CHAMPIONS OF 2010
GP3 – ESTEBAN GUTIERREZ
The Lion of Nuevo León
Like the lion roars in the jungle, this young Mexican driver has been rip roaring through the competition. Marking his territory, from Salt Lake City to Spa-Francorchamps.
In three years of racing in the cut-throat world of European jungle, Esteban Gutierrez has claimed two dominant championships. And in 2011 he will enter the final frontier before Formula 1, GP2 with Lotus-ART team.
Esteban triumphed this year in the inaugural season of GP3 Series, created by the same people who are behind the highly successful GP2 Series, Bruno Michel & Company.
GP3 turbo machine.
The Dallara-built car is powered by a Renault-turbo engine while Pirelli supplies the rubber. The car made its track debut in June 2009 at Paul Ricard in the south of France in the capable hands of Romain Grosjean.
The Geneva-born and based banker and F1 aspirant was impressed by the new race car.
“This is a great car! Compared to Formula 3 car, the acceleration is better and speeds in fast corners are similar. The paddle shift on the steering is also a great addition to a car that will definitely prepare GP3 drivers to step into the next category, GP2,” Grosjean commented after the initial shakedown.
Mark Webber, who co-owns MW Arden team in GP3 with Christian Horner, also tested the car in November last year at the same track and was equally enthusiastic.
“I can honestly say it is like driving a small F1 car,” assured the Australian.
Season of domination.
Gutierrez was on the go as soon as the pre-season testing commenced, posting some of the fastest times both at Paul Ricard and Circuit de Catalunya.
The birth of the new series in Barcelona, as a support race to Spanish Grand Prix, saw a difficult wet-dry conditions in qualifying which saw Dutch driver Nigel Melker grab pole position and a surprised Pal Varhaug of Norway sharing the front row with him. Varhaug led the race from start to finish to become the first ever race winner in GP3 Series.
Gutierrez started his charge from the fourth row and was in third place by the end of the opening lap. The remaining laps saw a great battle between Gutierrez and Robert Wickens for second place. The Canadian was able to hold off Gutierrez.
The reverse grid for second race of top eight finishers from Saturday’s event saw Gutierrez start sixth, and he was on the podium again, this time returning the favor and holding off Wickens for third place. The race was won by Gutierrez’s ART teammate from northern California, Alexander Rossi, who started from pole courtesy of his eighth place finish in race one of the weekend.
The Gutierrez gun got blazing in round two. He started the opening race of round two in Istanbul from front row and put in a Pasha performance of complete and utter domination. He led from start to finish and was over 10-seconds ahead of runner-up James Jakes.
Victory also gave Gutierrez the championship lead.
Second race of the weekend saw maiden win for Indonesian driver Rio Haryanto. Gutierrez kept his championship lead despite placing seventh.
The streets of Valencia gave Gutierrez his first pole position of the season, and he made the most of it by leading the race from start to finish. His fastest lap on the final lap gave him a bonus point which helped him to extend his championship lead over Wickens, who finished second.
The opening lap of race two on Sunday saw Gutierrez and Wickens collide, spinning the Mexican driver to the bottom of the field and sending the Canadian to the pit lane for a drive-through penalty. Gutierrez raced hard but finished out of the points in seventh but with championship lead still intact.
The race was won by the Swiss driver Nico Müller.
The Silverstone show placed Gutierrez on pole from which he scored his third successive feature win of the season, setting the fastest lap on the final tour of the circuit. Indonesian star Rio Haryanto chased hard all the way to second place finish.
Starting Sunday’s race two in eighth place Gutierrez charged through the field to fight for second place with Italian Mirko Bortolotti, the duel intensified resulting in Gutierrez squeezed out on the grass on the final lap. This allowed his teammate Rossi to fight for the final podium finish which both fought with fierce determination, the Californian claiming third place finish by a mere 0.08s.
The race was won by Canadian Daniel Morad, his first win of the season.
There was more Canadian success in the opening race of the following round at Hockenheimring. Robert Wickens, who, like Morad, hails from Toronto, scored his first win of the season. Gutierrez finished fourth.
The second German race gave Gutierrez win number four of the season. This put him 30 points ahead of second place Wickens and 38 points ahead of third man, teammate Rossi.
The Hungarian round saw front row finish in the same position, pole-sitter Nico Müller taking the win from Gutierrez, the Mexican had matched his lap time in qualifying but the Swiss driver’s time was set first and was, thus, awarded pole position.
Sunday’s round two in Budapest almost ended in an American one-two. Alexander Rossi led the race from start from to finish over pole-sitter Josef Newgarden, who hails from Tennessee, but his car stopped only three laps from the end.
Gutierrez came in fifth. Wickens, despite finishing second, was now 35 points behind Gutierrez with only two rounds remaining.
The fabled Spa-Francorchamps witnessed a bizarre rain sodden race where Robert Wickens crashed while leading, managed to get going again and then wisely ran the clock out after the safety car came in with only 30 seconds remaining in the race.
Gutierrez failed to score any points and was unable to fire up the championship celebrations in the Ardennes forest.
Both title contenders, Gutierrez and Wickens, failed to score in race two, which saw an impressive win by Adrien Tambay. The son of ex-Ferrari Grand Prix driver Patrick was not a regular in the series. At Spa on Sunday he stayed on slick tires in the closing stages only to face rain falling again. He put on a great display of defensive driving to win ahead of Alexander Rossi.
The magical Monza was going to stage the season finale. But with an 18-point lead from maximum 20 points available, the wind and win was going Gutierrez’s way.
The Monza moment came before the race even started. Gutierrez took pole and bonus point made him GP3’s first ever champion. But he saved the best for last. Having lost the lead at the start, Gutierrez was third with three laps remaining. His relentless pursuit resulted in fifth win of the season
Sunday’s final race of the season at the Temple of Speed saw Wickens forced his way for an impressive win after starting seventh. After winning the race on Saturday Gutierrez started next to Wickens, but an off-course excursion while attempting a pass on Roberti Merhi going into Parabolica resulted in his only dnf of the season.
The new champion explained his season campaign to Autosport: “From the beginning our main focus was not only to win races and to win the championship, but to be consistent through the whole season. And in the end we have been able to keep a high level of consistency, and we have been working to improve ourselves and not think too much about the other guys. We’ve just tried to do our best and focus on the job. Every mechanic, every engineer did his job and we had a really good synergy and a really good attitude. Everyone was really positive all the time, even in the hard times.”
Esteban Gutierrez was born in Monterrey in the Mexican state of Nuevo León on August 5, 1991. His racing career started in Utah at the Miller Motorsports Park, near Salt Lake City. He grabbed pole positions for the first two races of his career in the 2007 Formula BMW US Championship. He was Rookie of the Year at season’s end. The following year he captured the European version of the same series, winning seven races, six of them in a row.
In 2009, he competed in the F3 Euro Series and finished in the top ten in the championship. His success this year has marked him as a star of the future. He is now signed as third driver for Sauber F1 team and posted very impressive times in recent GP2 testing in Abu Dhabi.
If Esteban can pull-off a Hamilton or Hulkenberg and win the GP2 Championship in his rookie season against experienced hands, from Bianchi and Bird to Turvey and Filippi, the roar of Mexican Hat Dance will be heard around the world.
– Nasir Hameed.
Buenos Dias from California.
All photos courtesy of www.estebangtz.com and Marks Granados.