British star Oliver Rowland produced a sensational GP2 Series debut for MP Motorsport at his ‘home’ track, Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit, over the weekend with an impressive points finish in each of the event’s races – including a best of seventh place in round 10 on Sunday morning.
Agreeing an eleventh hour deal with the Anglo-Dutch team during the build-up to British Grand Prix weekend to partner MP Motorsport regular Daniël De Jong, the Racing Steps Foundation backed driver – who is currently the points leader in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series – absolutely shone during his maiden appearance in the FIA Formula One World Championship support category.
Qualifying ninth fastest for round nine, little more than 0.5 seconds shy of pole position, Rowland ended the 29 lap contest on Saturday, 4th July, in the same position after an excellent drive – before a debatable post-race ‘track limits’ time penalty dropped him back to 10th place.
On Sunday, 5th July, the 22-year-old carved his way through from the fifth row of the grid into a richly deserved, and highly competitive, seventh place result a mere 0.3 seconds shy of the coveted top six.
Dutch team-mate De Jong warranted much more from the Silverstone weekend than he ultimately received, an excellent drive in round 10 – during which he climbed as high as eighth place after a great early battle with GP2 championship leader Stoffel Vandoorne – coming to nothing on the final lap when he was forced into retirement after a tangle with Robert Visoiu.
photo: Dutch Photo Agency
In Saturday’s race, De Jong, who will celebrate his 23rd birthday on Thursday, produced a great performance to rise through the order from 21st on the grid into an eventual finish of 12th position. Due to a penalty for Arthur Pic, post-race he was elevated into 11th place just outside the points.
“It’s always fantastic being back at Silverstone and Oli and Daniël both did a great job”, said MP Motorsport’s Tony Shaw, “We were so impressed with Oli’s performances and it was great working with him again. To come fresh into GP2 with no prior testing and deliver the results and pace he did was phenomenal but no surprise – he’s the real deal and a proper star."
“Daniël was unlucky in race two, he deserved much more and his racecraft during the early part of the race when he was battling with [Stoffel] Vandoorne and Oli was impressive. He wasn’t too far away from the points in the first race so hopefully he can carry that forward to the Hungaroring.”
Opting to run the medium compound Pirelli tyre at the start of round nine on Saturday afternoon, Rowland battled back from a sluggish start which dropped him to 12th place to climb back into the top 10 prior to an early pit-stop at the end of lap seven.
Rejoining the race outside the top 20, Rowland reeled off impressive lap times – setting the fastest of the race at one point on lap 10 – and carved his way through to eighth place with six laps to go. After running wide at Copse on lap 25, the Briton slipped to ninth and although edged to 10th on the penultimate lap he took the flag in ninth following a final corner spin for Jordan King.
De Jong’s drive from the 11th row of the grid, running a different strategy to Rowland, was one of his better performances of 2015. Climbing to the fringe of the top 10 during the first third of the race, and fortunately avoiding drama on lap 10 when Mitch Evans’ head rest flipped out of the cockpit of his car when running directly ahead, De Jong was into sixth at two thirds distance.
Pitting on lap 22 from second on track, De Jong returned to the fray in 15th position and although taking the flag on lap 29 in 13th place he was elevated into the top 12 due to a penalty for former team-mate Sergio Canamasas, and then 11th post-race as a result of Pic’s penalty.
Both MP Motorsport drivers raced strongly and in close quarters during round 10 and it was De Jong who made the better start, launching from 11th on the grid superbly to leap-frog Rowland and also climb into ninth position with the Briton just behind.
Determined to make headway as quickly as possible, De Jong produced a remarkable pass on Stoffel Vandoorne into Maggots on the opening lap to climb into the top eight and Rowland too had a look at passing the Belgian at Stowe, but had to tuck back in to 10th position.
De Jong remained in eighth until lap six when Vandoorne hit back at The Loop and then Rowland got ahead of his MP team-mate two laps later. While De Jong slipped to 11th, prior to his unfortunate last lap retirement, Rowland continued to make superb progress and after pressuring Vandoorne lap after lap he took eighth position on the 18th tour with a superb pass up the inside at The Loop.
Right with the fifth placed battle featuring Sergey Sirotkin, Nick Yelloly and Alex Lynn, on the 21st and final lap Rowland moved ahead of Sirotkin for seventh position with another tremendous pass, this time at Abbey, to seal an outstanding maiden GP2 weekend.
Next on the GP2 Series schedule is a visit to the Hungaroring near Budapest three weeks from now, over the weekend 25th/26th July, for rounds 11and 12 of the championship season.