British racer Oliver Rowland started his first full season in the GP2 Series with a brace of points finishes for MP Motorsport in rounds one and two at the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain over the weekend, 14th/15th May, to get the 2016 campaign off to a strong start for the Dutch squad.
Taking a top 10 finish in the Feature Race on Saturday afternoon, the Racing Steps Foundation driver produced an even better performance in the Sprint Race on Sunday morning to climb through from the fifth row of the grid into an excellent top six finish – ending the event ninth in the championship.
Team-mate Daniël De Jong took a best result of 14th position from the opening weekend of the new season in the first contest, the Dutchman having to settle for 17th place in the second encounter which reached its conclusion under the Safety Car after a late-race collision.
“It’s good to start the season in the points in both races, Oli did a great job all weekend”, said MP Motorsport team manager Sander Dorsman, “He was a bit unlucky in qualifying, there was a chance to be on the first couple of rows so we’re sure we had the pace to fight for the podium. Anyway, the top 10 in race one and sixth in race two is a good way to start the year."
“The weekend was a bit tougher for Daniël, qualifying was very close in the middle order with only a few hundredths between six or seven guys just outside the top 10. It wasn’t easy to make progress in the races but 14th place in race one was pretty good and we hope for more in Monaco.”
Rowland, who is part of the Renault Sport Academy, began round one of the season from seventh on the grid, having qualified just 0.6 seconds shy of the front row, with De Jong in 17th position – less than 0.2 seconds outside the top 12 in the extremely tightly bunched mid-pack.
Making a good start to Saturday afternoon’s ‘Feature Race’, Rowland challenged for sixth place and looked to go around the outside into the first corner but he was forced wide, launching the car over the kerbs, and dropped to 11th place as a result.
Due to a car then making contact with the tyre barriers, a Virtual Safety Car period was employed on lap two and at the re-start on lap six Rowland held 11th and De Jong was inside the top 15 after a good beginning to the race.
Rowland moved into the top 10 when Alex Lynn pitted at the end of lap six and the next time around the MP Motorsport racer served his tyre change pit-stop to switch from the Soft compound Pirellis to the harder compound.
De Jong ran the opposite strategy to his team-mate, running deep into the race on the harder rubber, and he climbed into the top eight before making his stop for Soft tyres at the end of lap 24 when the Safety Car appeared.
At the re-start on lap 26, Rowland held ninth and De Jong 17th but the former was soon elbowed back to 11th place. Then, on lap 33, a tangle involving Raffaele Marciello and Antonio Giovinazzi resulted in the Safety Car being called and then the chequered flags shown with Rowland back in the top 10 and De Jong in 15th position. Post-race, a penalty for Giovinazzi elevated De Jong into 14th.
From 10th on the grid in Sunday morning’s Sprint Race, round two, Rowland produced a fantastic start to rocket into the top eight and he remained part of the very evenly matched train behind fourth placed Marciello.
Running the same pace as race leader Alex Lynn, Rowland gradually edged closer to the cars ahead and by lap 17 he was within 0.4 seconds of Sergio Canamasas. Into the final six laps, Rowland’s pressure told and he managed to squeeze ahead of the Spaniard into seventh place and immediately started to pressure Nicholas Latifi, taking sixth with a great move into Turn One on lap 21.
In the sister MP Motorsport car, De Jong slipped back a couple of places to 16th position on the first tour but then held station for the opening few laps. Around one third distance, though, the Dutch driver started to slip down the order and by lap 11 he had been elbowed back to 20th place.
As a result of a major collision between two cars on lap 22, De Jong moved up into 18th place ahead of the Safety Car being deployed with Rowland holding sixth. Following a pit stop for Jimmy Eriksson under the cautionary period, De Jong moved into 17th and the Safety Car remained on track to the finish on lap 26 with Rowland securing his second points finish of the weekend.
Next on the GP2 Series schedule is the crown jewel event, the annual support races to the Monaco Grand Prix in Monte-Carlo on Friday, 27th May, and Saturday, 28th May.
2016 GP2 Series Driver Standings (after Rd2):
9th Oliver Rowland, 5pts; Daniël De Jong – No Score
2016 GP2 Series Team Standings (after Rd2):
6th MP Motorsport, 5pts