Briton closes in on championship lead after second win of season
Dean Stoneman took a polished victory in the opening race at Zolder, converting his second pole position of the year into his second win – closing the gap to championship leader Jolyon Palmer in the process.
The Briton looked assured throughout, leading from the start and negotiating a safety car period in the middle of the race to eventually win by more than seven seconds – even setting the fastest lap of the race on his final tour to underline his dominance.
"The car felt really good," Stoneman said. "I knew I was consistent in the race and I was able to keep my last six boosts for the final two laps, and I was able to set my fastest time on the very last lap. Hopefully I can carry on getting to the top of the podium but you never know what will happen in the next race."
Jolyon Palmer ensured he maintained the championship lead courtesy of a strong drive to second, having started the race from fifth. The 19-year-old made a stellar start, grabbing fourth off the line from Armaan Ebrahim before taking a further two positions in quick succession on the opening lap – claiming third from Kazim Vasiliauskas on the exit of the Kleine Chicane and then second with a pass on Benjamin Bailly on the run down to Butte.
"I got Armaan away from the start," Jolyon revealed. "Then I got a good exit from the first chicane, hit the boost straight away and got round the outside of Kazim and then managed to dive down the inside of Bailly. Dean pulled quite a big gap and it was pretty hard to make it up – the safety car gave me a chance, but Dean was a bit too quick in this one."
Vasiliauskas repassed Bailly on the opening lap before setting about closing down Palmer for second. He reeled in his rival in the early stages of the race until a safety car period scuppered his attack. He clattered the kerbs shortly after the restart and eventually settled for third, the Lithuanian taking his second podium in as many races.
The safety car period was caused by one of several incidents during the race. Natalia Kowalska’s spin into the barrier at turn three was the ultimate cause as her car lay stranded on the circuit, but she wasn’t the only racer in the wars. Championship contenders Philipp Eng and Will Bratt were both eliminated from the fight for points, when Eng made a desperate late lunge at turn eight. The Austrian carried too much speed into the corner before outbraking himself and running into Bratt. Jack Clarke was an innocent bystander, but he was left with nowhere to go and he too made contact with Eng. All three drivers were able to continue but were left way down the order.
The fight for fourth was an exciting contest, with Bailly holding the position in the early stages before fading with a damaged bargeboard – potentially losing up to half a second a lap. The position eventually went to a charging Sergey Afanasiev, whose drive through the field from 11th on the grid included an impressive pass on Armaan Ebrahim on the run to Kleine. Ebrahim had also got by Bailly and equalled his best ever position with fifth, while Bailly rounded out the top six at his home circuit – the same position that the RACB-backed driver has finished in the last three races.
Ivan Samarin drove to a spirited seventh, whilst Mihai Marinescu finished in an impressive eighth after starting in the pitlane. The Romanian’s charge was slightly tarnished by a clash with Will Bratt on the final lap, which sent the Briton spinning out of the race. Ricardo Teixeira and Nicola De Marco rounded out the top ten in what was a fascinating fight for the lower points-paying positions. De Marco himself had to recover from an off-road trip late on, whilst Benjamin Lariche and Kelvin Snoeks also fired themselves into the gravel when four cars tried to make it through turn one side-by-side.