Best result of fifth for Cypriot racer in the Ardennes helps Strakka Racing climb into FR3.5 Teams’ Championship top five

Rounds four and five of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series at Spa-Francorchamps over the weekend, 30th/31st May, delivered a welcome bag of points for Strakka Racing with Tio Ellinas and Gustav Malja each posting important scoring finishes.

While Sunday’s race served up the best result of the event for the British team, fifth position for Ellinas, on Saturday both Strakka cars took points finishes with Ellinas in seventh and Malja eighth.

Race one of the weekend was largely uneventful for the duo, although both drivers did improve on their starting positions to accrue valuable championship points.

Ellinas and Malja lined-up eighth and ninth on the round four grid respectively but no sooner had the action got underway, the Safety Car was deployed following an accident for Pietro Fantin.

When the green flags were waved on lap four, Ellinas held eighth with Malja in 10th position but both quickly gained ground – the former producing a fantastic pass around the outside into Les Combes to take seventh.

Malja, meanwhile, moved into ninth just a couple of corners later before both drivers profited from a moment for Egor Orudzhev on lap six to climb into sixth and eighth respectively.

With the leading contenders all very evenly matched, the Strakka duo remained in situ for the next 10 laps but on the penultimate tour Ellinas was nudged back to seventh while Malja maintained eighth to the flag on lap 19 – second in the Rookie class.

In round five qualifying on Sunday, Ellinas starred and just missed out on pole position by a mere 0.062 seconds to secure a front row start for the second race of the weekend. Malja, however, was disappointed and frustrated with the 11th fastest time.

Neither of the Strakka drivers made the starts they wanted to race two, Ellinas slipping to fourth and Malja dropping to 16th place. While the Swede managed to grab two places back on lap one, Ellinas remained in fourth until lap nine when Dean Stoneman served his mandatory pit-stop, elevating Ellinas to third place.

Serving his stop shortly after, the Strakka racer re-emerged in fifth position and although closing right up behind Stoneman over the final few laps he had to settle for fifth – just 0.4 seconds shy.

Malja held 14th over the first few laps and then moved into the top 10 when several drivers began to take their stops. Pitting at the end of lap seven, Malja rejoined in 16th position and did rise into 13th but was nudged back to 14th spot on the final lap.

“The first day was positive, we had good pace although there was a fuel pressure issue in race one”, reflected Malja, “Sunday was not so good at all, we qualified 11th but I had a bad start and the pit stop didn’t go too well. Then I got a real big flat-spot which made driving the car extremely difficult for the last few laps.”

Ellinas commented: “Race one was OK and qualifying on Sunday was really good, we almost had pole. I had a bad start to begin with, dropped down to P4, but the pace was there. Unfortunately, it was impossible to overtake but we took some good points and will try our best now to win in Budapest!”

While Ellinas has climbed into seventh in the championship, Malja has also moved up the points table into 13th position. In the team standings, Strakka is now in fifth position – up from seventh – and just six points shy of the top four.

Next on the Formula Renault 3.5 Series calendar is a visit to the Hungaroring near Budapest on 13th/14th June.

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