DAMS signs off rookie GP3 season with Abu Dhabi win
DAMS ended their maiden GP3 Series campaign with a stunning victory in Abu Dhabi, round nine of the 2016 season (November 25-27), as Jake Hughes battled back heroically from a pitlane start to claim the winner's trophy.
British racer Hughes was forced to start race one from the pitlane after race control ruled on an unsafe release from the pits during qualifying, and sensationally carved through the field to finish seventh.
That result gave the BRDC Superstar a front-row start on the race two reversed grid, which became the lead at the first corner. The 22-year-old Briton built a commanding lead and deservedly took the second victory of his rookie season and also the second for Le Mans-based DAMS.
All three DAMS drivers performed impressively at the Yas Marina Circuit. Swiss rookie Kevin Joerg started eighth and ran strongly throughout to come home a career-best fourth.
The Renault Sport Academy driver added eighth place on Sunday, impressively holding off new champion Charles Leclerc to round off his best weekend of the season.
American Santino Ferrucci put in a career-best qualifying performance to line up sixth for race one. The Haas F1 Development Driver was in contention for a second podium of 2016 when he was penalised for an on-track incident with Leclerc, which dropped him to ninth.
After just missing out on the reverse-grid pole Ferrucci was then hit and suffered an unfortunate puncture, dropping him to the back of the field, before battling his way back through to 15th.
DAMS collected 36 points - their season-best total of 2016 - in Abu Dhabi, elevating the Le Mans-based outfit to fourth in the end-of-year teams' standings. Hughes' win helped him climb to eighth in the Drivers' Championship, with Ferrucci 12th and Joerg 14th.
DAMS will stay in the UAE as the GP3 Series hosts three end-of-season test days (November 30-December 2), for which drivers will be announced shortly.
Jake Hughes, P7/P1: "The weekend started out very promising, the car performed well on the hard tyres and Santino proved we were also quick on the super-softs. I felt really good going into qualifying and remained positive, despite the unfortunate happenings and I think that's what spurred me on for the rest of the weekend. Going from the pitlane to seventh in the Feature Race was amazing and it put me in a great position for the Sprint, where I was able to finish the season with a win. It's fantastic for everyone involved, the car felt awesome and I'd like to thank DAMS for this first GP3 season."
Kevin Joerg, P4/P8: "It was a good weekend to finish the season. Qualifying was positive; I managed to line up eighth for race one, which went really well. I gained a few places and felt I produced a clean drive without mistakes, so I was really happy with fourth - my best result in GP3 - and scoring a decent handful of points. On Sunday, I struggled at the start, but still managed to hold on to eighth and score another point."
Santino Ferrucci, P9/P15: "It was a great start to the weekend with fourth in practice then sixth in qualifying, and we did a good job with the car. In race one I was fighting for third, but then unfortunately had contact with Charles [Leclerc]. I think it was a racing incident, but the officials decided to penalise me, which put me ninth and just out of the reversed-grid positions for Sunday's race. I had a good start, but got hit in Turn 5 which gave me a puncture, so I had to come back from that. Overall the team did an excellent job this weekend and it's a nice way to end the year."
François Sicard, Managing Director: "The weekend started well, the cars were competitive with Santino sixth and Kevin eighth in qualifying. We're very sorry for what happened to Jake, he didn't deserve this. All the drivers performed very well in the first race and Santino's penalty was very harsh; ninth place was unjust. Kevin did a great job and of course it was superb for Jake to clinch seventh. Jake's Sprint Race win from start-to-finish is a nice reward for him and the team. Kevin had some good fights and defended very well and Santino showed good pace, but obviously the puncture ended his chances. We have been more consistent in the second half of this season and here we showed that we can challenge for wins, which is promising for 2017. Now we will focus on next year, starting off with the tests later this week."
Frustrating weekend for DAMS in Malaysia
DAMS suffered a frustrating weekend at the penultimate round of the 2016 GP3 Series at Sepang in Malaysia (September 29 - October 2) as a number of incidents beyond their control cost the French squad valuable championship points.
Following podium finishes at the previous two rounds in Belgium and Italy, the Le Mans-based team had high hopes of continuing to climb the championship table.
They were still optimistic despite tyre issues in qualifying restricting Santino Ferrucci, Kevin Joerg and Jake Hughes to P12, P15 and P16 on the race one grid.
Briton Hughes was forced to retire from the opening encounter after being hit hard from behind at the first corner, and then staged a superb fightback from the rear of the race two grid to finish P12.
Renault Sport Academy driver Joerg managed his tyres well in race one, climbing to P12 by the chequered flag and setting the fourth-fastest lap. The Swiss added P11 spot on Sunday.
Haas F1 Team Development driver Ferrucci had the worst luck of all; the American teenager suffering with standard electronic components on his car that the series' technical support team were unable to fix, leading to his retirement from both races.
With just the season finale at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi to go on November 25-27, DAMS are fifth in the teams' championship while Hughes, Ferrucci and Joerg sit P9, P12 and P17 in the drivers' standings.
Kevin Joerg, P12/P11: "The weekend started well as I was second fastest in free practice, but we struggled to get our tyres into the optimum working window in qualifying and I started 15th, which made things quite difficult. The pace was pretty good once the tyres switched on and I was able to set the fourth-fastest lap overall and finish P12 in race one. I then finished P11 on Sunday, but following other cars closely around this circuit wasn't easy because of the number of high-speed corners and the downforce you lose. I expected more from the weekend, but I'm sure we can end the season strongly in Abu Dhabi."
