Dean Smith - GP3, Istanbul, TurkeyBritish racing driver Dean Smith starred during the first event of the 2011 GP3 Series at Istanbul in Turkey over the weekend, 7th/8th May, following an 11th hour call-up to the FIA Formula One World Championship-supporting category by front-running Spanish squad Addax.

The budget restricted 23-year-old, from Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, has been on the sidelines since a couple of GP3 test outings last October which came shortly after the conclusion of his maiden campaign in the championship where he finished seventh overall and the top Briton.

In actual fact Dean’s last track outing prior to this weekend came at the wheel of a Formula One car, the MP4-23 McLaren Mercedes to be precise, back in November as part of his prize for winning the 2009 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award.

Showing absolutely no signs of rustiness, the 2005 Formula BMW UK Champion and 2009 Formula Renault UK Champion ended the opening weekend of the new GP3 season with two very strong performances including a best finish of sixth in race two on Sunday, from ninth on the grid.

In the first outing on Saturday Dean was robbed of a seventh place finish, and front-row start for the second encounter, after having to avoid potential contact from behind into Turn 12. Instead, he crossed the line in ninth but still ended both races as the best placed Addax Team driver and second highest finishing Briton – all, remember, having had no test time whatsoever during the pre-season.

“I’m really pleased with the pace we showed this weekend, especially considering I haven’t been in a car at all since the F1 test”, said Dean, “Unlike the others I haven’t done any testing so we’ve been having to work on the set-up all the way through. I think we’ve shown again how well we can go in GP3, if we’d done the pre-season tests I’m sure we’d have been fighting for two podiums here.”

Dean’s first time back in a GP3 car for almost seven months started very well during the opening practice on Friday, 6th May, where he was at the sharp end throughout the wet session before ending up eighth, within 0.6 seconds of the top of the times. In the second half-hour run in the afternoon, he was 0.7 seconds away from the outright pace.

In qualifying, he had problems with a lot of oversteer – having worked hard to eliminate the original problem of too much understeer – which led to the 12th fastest time out of 30 drivers. Still only just 0.382 seconds shy of pole position though, Dean was quite happy with his pace all things considered.

Running well in round one on Saturday afternoon, the Addax driver climbed through into ninth on the opening lap and looked in great shape before moving into the top eight, the placing to give pole position for Sunday’s race by virtue of the championship’s top eight ‘reverse grid’ format.

On the final lap, Dean passed fellow Brit Alexander Sims for seventh on the run into the penultimate turn. Heading into the corner itself he held the racing line but Sims locked-up under braking behind, so Dean choose to move to the outside to avoid being collected. The subsequent delay allowed Michael Christensen to steal seventh and Sims grabbed eighth – hugely frustrating for Dean.

Starting Sunday’s race from ninth on the grid, rather than the front-row as had looked likely, he made fantastic early progress once again to climb into eighth and then took seventh place at mid-distance with a great move on Valtteri Bottas.

Delivering excellent pace, Dean swarmed all over the back of Mitch Evans’ car during the closing stages and produced a tremendous move at the penultimate turn again to grab a very well deserved top six finish. Looking to the outside to un-settle his rival, Dean cut back to the inside with a textbook piece of driving to take the position and crossed the line only 0.8 seconds shy of fifth place.

“It’s definitely been a good weekend overall, we kept going from one extreme to the other with the understeer and oversteer but our pace was good even with that”, added Dean, “We should have definitely been on the podium in race two if we’d had the reverse grid pole. It’s disappointing how the first race ended but I’m happy with sixth in the second one and with the progress we made.”

Budget depending, Dean’s next outing will come a fortnight from now, 21st/22nd May, at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona for rounds three and four of the 2011 GP3 Series in support of the FIA Formula One World Championship’s Spanish Grand Prix.

Photo by GP3 Media Service/LAT