Racing Steps Foundation-backed GP2 Series driver Oliver Rowland secured his second podium of the season with a best-yet second place at the Red Bull Ring in Austria on Sunday, 3rd July, to move to within just a couple of points of the championship top two for MP Motorsport
After racing to sixth place in a red flag interrupted round seven at the Austrian track on Saturday, 2nd July, in the wet-but-drying eighth round on Sunday morning the British star claimed the runner-up spot to climb into fifth in the standings.
Tied on points with fourth placed Artem Markelov, Rowland is also only two points shy of second in the GP2 championship title race ahead of the MP Motorsport driver's home event at Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit this coming weekend.
Dutchman Daniël De Jong, arriving in Austria off the back of a superb outing at Baku City Circuit last time out in Azerbaijan, had a less straightforward weekend at the Red Bull Ring and emerged from the event with a best finish of 14th position in the round seven Feature Race.
"Oli did a great job on the drying track in race two to finish second, it's his best result yet in GP2 and has really boosted his championship", said MP Motorsport's Sarah Shaw, "Race one was a big challenge with the conditions, and the stoppage as well, it was a pretty crazy race in the end!
"It's a shame the weekend wasn't smoother for Daniël, he was a bit unlucky to be honest, but we're going straight to Silverstone now for next weekend's races feeling confident of challenging for the podium again and aiming for both guys to be back in the points."
Sunday morning's encounter started on a wet track, behind the Safety Car initially, with light rain still in the air. The action proper began on lap four and Rowland maintained his starting position of third but, just a few corners in, the Safety Car was called again due to a stricken car at Turn Three.
The action resumed on lap six and Rowland searched every which way for a route past Norman Nato, the breakthrough coming on lap eight when the Renault Sport Academy driver produced a sensational pass to claim second at Turn Three.
Setting fastest lap on the ninth tour, Rowland started to close on race leader Jordan King but during the mid-part of the race the gap between the pair then increased as the track dried more and more on the racing line. Although a late Safety Car period gave competitors the chance to change to slicks, those at the sharp end remained on treaded rubber and Rowland held second to the finish on lap 28.
From 14th on the grid, De Jong was shuffled back three places on the first racing lap and was then elbowed down to 19th position following the early Safety Car period. Mounting a good recovery, the Dutchman moved up into 18th on lap nine and then swarmed all over the back of Marvin Kirchhofer.
Climbing into 17th place on lap 14, De Jong then gained two more places in quick succession as others came to grief in the tricky conditions. When the Safety Car was required on lap 22, De Jong was one of several drivers to take the gamble of changing to slick tyres and although they were the correct option there wasn't enough time left to profit – he ended the race in 20th position.
On Saturday, Rowland qualified seventh fastest for the first race and he moved up into the top six out of the right-hander but was then delayed at Turn Two and a loss of traction meant he slipped to 10th place as a result. Taking ninth on lap eight, as the race approached mid-distance the weather started to have a say in proceedings as rain began to fall between the second and third corners.
As some drivers opted to pit for wet-weather rubber, Rowland remained on slicks – like the bulk of the upper order – and as the rain worsened race leader Pierre Gasly had a spin. Rowland moved into eighth and when a couple of rivals pitted under the resulting Safety Car, he climbed into sixth.
Judging the conditions superbly at the re-start on lap 22, he produced two incredible moves on slicks at the wettest part of the track to leap into fourth and on lap 23 he brilliantly grabbed third. Prior to a second Safety Car period at two-thirds distance, though, he was shuffled back to seventh.
With the majority of the rest of the field pitting to change tyres at the end of lap 28 under the Safety Car, another incident then resulted in red flags. Following a lengthy delay, officials re-started the race behind the Safety Car and after climbing as high as fifth he took the flag on lap 40 in sixth place.
De Jong started the race in 19th position and gained two places on the opening lap. Climbing into 16th place on lap nine, he then moved into the top 15 a lap later but a small lock-up on lap 13 meant he slipped to 16th again before pitting for wets four laps later.
No sooner had he done so, though, the Safety Car was deployed after Gasly's spin. As the rain ceased, the option to switch to treaded rubber didn't work out but De Jong did move up from 18th into the top 15 before choosing to pit again for slicks – moments before the race stoppage.
When the action re-started, the MP Motorsport racer was actually fourth in the train of cars leaving the pitlane behind the Safety Car even though 15th in truth, a lap down. After letting the rest of the pack pass him when the action resumed, De Jong eventually finished the race in 14th position.
MP Motorsport now travels directly to Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit in the UK for rounds nine and 10 of the GP2 season this coming weekend, 9th/10th July.