Dino Zamparelli's GP3 Diary - Belgium
Our GP3 columnist on tackling the daunting Eau Rouge and a unique qualifying record he wants to break.
By Dino Zamparelli. Last Updated: 04/09/13 9:46am
Spa is probably out and out my favourite circuit on the GP3 calendar. I say probably, because I have not yet raced at Monza or Abu Dhabi, and although my home GP at Silverstone was special, I think Spa just edges it out for being my favourite.
Let's start with the famous Eau Rouge corner.
Eau Rouge (which means Red Water - I always knew living in France for seven years would pay off) is one of those corners that as a racing driver, we just know. We grow up watching F1 on TV, and whilst there are hundreds of different corners on hundreds of different circuits, all with different names...Eau Rouge just seems to have that something extra. If it could audition for the X Factor, it would win every time.
There is something so daunting about the corner, and yet something so enthralling. Walking the corner on Thursday morning made me appreciate just how steep it actually is. It has a low entry, a climbing apex and a blind crest at the top. You're expected to take it flat out...every single lap.
The F1 cars can easily get through flat out. Watching the onboard footage of them going through Eau Rouge is like watching Grandad Jim going for a drive on Sunday to get his milk from the corner shop. In other words, with their levels of downforce; it's a doddle.
But with the GP3 car, with less downforce (and admittedly less power) but with tyres that generally speaking are less grippy, it isn't as straight forward as just being flat. No driver wants to be the driver that got caught out by Eau Rouge. No driver wants to go in flat, and come out in an ambulance. So, with that in mind, I think I could be excused for not taking it flat out on my very first lap on Friday Free Practice. Indeed, it wasn't until lap three on Friday Free Practice that I eventually decided I should probably grow some (bigger) balls and go flat out.
I went in flat, and came out fairly sideways in all honesty. I managed to save the slide, and whilst I proceeded fairly slowly on that lap, trying to recover my breath and bravery (I told the team I had got blocked by traffic) I decided to go again on lap four. I went in flat, and came out flat. Good, now I could focus on the other corners.
Spa is one of the longest circuits on the calendar. After six laps in Free Practice, I got the message on the radio that I had to come in for new tyres. "New tyres already?!" I said. "Yes mate, there's only 15 minutes left of the session" came the message back over the in-car radio from my engineer. With an out lap, and 6 flying laps, nearly 30 minutes had gone by! And let's face it; I wasted about three of those laps trying to figure out how to take Eau Rouge flat.
Anyway, I got myself on new tyres and continued my learning of the car on the circuit. I spent that evening and the next morning focussed on the data to see how I could improve and make sure we were fast on Saturday morning qualifying.
Unfortunately we weren't as fast as I'd hoped. Not only that, but I qualified my number 16 car, in 16th place, for the fourth consecutive race weekend in a row. "Rupert, where have I qualified? If it's 16th place, I swear I'm coming in for new tyres and driving this thing back to Bristol!" I said, half-jokingly over the radio to my engineer at the end of qualifying. "No don't worry mate, you're 15th...*beep* (sound of him clicking the radio button off and on) "Ummm, yeah you're 16th I'm afraid."
Silence at that point, was probably the best for all parties.
I'm not a gambling man - but I'm sure the odds on qualifying the number 16 Marussia Manor car in 16th place four race weekends in a row, would be as about as high as a kite on a very windy day. Qualifying has been my downfall this season. It's a very tricky thing to get right, especially with such few laps in practice; however, I feel like after this weekend, I have found something extra and will improve that for Monza.
Fortunately the races fared a little bit better than qualifying. After Race One, I had jumped up to tenth place after a fairly uneventful race for me. A few overtakes and a few crashes ahead meant I would be tenth at the line and pick up a useful championship point.
It was Race Two on Sunday that I would like to talk about. This was far and away my best race of the season. The track was slightly damp, but it dried out after only a few laps. I started in 10th place and made a fairly poor getaway. I was boxed out at the start and fell back a few places. After lap one, I decided to get a move on and started to overtake cars ahead.
I made some really nice moves at the end of the Kemmel straight (which is the long straight after Eau Rouge) and got myself nicely in the points in seventh half way through the race. I then caught up with Saturday's race winner - Red Bull backed Kyvat - and had a race long battle with him. It was fun. I was a bit faster and was trying to find a way through.
I got through at turn one, but he repassed on the Kemmel straight, having got back in the clean air that I was nicely punching for him with my car. After that, I put him under pressure, but couldn't quite make it past. Close but no cigar, as they say. It was good racing, fair and clean. Not like the driving you or I sometimes see lower down the grid - where along with the exhaust fumes, you can just smell the desperation for a good result. Desperation leads to recklessness, which leads to dodgy driving, which leads to crashes.
I tweeted after the race that I felt like I'd got my mojo back. I felt fast again and felt like I was driving on the limit again. It's a natural feeling that you cannot force. On Sunday at Spa, I was driving my Marussia Manor GP3 car on the edge - and it felt flipping amazing! I've captured the essence of how I drove on Sunday, and will take it into Monza with me.
I said Spa was my favourite circuit so far; but with Monza being my second home race and with the Italian fans always out in force, who knows, maybe my next blog entry will be all about how special Monza is.
One thing's for sure, I'm positive that I've got on top of the car and feel like I'm a lot closer to the limit. Consequently, I feel sure that I will not be starting in 16th for the fifth consecutive time. If I do, then let's hope I had put that bet on...
Follow Dino on Twitter: @DinoZamparelli