James Walker scored an emphatic breakthrough Formula Renault 3.5 feature race victory at Spa-Francorchamps today, restoring his championship ambitions after two consecutive retirements.
The P1 Motorsport driver opted to take an early mandatory pitstop on lap seven, and a string of quick laps then propelled the Jersey driver ahead of pole-sitter, and local hero, Bertrand Baguette.
"After the weekend we had in Barcelona, and not finishing yesterday, this is exactly what we needed," said Walker.
The Briton had started from the front row behind Baguette, but was squeezed to the inside at the La Source hairpin and was demoted to fourth place behind Miguel Molina and Charles Pic. But that pair out-braked themselves while battling into Les Combes and allowed Walker to take advantage and recover his original starting position.
Further back, Epsilon Euskadi team-mates Adrian Valles and Chris van der Drift collided at Malmedy, bringing out the safety car.
While Walker came in for rubber two laps into the pit window, Baguette deferred his stop for as long possible, until lap 12. In the intervening period Walker was consistently 0.7s a lap faster than the Draco driver, but Baguette had few alternative options on strategy having badly flat-spotted his front tyres in qualifying, forcing him to commit to a change of rears, and leaving him unable to beat Walker.
Molina survived his early grassy incident with Pic to take the bottom step of the podium for the second time in the weekend.
A sprinkling of rain over the last two laps spiced up an entertaining battle for fourth place. Move emerged from a heavily congested Bus Stop chicane on the last lap in the lead of a snake of cars, as just one second covered the fourth to seventh placed runners.
Carlin's Oliver Turvey took advantage of the tricky conditions to wrestle fifth place from Marcos Martinez in a final corner scrum, but the manoeuvre is under investigation as the Briton may have benefited from driving outside the bounds of the circuit.
Pos Driver Team Time 1. James Walker P1 47m45.056s 2. Bertrand Baguette Draco + 6.421s 3. Miguel Molina Ultimate + 11.983s 4. Daniel Move P1 + 18.066s 5. Marcos Martinez Pons + 18.982s 6. Jaime Alguersuari Carlin + 19.008s 7. Adrian Zaugg Interwetten + 22.645s 8. Pasquale di Sabatino RC + 23.839s 9. Greg Mansell Ultimate + 24.362s 10. Brendon Hartley Tech 1 + 26.984s 11. Sten Pentus Fortec + 28.785s 12. Marco Barba Draco + 42.898s 13. Frankie Provenzano Prema + 43.563s 14. Oliver Turvey Carlin + 43.745s 15. Fairuz Fauzy Fortec + 48.144s 16. Tobias Hegewald Interwetten + 48.874s 17. Federico Leo Pons + 57.682s 18. Julian Leal Prema +1m07.657s Retirements: Charles Pic Tech 1 10 laps Anton Nebilitskiy Comtec 10 laps Adrian Valles Epsilon 1 lap Chris van der Drift Epsilon 1 lap