Tio Ellinas won the final GP3 race of the year at Monza, passing Daniel Abt with a lap and a half remaining to deny the German the points he needed to steal the title from long-time series leader Mitch Evans.
The points lead changed hands no less than six times during a thrilling race. Evans finished 20th, having driven into the points from 25th on the grid only to suffer a puncture, forcing him to pit.
Abt had to win the race, and leapt straight from eighth to fifth off the startline. He passed Lotus teammate Conor Daly when the American went off at the Parabolica, and took third from Marlon Stockinger at the Rettifilo on lap three. He did likewise to David Fumanelli a lap later, and then repeated the move on early race leader Giovanni Venturini. By taking the lead of the race, Abt took the lead of the championship by one point.
But Evans was stalking his way through the pack. He only needed to finish eighth or take the two points for fastest lap and finish in the top 10. Thanks to a couple of big tows as he came through the field, Evans set fastest lap on tours six and seven. As he passed Robert Visoiu for 10th on lap seven, he retook the championship lead.
But, seconds later, a crash ahead of him that befell Patric Niederhauser at Rettifilo led Evans to straightline the chicane, bouncing across the sleeping policemen. He soon straightlined the Roggia chicane, weaving to keep his rivals behind, then he plunged into the gravel at the Lesmos, suffering a right-rear puncture.
Suddenly, Abt was ahead again in the points race, as the two points Evans would have scored were invalidated by him falling out of the top 10 as he pitted for new tires. The only thing that could save Evans's hopes was an outside influence to stop Abt from winning. And that was Ellinas.
After showing great pace yesterday to score his first podium of the season, Ellinas cruised past Venturini and lined up Abt for the lead.
Abt appeared to have him covered at Rettifilo, but his defensive line there cost him exit speed, and Ellinas towed past him through Curva Grande and finished the move around the outside at the Roggia.
But Abt was not done, and slipstreamed back ahead on the start/finish straight at the beginning of lap 14. He was now two laps away from being crowned champion.
Then Ellinas repeated his move on the penultimate lap at Curva Grande and Roggia. Abt simply was not close enough to pick up a decent tow to get ahead, and spent the closing stages fending off Venturini, as Ellinas won by a second, his first win of the season.
That sixth change of points lead handed the title back to Evans, who cruised home in last place, punching the air. He claimed the title by two points.
Abt was left to rue just how close he had come: "To be honest, it's a shame to finish second like this. Coming here, I didn't think [winning the title] could happen, but when you can win it, when I knew Evans was out, I knew I had to do it. But I just couldn't hold [Ellinas] off, he was really quick. It was nearly a perfect weekend, we were so close."
For the record, Abt finished second ahead of Venturini, Stockinger, Antonio Felix da Costa and Matias Laine.
Results - 16 laps:
Pos Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Tio Ellinas Manor 28m18.541s
2. Daniel Abt Lotus + 1.003s
3. Giovanni Venturini Trident + 1.408s
4. Marlon Stockinger Status + 1.715s
5. Antonio Felix da Costa Carlin + 7.377s
6. Matias Laine MW Arden + 8.488s
7. Robert Visoiu Jenzer + 8.968s
8. Alice Powell Status + 14.383s
9. Kevin Ceccon Ocean + 14.416s
10. Alex Brundle Carlin + 15.535s
11. Conor Daly Lotus + 16.124s
12. Will Buller Carlin + 18.964s
13. David Fumanelli MW Arden + 24.392s
14. Aaro Vainio Lotus + 27.489s
15. Tamas Pal Kiss Atech CRS + 30.682s
16. Fabiano Machado Manor + 36.048s
17. Robert Cregan Ocean + 36.116s
18. John Wartique Atech CRS + 38.365s
19. Carmen Jorda Ocean + 1m08.753s
20. Mitch Evans MW Arden + 1m29.894s
Patric Niederhauser Jenzer 7 laps
Vicky Piria Trident 2 laps
Lewis Williamson Status 0 laps
Ethan Ringel Atech CRS 0 laps
Dmitry Suranovich Manor 0 laps