Jake Hughes, DNF/P12: "I had high hopes coming into this weekend after the speed we'd shown at the past two rounds. We ran new tyres in practice and that perhaps didn't give a true representation of our speed because in qualifying all three cars were outside the top 10. Despite this, I was confident that from 16th on the grid, I could still score points in race one and maybe get a position that would let me benefit from the reversed grid. Unfortunately, I was hit at the first corner and had to retire. In race two I started P21 and finished P12 so I have to be satisfied with that on a track where passing is tough. I'm confident we can end the season strongly in Abu Dhabi."
Santino Ferrucci, DNF/DNF, said: "The weekend started pretty strongly with fifth place in practice and I was very happy with the car's balance. But circumstances beyond our control have turned things into a very frustrating experience. After qualifying P14, I had a throttle issue that caused me to retire from the first race and then we had another issue on the pre-grid and had to pull the car into the pits. The mechanics did a fantastic job to fix things in time for me to start from the pitlane, but I then had an issue with the gearbox hydraulics and had to retire again. We have a long gap now to Abu Dhabi and I'm sure DAMS will give me a good car to challenge for strong results there."
Francois Sicard, Managing Director, said: "We had hoped for a lot more this weekend, but unfortunately the new track surface at Sepang caused some tyre issues. Jake's weekend was ruined when he was hit from behind at the start of race one and Santino had an issue with one of the standard GP3 electronic parts on his car, which wasn't properly fixed by the series' technical team and caused his retirement on both days. We finish our season in Abu Dhabi at a circuit where we have tested before, which should help us as we look to end our rookie GP3 season on a high."
Hughes podium high-point of DAMS’ Monza weekend
Jake Hughes produced a storming drive from eighth on the grid to seal third and another podium for DAMS, in the first of two races at Italy’s legendary Autodromo Nazionale Monza (September 2-4).
The young Brit was right on the pace from lights out in Race One. Once a move was made for P7, the 22-year-old wasted no time in hunting down those ahead, setting benchmark lap times along the way.
By lap 12, Hughes had scythed his way into fifth position and was right with the lead quartet. It took just one more tour to overhaul the fourth placed man and on lap 15 he sealed a spot on the rostrum.
Hughes then set about catching the leaders, who were on newer tyres. Despite taking significant time out of the lead duo, with the lap count running out Hughes had to settle for an impressive third place.
Santino Ferrucci and Kevin Joerg endured mixed fortunes in the opening race of the weekend with 19th and a non-finish respectively but their fortunes improved somewhat come Race Two as the three DAMS drivers brought the cars home in formation, led home by Hughes in 10th, who had suffered damage early on following contact.
Ferrucci, the Haas F1 Team development driver, turned things around with a hatful of overtaking manoeuvres, moving his DAMS machine into 11th. Joerg had shown his true pace on Saturday morning in an impressive qualifying session that saw him fly to sixth and after a difficult opening race, a battling display yielded 12th position from 20th on the grid.
The DAMS trio left Italy encouraged by strong pace ahead of the next round of the GP3 Series season at Sepang (September 30 – October 2). DAMS are fifth in the Teams’ Championship; Hughes lies eighth in the Drivers’ standings, Ferrucci is 12th and Joerg 17th.
Jake Hughes, P3/P10: “The things we changed after the summer break to improve our one lap pace seem to have worked again. We were quickest in practice with a couple of mistakes and thought we had something in hand for qualifying. The red flag came at the wrong time, so by the time the session restarted we had one lap with the tyres not in an ideal place. Without a tow, we managed P5 which was as good as we could have done. In the opener, the car was just unreal. I was passing people and carved up to third in no time, catching the leaders who were on newer tyres. That proved we had the quickest car and we were confident for the race. Unfortunately, I suffered contact at the start – nothing I could have done and dropped down to last. With damage, we came back to P10, so it’s ‘what might have been’. Overall, we are happy. We didn’t get everything we wanted but Race One was unbelievable. With a clean weekend we can challenge anywhere.”
Santino Ferrucci, P19/P11: “I felt a little on the back foot even coming from Spa where we had a fantastic result. I wasn’t really expecting to struggle in terms of results like we did here at Monza. We had to overcome some hurdles and in qualifying it came down to who got the biggest slipstream. We were running alone and with the red flag, we were unlucky. Race One, we had a good start but I could not keep my position. I went off the track at the end of the race and finished last. We turned it around in Race Two to finish just outside the top 10 so I’m happy to leave here like that. We’ve still a lot to learn in terms of how we approach things.”
Kevin Joerg, DNF/P12: “It’s another weekend without scoring points. Myself and the team did a good job in practice and qualifying. We had the performance in the opener but we had a temperature problem and we had to pit – I lost a couple of laps. It was a shame but there wasn’t anything we could do. In Race Two, we looked good and managed to get to P12 from P20. The positive was that in qualifying our speed was good. We’ll focus on Malaysia now.”
François Sicard, Managing Director: “We showed again that our car is strong over the entire weekend. Since Spa, we’ve made progress on understanding the tyres – making sure they’re ready for the first quick lap. Santino did well to climb through the order with some fine manoeuvres. Kevin better understood how the tyres work once again after his improvement in Spa. The red flag was a shame in qualifying. The car was there and Jake showed we had the pace in race conditions. We can’t wait for Malaysia. We have put all elements of the puzzle together and the hard work over the summer is paying off – we’re competitive and we’re with the leading teams.”