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Nurburgring FR3.5: Red Bull F1 protege Carlos Sainz Jr hangs on

Carlos Sainz Jr wins Nurburgring FR3.5 2014

Carlos Sainz Jr survived a late-race rain shower to take victory in the opening Formula Renault 3.5 encounter at the Nurburgring on Saturday.

The championship leader controlled the race from the start, gradually edging away from title rival Oliver Rowland after the Briton appeared to have the edge in the opening couple of laps.

From there, Sainz set about dominating the race, increasing his gap with a spell of five consecutive fastest laps at one stage to keep Rowland out of reach.

But with the win seemingly in the bag, the Red Bull junior was the first driver to encounter rain in the final sector during the final couple of laps.

Sainz hung on as the conditions worsened dramatically, while behind him Merhi and Sergey Sirotkin both passed Rowland on the penultimate lap when the Fortec driver's car became stuck in fourth gear.

"I was surprised by the pace - until the final lap in qualifying I thought we were missing something this weekend so I'm very happy," said Sainz.

"The race pace was also a bit unexpected in the dry, and for the whole race I was keeping an eye the final corners because that was where the sky always seemed darker.

"At the end it was really really slippery, but I managed to bring it home."

Merhi had initially chased Rowland hard for second, but over the course of the race he had slipped back into the clutches of Sirotkin, who was unable to mount a serious attempt at a pass despite being tucked up behind the Spaniard's rear wing.

As Rowland limped to the finish line he was able to hang onto fourth, as the top four had pulled out a big margin on Marlon Stockinger in fifth.

"The car was fine before that," said Rowland. "I probably worked the fronts too hard early on - Carlos was being more careful but I knew that was my only chance to attack him.

"After that I struggled with a bit of understeer, and I was just looking at the sky hoping for some rain. By the time it came I had the problem."

Sainz's other main title rival, Pierre Gasly, had a day to forget after qualifying 17th.

The Frenchman spent several laps stuck behind Roman Mavlanov, and the pair eventually came to blows at Turn 2 following an attack by Gasly into Turn 1 on lap 12 while battling for 15th place.

Gasly held onto second in the standings, however, as a result of Rowland's problems late on.

Results - 24 laps:                             
Pos  Driver               Team         Time/Gap
 1.  Carlos Sainz Jr      DAMS       42m17.052s
 2.  Roberto Merhi        Zeta          +4.154s
 3.  Sergey Sirotkin      Fortec        +9.951s
 4.  Oliver Rowland       Fortec       +13.466s
 5.  Marlon Stockinger    Lotus        +15.179s
 6.  Matias Laine         Strakka      +16.999s
 7.  Pietro Fantin        Draco        +18.964s
 8.  Oscar Tunjo          Pons         +26.126s
 9.  Zoel Amberg          AVF          +26.760s
10.  Marco Sorensen       Tech 1       +27.184s
11.  Will Stevens         Strakka      +29.227s
12.  Norman Nato          DAMS         +37.671s
13.  Matthieu Vaxiviere   Lotus        +40.318s
14.  Meindert van Buuren  Pons         +43.477s
15.  Jazeman Jaafar       ISR          +46.598s
16.  Alfonso Celis        Tech 1       +52.639s
17.  Roman Mavlanov       Zeta         +53.205s
18.  Cameron Twynham      Comtec       +58.872s
19.  Beitske Visser       AVF        +1m16.016s
20.  Pierre Gasly         Arden      +1m35.629s
     Luca Ghiotto         Draco          6 laps
     Will Buller          Arden           1 lap
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Merhi unstoppable in wet qualifying
Sainz snatches pole from Fortec duo