Arjun Maini started his 2017 GP3 campaign on a sound note with a second place finish in the lone practice on Friday, a mere 0.353s off ART’s Nirei Fukuzumi.
The Jenzer driver went for a late qualifying lap which propelled him to second from seventh in the 20 laps he ran.
Maini converted his fine start in qualifying, finishing sixth in the order, just 0.498s from pole-sitter ART’s Jack Aitken.
The Indian was visibly frustrated with himself on his last lap when he couldn’t pull through, what could have been his best lap after going marginally quicker in Sector 1, but unable to convert it in Sector 2 and 3.
Meanwhile, Aitken was followed by teammate Fukuzumi in second and Trident’s Dorian Boccolacci in third.
The start of the first race on Saturday saw Maini gain a position after a poor getaway from ART’s George Russell, who dropped to eighth in the order.
Meanwhile, the Indian came close to challenging Arden’s Leonardo Pulcini and Boccolacci for fourth, but the two had enough to pull away.
Running in fifth for most of the race, the Haas development driver soon had teammate Alessio Lorandi behind him, running at a better pace.
The Italian wasted no time to go past the Indian at the end of the main straight, the place where Maini lost out to ART duo Russell and Anthoine Hubert in the latter part of the race.
The Indian did put up a fight to his rival from 2014 BRDC campaign and used up his DRS on the Mercedes junior, but the ART’s pace was little too much for the Jenzer driver.
Up ahead, Honda F1 junior Fukuzumi claimed his first GP3 win after his teammate and closest challenger Aitken retired due to a mechanical issue.
Behind, Pulcini had an impressive debut after he was able to clear Boccolacci and at the same time defend from Lorandi to finish second.
Boccolacci lost further as he came into the clutches of Maini towards the end of the race. However, with not many laps to play with, Maini was forced to settle for seventh, a mere 0.5s behind the Trident car.
The Indian made a superb start in the Sprint race to take the lead from Boccolacci, who also managed to get past reverse-grid pole-sitter Raoul Hyman (Campos) going into Turn 1.
Once at the front, Maini came under real threat from the Trident driver as the two had a fantastic wheel to wheel battle for a couple of laps.
Boccolacci came real close on Lap 6 when the two made slight contact, but Maini defended well to keep his lead intact.
In the next few laps, the Indian pulled away handsomely in the front with Boccolacci fading away, having to defend from Hubert.
In the end, Maini took a dominant win by six seconds over Boccolacci, giving Jenzer it’s first GP3 victory since 2012 when Swiss driver Patric Niederhauser visited the top step twice in the season.
Maini also became the first Indian driver to win in Formula 1’s junior ladder GP3 series, bettering his previous best of second place in Hungary last year.
The Indian was overjoyed with his first win and was straightaway congratulated by Haas’ Gunther Steiner, race engineer Nicolas Caillol and received a special message from dad Gautam. “Never seen you race like this,” he said.
The Swiss outfit had a great result after Lorandi made his way onto the podium finishing third, after starting sixth on the grid.
With the completion of the first round, Maini sits third in the standings with 21 points, four behind teammate Lorandi as Fukuzumi leads on 29.
In the teams’ standings, Jenzer is second on 46 points with ART leading on 73.
The season will head on to the Red Bull Ring for Round 2 during the July 7-9 weekend.
[Image courtesy: Maini Brothers]