Belgian takes maiden win ahead of Palmer and Stoneman
Benjamin Bailly scored a triumphant victory on home soil in the second race at Zolder, the Belgian leading from the start to eventually take the chequered flag by just over three seconds from Jolyon Palmer.
While Bailly’s victory gave the home fans plenty to cheer, the action behind him proved equally consuming as Jolyon Palmer, Jack Clarke, Dean Stoneman and Will Bratt enjoyed a four-way tussle for second place for almost the entire duration of the race.
Palmer had taken second spot from Clarke away from the start, only for Clarke to reign him in as the race progressed. Stoneman meanwhile had worked his way up from seventh and after passing Bratt he exerted extreme pressure on Clarke ahead. The latter defended brilliantly until Stoneman worked an opportunity on lap 20, eventually passing his rival several corners after his first attempt as Clarke again defended stoically.
With only two laps to go, Stoneman didn’t have enough time to attack Palmer ahead, while Bailly was calmly marching on to his first victory in international motorsport. The action up front left Clarke with fourth, although again he had to defend – this time from Will Bratt, who was unable to find a way through and had to settle for fifth.
Romanian racer Mihai Marinescu eventually got the better of Kazim Vasiliauskas and Nicola De Marco in the fight for sixth. Vasiliauskas bounced across the kerbs in the early stages while trying to pass Marinescu, which seemingly gave De Marco the advantage. Vasiliauskas dropped further back and was left to tussle with Ivan Samarin while De Marco retired with a mechanical problem, leaving Marinescu to claim his second top six finish of the season.
Behind Vasiliauskas, Russian racer Samarin eventually claimed a lonely eighth ahead of the consistent Benjamin Lariche and Kelvin Snoeks.
Silverstone and Marrakech race winner Philipp Eng endured a torrid weekend for the second event in a row. Starting from eighth, the Austrian tried to go side-by-side with Dean Stoneman through turn one. The Briton took the inside line and slightly squeezed Eng out, the Austrian running through the gravel and down the order as a consequence. He was able to continue but never looked likely to challenge for the points paying positions.
Sergey Afanasiev was another front-runner to experience a challenging race. After a storming drive to fourth from the back of the grid in the opening race of the weekend, the Lukoil-backed driver suffered a change of fortune in today’s contest. Starting in fifth, he bogged down off the line and immediately dropped to the back of the pack.
The Russian began to make the same sort of spirited fight back that served him so well yesterday, including one particularly impressive pass on Benjamin Lariche. His charge ended on the final lap however, as he made a last ditch attempt to pass fellow countryman Ivan Samarin at the final chicane. The move was never really on however, and Afanasiev outbraked himself, spinning into the gravel trap and out of the race.
The result at the head of the field means Palmer extends his lead over Stoneman to eight points in the overall championship standings, but there was no denying who the hero of the day was. Bailly brought his car to a halt in parc ferme in front of a very vocal home crowd, before sparking wild celebration scenes on the podium.
"This is a really good feeling, fantastic in front of all my family and everybody who did a really good job," said a delighted Benjamin. "I just tried to keep the gap and finish first – that’s what I did. I pushed as hard as I could in the first laps and kept my boosts until the end of the race in case there was a safety car.
"This makes me really happy and gives me more confidence for the rest of the season. I hope it’s not the last one – I will do everything I can to remain at the front and why not more victories."