Ellinas heads home Malja for second win in as many weekends during dramatic rain-hit encounter in Germany
Silverstone-based Strakka Racing celebrated a memorable one-two finish, its first ever in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, during an incident-packed and highly dramatic 13th round of the season at the Nürburgring in Germany this afternoon.With light rain ahead of the start meaning a wet track was declared by officials, the majority of lead contenders still opted for slick tyres and the rain only became a factor during the incredibly tense final laps.
Starting the race fifth and sixth on slicks, drivers Tio Ellinas and Gustav Malja both had very high hopes of challenging for the podium. Nobody, though, could have predicted the superb one-two result – especially when Ellinas sustained damage to his front wing while battling for third place at the end of the first lap.Having to work hard to compensate for the lack of downforce, the Cypriot had to try and drive around the issue until his mandatory tyre change at the end of lap five when he pitted from third place, having been as high as second. Malja pitted from fifth position a lap later and the real turning point of the race for Strakka came shortly after when the Safety Car appeared following a spin for Aurelien Panis.
As the highest placed cars of those to have pitted in eighth and ninth, with Malja moving ahead of Ellinas through the stops, when racing resumed on lap 11 both Strakka drivers made excellent re-starts and instantly challenged Tom Dillmann.Through a nail-biting few corners Ellinas and Malja swarmed all over their rival and, after swiftly seeing off Dillmann, the pair continued their own private battle with Ellinas edging ahead.Running in fifth and sixth into lap 16, the team-mates had a waiting game until the lead quartet took their pit stops and that started to happen soon after.With only race leader Pietro Fantin still to pit with five laps to go, Ellinas and Malja held second and third and at the end of lap 18 Fantin dived into the pitlane.
Assuming first and second, Ellinas and Malja looked set for a superb dream result for Strakka but the conclusion wasn’t as straightforward as anticipated when rain began to fall with a couple of laps to run.Initially holding a three second advantage over Malja, as the track became increasingly slippery and with grip at a premium the gap between the pair reduced to nothing.Nose-to-tail into the final tour, lap 22, a wicked twitch for Ellinas out of the second turn looked to have relegated him to second but he managed to regain the lead when Malja had some wheel spin – Ellinas taking his second victory just eight days after his first.
“It was a very long race”, said the winner, “I got a good start, tried to overtake for P3 [at the end of lap one] but had my front wing chopped and had a broken front wing until I pitted. I was hanging in there and then, at the stop, we changed the front wing.“I kept my head down and tried to go as quick as I could. I’m delighted for the win, the team did a really good job and we judged it well. I was trying dry lines at the end but when I could see Gustav closing, I knew I had to change my lines!”
Second place for Malja marked his best result yet in Formula Renault 3.5 and second podium of the year, as well as top Rookie, having climbed the rostrum for the first time in Hungary in June.“The final lap was the most intense of my career”, said the Swedish racer, “I made it past Tio in the Mercedes Arena [on the last lap] but then I had some wheel spin on the exit and he got back in front.“It’s an amazing result for myself and for the team – they made a fantastic pit stop and I think we all deserve this following all the hard work we’ve put in.”
Round 12 on Saturday, 12th September, didn’t go quite to plan for Strakka when Ellinas wasn’t able to convert his second place grid start into a podium result after being put wide on the first lap.Initially launching away well from the grid, Ellinas was edged back to fourth into the first corner and subsequently elbowed out wide, dropping him to sixth where he remained to the conclusion. Malja made a great getaway at the beginning of the race to climb into the top eight, from 10th on the grid, and just like his team-mate he ran in the same position throughout.
In terms of the championship battle, Ellinas’ success has hoisted him into the top six, just 10 points shy of fourth position, with Malja into eighth place. In the team standings, Strakka Racing departs Germany in fourth position.
France is the next destination on the Formula Renault 3.5 Series calendar with rounds 14 and 15 of the season taking place at the Le Mans Bugatti Circuit over the weekend 26th/27th September.