Mitch Evans ready to charge in GP2 in Bahrain

DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 05:00 05/04/2014
Mitch Evans
ROBERT KITCHIN/ Fairfax NZ
GP2 RACER: Mitch Evans is hoping to rise to the top again this year.

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New Zealand driver Mitch Evans is revelling in the pressures that have come with his late change of teams for this year's GP2 Series and has added to the tension by declaring he has to make a charge for the title.

The season starts in Bahrain this weekend with two races and the 19-year-old Aucklander is eager to see the green light flash on his latest campaign that operates under the glare of 11 Formula One meetings.

After three years in the Arden stable that included winning the coveted GP3 title in 2012, Evans has switched to Russian Time, the champion GP2 outfit who have gone through unexpected changes themselves this year.

The sudden death of Russian Time mentor Igor Mazepa brought an unexpected speed bump in Evans' negotiations.

He eventually signed as the team management was passed from German outfit Motopark to British iSport but the ink on the contract only dried in late February, meaning a mad dash to the starting line.

To their credit, the team has provided Evans with what appears to be a highly competitive car as he showed with consistent performances in two demanding testing sessions in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.

Evans has a habit of dramatic improvement. In GP3 he went from ninth to champion in successive years.

Last season, with constant car struggles that never allowed him to maximise his aggressive driving style, Evans had to be content with 14th in his new GP2 surroundings.

So is this a moving year?

''Definitely,'' he declares with an eye on the drivers' championship.

''The difference between here and GP3 is that I had some really good momentum going into the second year. This year is a little bit different... not so much a start again, but I just don't have the momentum I had.

''I have to maximise what I have got and I think I'm in a good position to fight for good results.

''The pre-season stuff has been very, very positive. Obviously there was always going to be a bit of a question mark, a little bit unsure of how everything was going with the team's last-minute changes.

''But they have a lot of experience and I have full confidence that  they can be as competitive as they were last year.

''We've been under the pump a lot. It was very late for me to sign with them, so everyone was a bit rushed for the first test.

''The team has performed pretty well considering. They have done a really good job to get everything flowing nicely, get it on track and be competitive.

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''It's all calmed down and everyone is ready to get into the season.

''But this is where the real pressure comes, crunch time at qualifying and racing as part of the F1 circus.

''I'm looking forward to getting back into that environment and I want to deliver under that pressure. I think I'm in a good position to capitalise on some good results.''

In a one-make championship involving 26 identical cars powered by a Mecachrome 4L V8 engine, there is an evenness to the field that makes mistakes costly and adds to the importance of qualifying.

''If you aren't in the top eight of qualifying, the rest of the weekend is very, very difficult. I think if we are in the top four of qualifying, we'll be looking good for the race pace.''

Evans believes a slight tweaking of the complicated tyre rules should make things ''a little bit more straightforward and even the playing field'' in this key strategy area.

Then it will be a question of straight out speed and driving skills.

''I'm just hoping that consistency will be there, like we had in GP3, and we'll be totally battling for the front of every race, every weekend. That's the ultimate goal.

'I have full faith in the guys that they will be able to give me a car to do that. Then, as long as I'm doing my job, I feel we can do it.''

Evans is enjoying the responsibilities that come with being the senior driver at Russian Time, a role that includes some coaching of team-mate Arten Markelov, a 19-year-old Russian who is stepping up from Formula Three.

''That's something I've been enjoying. It gives me a bit of confidence to know that the team is relying on me.  They seem very happy with how I've performed on and off the track.

''I just hope I can do the business now and prove I'm meant to be in that seat.''

AT A GLANCE

Mitch Evans (NZ)

Age: 19

Drives: GP2 - one level below F1

Team: Russian Time (defending champions)

History: 2012 GP3 champion, 14th in GP2 last season (with Arden team)

Schedule: 11-meeting season opens this weekend in conjunction with Bahrain F1

Races (both live on Sky TV): Feature race, 32 laps (173.18km with compulsory pit stop and tyre change) 11.10pm tomorrow. Sprint race, 23 laps (124.47km with reverse top eight grid), 10.15pm Sunday.

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