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Gasly takes early GP2 lead in Spain as ART dominates GP3 races

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With four races of the new Formula 1 season already down ahead of last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, it was the turn of its two main feeder series to get underway for 2016.

GP2 and GP3 have produced a big chunk of the F1 grid, with Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Romain Grosjean, Esteban Gutierrez and Valtteri Bottas being just five of the drivers to pass through the ranks.

2015 GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne made an immediate impression on his F1 debut in Bahrain earlier this year, while GP3 winner Esteban Ocon is another highly-rated youngster on the books of both Mercedes and Renault.

Here’s our round-up the opening weekend of the GP2 and GP3 seasons in Spain.

GP2 – Gasly leads; Nato, Lynn the winners

The opening round of the GP2 Series season proved to be a successful one for Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly and championship newcomers Prema Powerteam – even if a win eluded both parties.

Gasly’s curious record of not winning a race since his title-winning Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 campaign back in 2013 looked set to end after he claimed pole position on Friday evening.

While he remained in the fight for the race win for much of Saturday’s feature race, it was fellow Frenchman Norman Nato who picked up his maiden GP2 victory instead.

Nato managed to stick with Gasly through the opening stint of the race with Russian youngster Sergey Sirotkin piling pressure on the lead duo in P3, only to spin out and spark a safety car period.

Once the drivers had pitted for fresh tires, Nato grew stronger while Gasly struggled on the soft compound rubber, leaving him powerless to stop the Racing Engineering driver from sweeping into the lead.

Nato was able to ease home to pick up his first GP2 victory, while Canadian racer Nicholas Latifi scored his first podium by passing Gasly late on to finish second, leaving the Prema racer to complete the all-Francophone podium.

Ex-Ferrari youngster Raffaele Marciello started Sunday’s sprint race from pole position after finishing eighth on Saturday, but was powerless to stay in the lead for long at the start. Williams development driver Alex Lynn made a good start from P3 to power past Jordan King for second on the first lap before picking off Marciello for the lead two laps later.

Gasly followed suit, passing both King and the ailing Marciello quickly before setting off in pursuit of Lynn to set up a battle that would rage on to the checkered flag. Lynn’s defence proved mighty though, allowing him to claim his first win of the season – albeit by just three-tenths of a second.

In second, Gasly ensured that he left Spain as the championship leader ahead of Nato and Lynn, while King was able to complete the podium on Sunday and give Racing Engineering the joint-lead of the teams’ championship with DAMS.

GP3 – ART class from Leclerc and Albon

Following his strong showing in F3 last year, newly-appointed Ferrari junior Charles Leclerc lived up to his pre-season billing as GP3 title favorite by winning on debut with ART Grand Prix.

Leclerc started third on Saturday behind DAMS drivers Jake Hughes and Kevin Joerg on the grid, but a lightning start saw him sweep into the lead at the first corner.

From there, the Monegasque youngster never looked back, storming to a debut victory by six seconds from Hughes. Leclerc’s teammate Nirei Fukuzumi also reached the podium, finishing third ahead of Ferrari academy member Antonio Fuoco.

ART’s strong start to the season continued on Sunday when Thailand’s Alexander Albon scored his first GP3 victory, charging from fourth on the grid to sweep around the outside of pole-sitter Oscar Tunjo at Turn 1 on the first lap.

Albon followed the example set by Leclerc on Saturday to lead the remainder of the race in a somewhat processional affair, leading home Tunjo and Fuoco at the checkered flag.

IndyCar’s season finale at St. Pete approved to have 20,000 fans

IndyCar St. Pete fans
Chris Jones/IndyCar
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The NTT IndyCar Series’ season finale will be permitted up to 20,000 fans, making the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg possibly the circuit’s most well-attended race of 2020. The race originally was scheduled as the season opener before being moved to Oct. 25 because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

IndyCar has enjoyed limited crowds at Road America, Iowa Speedway, Gateway, Mid-Ohio and this weekend’s doubleheader races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, which could have up to 10,000 fans in attendance. That had been the largest maximum grandstand crowd for an IndyCar race this season.

At a St. Petersburg city council meeting Thursday, Mayor Rick Kriseman approved plans by race organizers Green Savoree Racing Promotions to hold the Oct. 23-25 weekend for the IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Pete with 20,000 fans who would follow health and safety protocols that include mandatory temperature checks and masks.

 “My thanks to Green Savoree Racing Promotions and IndyCar for their flexibility and resilience during this challenging time,” Kriseman said in a release. “I know that everyone is excited to get back on the track in St. Pete. I can’t wait for Oct. 23rd. I know everyone will embrace this race the St. Pete way, adhering to the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Let’s have some great racing in the Sunshine City.”

Paddock and the pit lane will remain closed to spectators, and social distancing of at least 6 feet will be observed on site.

“Our entire team greatly appreciates the patience and understanding of our ticket holders as we worked through this process with Mayor Kriseman, City Council and local health officials,” Kim Green, co-owner, chairman and CEO of Green Savoree Promotions. “It’s important for everyone who attends to read and follow all the COVID-19 protocols to contribute to a fun, safe and successful event for us all.”

“The ongoing guidance and support of Mayor Kriseman, City Council, and the City of St. Petersburg’s event team have been phenomenal,” said Kevin Savoree, co-owner, president and COO of Green Savoree Promotions. “We also would not be in this position to move this spring tradition to fall without Firestone’s unwavering commitment and dedication. It’s going to be a terrific weekend again in downtown St. Pete in three weeks featuring world-class racing from INDYCAR.”