Frederik Vesti claimed his third win of the 2023 season in style, managing wet conditions, a drying track and late charge from his closest title rival to take the Barcelona Sprint Race victory.
Théo Pourchaire made two late-race moves after the final Safety Car restart to claim an important second-place finish from ninth on the grid and keep Vesti within touching distance in the Championship.
Teammate Victor Martins collected third to put both ART Grand Prix drivers on the podium, securing his first podium since Round 2 in Jeddah.
AS IT HAPPENED
Reverse grid polesitter Amaury Cordeel launched into an early lead following a rolling start procedure due to the heavy downpour. Into the first corner, Vesti tried to put a move on Jak Crawford for second, but the pair made contact. It sent Vesti across the escape road as the Hitech Pulse-Eight dropped down the order with damage. The Dane continued on in P2, but the American was out of the race at the end of the opening lap.
He didn’t dwell on the contact for long, as the PREMA Racing driver took the lead from Cordeel into Turn 10 on Lap 2 after the Invicta Virtuosi Racing #15 ran wide at corner entry. Martins was through on the Belgian for second on Lap 4, squeezing his way down the inside at Turn 1.
After several laps trailing Enzo Fittipaldi, Ayumu Iwasa found some grip on the inside of Turn 3 to take ninth from the Rodin Carlin driver on Lap 8.
Pourchaire had been on the gearbox of Jack Doohan since the opening lap but got his move done for fifth on Lap 10. Diving to the inside of Turn 10, the ART Grand Prix driver had the traction to seal the place through Turn 12.
Cordeel had another wide moment on Lap 12, this time at Turn 7. This allowed Pourchaire and Doohan to sneak through for fourth and fifth, but the #15 Invicta Virtuosi was just about able to regain his momentum to keep Oliver Bearman behind him.
By halfway, Vesti’s lead was up to five seconds over Martins. All the drivers sought to cool the wet Pirelli tyres as the track surface continued to dry up and more began to ask about a potential change to slicks.
Jehan Daruvala, Kush Maini and Zane Maloney were the first to take the chance and fit soft tyres on Lap 17. Juan Manuel Correa was in on the following lap to make the switch.
Daruvala set the fastest lap of the race up to that point on Lap 20, three seconds quicker than race leader Vesti. Correa meanwhile lost his Van Amersfoort Racing car at Turn 2, spinning into the gravel and bringing the Virtual Safety Car out. One lap later and the full Safety Car was deployed. Vesti opted to pit for slicks, bringing the rest of the leaders in with him.
The Safety Car was withdrawn with four laps remaining and Vesti was able to keep clear of Martins at the restart. Further back, Pourchaire was immediately down the inside of Hauger for third place at Turn 1. At Turn 3 and he swept around the outside of teammate Martins for second to put his title rival in his sights.
With the race going to time following the Safety Car intervention, Vesti held Pourchaire at arm’s length with a series of fastest laps to secure his third win of the season.
Martins resisted late pressure from Hauger to make it two ARTs on the podium in third, with Doohan securing fifth for Invicta Virtuosi. Richard Verschoor was sixth ahead of Bearman and Iwasa, who was promoted to the final points-paying position after Cordeel received a five-second time penalty for exceeding track limits.
KEY QUOTE – Frederik Vesti, PREMA Racing
“P1 in the Sprint Race in Barcelona, really happy to take this win. We started third and I knew there was a good possibility today to take the win in very difficult conditions, going from the wet to the dry tyres. Good points again and we focus on tomorrow now.”
THE CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
Vesti’s victory lifts him onto 99 points, marginally extending his advantage over Pourchaire in second, now on 93 himself. Iwasa remains third on 70 points ahead of Hauger and Maini, who complete the top five on 53 points and 49 points respectively.
PREMA Racing still lead the way, now on 144 points ahead of ART Grand Prix, who are on 123. DAMS remain third in the Teams’ Standings on 104.
The FIA Formula 2 Feature Race is set to get underway at 11:25 local time. Oliver Bearman starts from pole position on Sunday.