the race went live on lap 26, while Nato saw his countryman was struggling and mugged him with a courageous move in the final complex for the lead of the race.
The displays showed that the race had moved to time rather than laps, prompting a lot of drivers to jump to action: Latifi had a practice alongside Gasly on the front straight before driving right around him into second on lap 32 as Markelov echoed the move on Canamasas behind them, and the Spaniard was mugged by Lynn in the same manner one lap later. Rafaelle Marciello was tapped into a spin by Antonio Giovinazzi a few corners later, bringing out the safety car as the chequered flag fell.
Nato was overjoyed to grab his maiden win on his Racing Engineering debut, with Latifi on his tail for his first podium. Gasly brought home PREMA Racing’s first podium in the team’s debut but was disappointed to have lost more, but Markelov was delighted to be in P4 right behind him. Lynn was the first of the early stoppers in 5th, ahead of Canamasas, King and Giovinazzi, the rookie making it a double haul for his countrymen on the pitwall, while Malja and Oliver Rowland closed out the points paying positions in P9 and 10 respectively ahead of tomorrow’s sprint race.
Round 1, Barcelona – Feature Race
1 Norman Nato Racing Engineering
2 Nicholas Latifi DAMS
3 Pierre Gasly PREMA Racing
4 Artem Markelov RUSSIAN TIME
5 Sergio Canamasas Carlin
6 Alex Lynn DAMS
7 Jordan King Racing Engineering
8 Raffaele Marciello RUSSIAN TIME
9 Antonio Giovinazzi PREMA Racing
10 Gustav Malja Rapax
11 Oliver Rowland MP Motorsport
12 Nobuharu Matsushita ART Grand Prix
13 Mitch Evans Pertamina Campos Racing
14 Arthur Pic Rapax
15 Daniël de Jong MP Motorsport
16 Marvin Kirchhöfer Carlin
17 Jimmy Eriksson Arden International
18 Sean Gelael Pertamina Campos Racing
19 Nabil Jeffri Arden International
Fastest Lap : Norman Nato (Racing Engineering) : 1 :34.050 on lap 28
Philo Paz Armand Trident
Sergey Sirotkin ART Grand Prix
Luca Ghiotto Trident