A change of tactic when the lights went out was the difference between fourth and seventh for Alex Smolyar, with the ART Grand Prix driver gaining all three of his places on the opening lap, explaining that it was “maybe” the only opportunity for him to make moves.
Lining up from seventh after a P6 finish in Race 1, Smolyar jumped Lorenzo Colombo, David Schumacher and Jack Doohan at the start and found himself directly behind the front three, who had gone side-by-side-by-side into Turn 1.
As Matteo Nannini and Enzo Fittipaldi settled into first and second, Smolyar began an ultimately unsuccessful chase of Roman Stanek, who looked at risk of getting left behind by the front two.
And although the Czech racer briefly fell out of DRS range on a couple of occasions, Smolyar says the opportunity to pounce never arose.
“I changed my approach at the start,” said Smolyar. “In Race 1 I went to the inside, whereas this time I thought that I needed to try to go around the outside and it worked really well. I gained three places and I found myself fighting for the podium.
“The whole race, especially at the beginning, it felt like I had so much pace, but it was really hard to overtake. You kind of just have to sit there and follow because if you get too close then there is so much dirty air. Stanek did a good job to hold me because I was putting pressure on him pretty much the whole race.
“Enzo (Fittipaldi) was pulling away from (Stanek) at times and then dropping back, and when he didn't have DRS, it was much easier to catch him. If Stanek didn’t have DRS for a few more laps, then I would have maybe tried to overtake him, but Enzo was a bit inconsistent - I am not sure if there was an issue with the balance or something.”
Smolyar finished directly in front of Championship leader Dennis Hauger, who also made up three positions having started in eighth.
Unlike Smolyar, whose overtakes came at the start of the race, Hauger made up the places during the race and finished the evening with a clear pace advantage over those around him.
Smolyar said that he wasn’t entirely sure how the PREMA racer was able to retain so much speed at the end of the race, but asserted that both he and the team would be looking into it.
“Looking at Dennis (Hauger), he was able to gain a lot of places in the race and I really need to look at what he is doing and learn a bit from him,” said Hauger. “He was catching me massively in the last few laps. The PREMA car is really quick, and he is a good driver as well, but it was surprising to see that he had so much pace at the end.
“I don't think that he would have easily passed me if he had caught up, but he hadn’t been following other cars as closely as me. I followed (Stanek) pretty much all of the race and that destroyed my tyres more than Dennis’.
“I found that the tyres were easier to manage than in Race 1. We were struggling with rear tyre deg in Race 1, but we changed the balance and that was the right decision. It was maybe not enough of a step, so in Race 3 we will try to go another step.”
Smolyar will start from P6 in Race 3 on Sunday, with the grid set by Friday’s Qualifying session.