The Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi hosted the final round and last two races of the 2017 GP3 Series Championship. Arden Motorsport drivers Niko Kari, Leonardo Pulcini and Steijn Schothorst hit the track on Friday morning to complete the final practice session of the season. Kari hit the ground running by setting the fastest time in practice - giving confidence for a strong result this weekend.
Timed Qualifying saw both Pulcini and Kari put in brilliant last lap performances, taking 2nd and 3rd on the grid at the end of the session to give the team a great starting position for the first of the two races this weekend. Schothorst was less fortunate, as he was baulked on his final run - meaning he would start the race on Saturday from 11th on the grid.
Race one saw Pulcini make a great start - moving himself up alongside the 2017 GP3 Champion and pole sitter George Russell, ART Grand Prix. Russell defended hard from Pulcini, which left the door open for Kari to go around the outside of the pair of his rivals into turn one and take the lead of the race early on.
Pulcini harried Russell for the rest of the opening lap, eventually pulling off a great move around the outside into turn 11 to give Arden a 1-2 at the end of the opening lap.
Pulcini stook with Kari for the next couple of laps, lapping just around the 1.0s gap to his teammate and the DRS Zone. Just as the race began to settle into a rhythm, a Virtual Safety Car was deployed for the stricken Campos Racing car of Marcos Siebert on lap 5. At this time Kari lead by just over a second from Pulcini, with Schothorst making good progress up to 9th position in the process.
The restart saw Russell make a strong attempt on the inside of Pulcini, by the Italian closed the door and defended his position as the race resumed.
Kari immediately pulled out a comfortable 1.5s advantage over his teammate and rival, as he settled into managing his tyres throughout the 18 lap race. Pulcini maintained a one second gap to Russell behind him, with teammate Schothorst continuing on his way through the field, moving up to 8th position.
Another Virtual Safety Car Period occurred on lap 13, when the Trident of Guiliano Alesi stopped on the exit of turn 19. The restart occurred just before the final corner, with Russell managing to squeeze past Pulcini to retake 2nd position. Pulcini stuck with Russell, managing the gap back to Arjun Maini's Jenzer in 4th position. Kari meanwhile had the race under control, edging out a small gap over Russell per lap to build a comfortable gap.
With just two laps to go, disaster struck Pulcini as a rear left puncture derailed his strong drive to 3rd position, cruelly denying him a potential podium, as he was forced to park the car at turn 14 to retire from the race.
The race ended with Kari taking a dominant victory by 2.75s, his first win in the GP3 Series and the first for Arden Motorsport this year in the championship. The Red Bull Junior capped it off with the fastest lap of the race aswell, underlining a powerful performance from the Finn.
Schothorst recovered to a strong 6th position, after a bold move into turn 11 paid off in the closing stages of the race and allowed him to maximise the pace from his package, after managing his tyres well.
Niko Kari "I’m really happy, the car was really good, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow: the car is really quick, I think I did the fastest lap as well, so we’ll see what we can do from 8th place, try to make a good start and go ahead."
Kari gave Arden Motorsport their 100th victory in the process after today's dominant performance - as they aim to end the season on a high going into 2018.
The final race of the 2017 GP3 Season will take place at 12:50 GMT +4, with Schothorst starting from 3rd, Kari from 8th and Pulcini from 17th after his unfortunate late retirement in the race.