Strakka Racing’s double race-winner makes third visit in as many race meetings to Formula Renault 3.5 Series rostrum
Tio Ellinas secured yet more Formula Renault 3.5 Series silverware during round 15 of the season at the Le Mans Bugatti Circuit in France on Sunday, 27th September, with a fighting third place finish in the second race of the weekend.
Having qualified on pole position for Strakka Racing, the Cypriot led away at the start and maintained his place at the front into the mandatory pit-stops after a brief Safety Car period. Although missing out on the chance to challenge for victory after all of the pit visits played out, third place still marked a very strong result and consolidated a top six championship placing.
“We had a great start to today after an amazing qualifying”, said Ellinas, “The balance in the race wasn’t quite the same and the Safety Car spoiled our advantage a bit. Still, third was very good points and I’m pleased to be on the podium for the third meeting running. I’m looking forward to Jerez now.”
Arriving at Le Mans off the back of the team’s first ever one-two result last time out at the Nurburgring in Germany, hopes were high of continued success during the penultimate event of 2015. Ellinas produced an exceptional performance in round 15 qualifying to take pole position by almost half a second, his best lap a time of 1m20.648 seconds (186.8 km/h), while team-mate Gustav Malja ended the session 13th quickest.
Making an excellent start to the race, Ellinas led away through the first sequence of turns and although only a few tenths of a second ahead of Tom Dillmann over the course of the first five laps, the Strakka driver remained unflustered. Due to an incident further back in the order, the Safety Car was deployed at the beginning of lap six which corresponded with the scheduled opening of the mandatory pit-stop window. After the re-start on the eighth tour, Ellinas led away again and then pitted for his stop at the end of the lap. Malja meanwhile, who held 14th position prior to the Safety Car, made his stop a lap later than his team-mate from eighth place.
When the order settled around mid-distance, albeit with the lead three cars still to pit, Ellinas held fourth position with Malja in the top 10. Hopes of a bid for victory didn’t work out, though, with Ellinas having to settle for a nonetheless strong third after Egor Orudzhev and Matthieu Vaxiviere emerged ahead following their pit visits.
Under huge pressure from Dean Stoneman throughout the second half of the race, Ellinas kept his rival at bay to claim the third podium of his maiden Formula Renault 3.5 campaign. Malja, meanwhile, moved up into ninth position on lap 16 and remained there to the finish sandwiched between newly crowned Formula Renault 3.5 Series Champion Oliver Rowland and Nyck De Vries.
“The second race was pretty good”, said Malja, “Before that we struggled a bit for pace but we learned a lot from the first race and the set-up for race two was really good. Now, we’re already looking for the Jerez preparation and to bounce back there.”
In round 14 on Saturday, 26th September, Ellinas started fifth on the grid while Malja lined-up in 10th position, just 0.4 seconds separating the team-mates in race one qualifying. Unfortunately, at the start of Saturday’s contest, Ellinas didn’t get away from the line cleanly and slipped back to the tail of the top 10 with Malja also edged back to 12th position. Quickly moving back into 11th place on the first lap, Malja closed up behind Ellinas initially before the gap opened back up and with 10 laps complete the pair were split by roughly 2.5 seconds. As the race progressed, positions remained unchanged although Malja did begin to come under some pressure from Nicholas Latifi as the race approached mid-distance.
Following a pit visit and retirement for Latifi, Andre Negrao became the new threat but Malja comfortably saw off his rival to hold 11th position to the chequered flag. Ellinas finished the encounter in a clear 10th place but due to a time penalty for Matthieu Vaxiviere, the Cypriot was elevated into ninth spot. While Ellinas maintains sixth in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series standings with 113 points, Malja ended the Le Mans weekend ninth in the title race on 69 points. In the team championship, Strakka Racing is fourth with 182 points.
The final two races of the 2015 Formula Renault 3.5 Series will take place at Jerez in Spain over the weekend 17th/18th October.