Kiwi Mitch Evans wins GP3 Series title
Mitch Evans says his phone hasn't stopped ringing since he claimed one of motorsport's biggest prizes last night, the GP3 Series driver's title.
It came in dramatic fashion at the famous Monza circuit in Milan, Italy.
After crashing out of the feature race, Evans had to start from 25th position in the second, title-deciding race and hope that his only rival for the crown, German Daniel Abt didn't get the chequered flag.
Evans screamed through the field, claiming fastest lap and by halfway had moved up to eight before disaster struck with a flat tyre.
With his destiny out of his hands he watched with relief as Apt finished second, giving the 18-year-old Aucklander the title by two points.
It was just reward for an eight-meeting, 16-race season he has dominated from the opening event. All are run in conjunction with Europe's glamorous Formula One meetings.
Evans has had some major eyes on him all season, operating in the MW Arden team backed by Australian Formula One ace Mark Webber, and his title-winning effort hasn't gone unnoticed.
"My phone has been going crazy since the last race. Hopefully this well help and people will take a serious interest in my career," Evans said.
"I hope I can receive more backing. You never know what can happen. There is a long way to go before the start of next season. Right now I just want to soak it up and enjoy the next few months before testing starts."
Evans won a $400,000 bonus from tyre manufacturer Pirelli for winning the crown - on the proviso that he makes the leap to GP2 next year.
That looks inevitable and he will test a GP2 car later in the year. They are the cars operating at the level below F1 and at the same meetings.
But they require a $2m budget and that's Evans's challenge now.
"Winning this championship, I receive a very nice cheque from Pirelli if I graduate to GP2 so that makes the transition to GP2 even more attractive which I think is the ultimate step for me," he said.
"Right now I need to get a budget together. Fortunately we got a budget for GP3 for two years. For GP2, it will be tricky so we will work hard during the off-season to put a budget together. Hopefully we will be in the same paddock next year."
For the moment, Evans is basking in his glory which comes in just his second year in GP3 and as the youngest driver.
"If you told me at the start of the season I would be champion before this season I wouldn't be able to describe how I would feel. Now I've been crowned champion, I have no words to describe this. It's a dream come true. I've sacrificed my whole life to come to Europe and it's so rewarding to win a title in my second year in Europe."
Evans said the weekend in Milan had been bizarre. He had dominated practice and qualifying to claim pole position - a crucial achievement with the four points that carries eventually being the difference, they were his only points of the meeting.
From there he was involved in carnage in both races that threatened his title dream. as his 25.5-point championship lead started to evaporate rapidly.
"After practice and qualifying I felt really comfortable for the race. I got a shocking start, I had a problem with the clutch leaver and I didn't nail it. I paid the price for it in turn one so I should take the blame for that. I was unfortunate to get the damage to the car after going over the kerb and it was not able to be repaired. I couldn't continue," he explained of yesterday morning's feature race where he withdrew after the first lap.
"In race two, I drove my heart out and I made up 18 positions in the first half of the race and was around seventh. I was catching the leaders so it would have been good to have seen where I would have ended up but unfortunately we got a puncture.
"It's been a huge emotional rollercoaster this weekend. To have two bad races, and then to win the championship is probably quite unusual but it's also amazing."
When he got back into the race after having his right rear tyre replaced, all he could do was try to find out what was happening ahead of him. He was powerless to control the front of the race where Abt and Tio Ellinas (Cyprus) fought out an epic duel.
Abt twice claimed the lead which would have ended Evan's title hopes, only for Ellinas to pass him a second and deciding time in the second to last lap, cleverly drafting on one of Monza's long, fast straights and then swooping around the German and holding on for the race victory.
Evans was getting information from his team and also trying to watch the progress on the giant TV screens at trackside as he flashed past them.
"I knew Abt was leading when I had my puncture, so emotionally I was heartbroken. I was watching Tio on the TV screen at every chance I had. I probably wasn't paying enough attention to my driving! I was screaming in my helmet 'Go Tio' as I knew that was my only hope for the title. I think I will be buying Tio a few drinks. I went to see him and say thank you, he was my lifesaver. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be sitting here right now."