GP2: Round 19 – Monza, Italy – Sat Sep 13

The final feature race of the 2008 GP2 season, and the last chance for Bruno Senna to prevent a Giorgio Pantano championship victory. But to do that, Pantano would have to fail to score and Senna would need to finish on the podium to take the fight to the final sprint race on Sunday.

The first of these didn’t look likely with Pantano starting from pole. Because of the wet conditions that had afflicted the earlier Formula 1 qualifying session, the race started with a lap under the safety car to avoid a first turn accident; once the cars had made an initial circuit, the safety car pulled in and Pantano leapt away at the front from Lucas di Grassi.

And behind them – the inevitable first turn accident after all. Javier Villa  completely missed his braking point and steamed in far too fast, clipping the back of Andreas Zuber’s car and getting launched into the air, the two cars collecting the innocent Vitaly Petrov as they crashed into the run off area of the first chicane. or such a dangerous miscalculation, Villa was excluded from the race weekend by the marshalls and will not appear in the final race tomorrow.

But there was no safety car brought out for this or any other of the incidents through the race, and as the laps stacked up it was clear that the weather was taking a turn for the decidedly better – the sun came out and the track started to rapidly dry off. However, the corners, chicanes and edges of the track were still flooded, leaving a tricky decision ahead for the drivers: the racing line was too dry for wets, but key areas such as the first chicane were still too wet to tackle on slicks.

Luca Filippi was the first of the front runners to take his mandatory pit stop and use the opportunity to switch to slicks. Against most expectations, he managed to hold on to the car as it slipped and slithered its way around, and proved to the others that sliks were now the way to go. But he lost a lot of time on those proving laps, and so the leaders left it as late as possible to pit to make sure the track was as dry as possible and that the weather wasn’t going to pull a nasty sting on them.

Race leader Giorgio Pantano was one of the very last people to hit – and unfortunately the stop proved to be his undoing, as he drifted well over the blend line as he exited. Why he made such an elementary mistake is unclear, but the stewards quickly issued a drive thru penalty with five laps to go, and it dumped him out of the points scoring positions.

That was the first criteria Bruno Senna needed to keep the title fight over. But unfortunately Senna himself couldn’t keep his own end of the deal. The first turn accident between Villa, Petrov and Zuber, together with a helpful team mate pulling to one side (Karun Chandhok) had put Senna up to 8th, and after a long battle he finally managed to get past Roldan Rodriguez to gain another crucial place. But getting past Romain Grosjean with just three laps to go was asking too much. He gave it a decent try but outbraked himself on both occasions and saw Grosjean retake the initiative both times, and finally Senna was out of laps and finished 5th. Not enough, even with Pantano failing to score.

With the championship title decided, all the remained was the small matter of the race win. Lucas Di Grassi inherited the lead after Pantano’s penalty but he had been under pressure from Pastor Maldonardo who has really found his form in the closing races of the GP2 season. On lap 4 he pulled off a nice move on Sebastien Buemi to take third spot, and on lap 22 he managed to pull off a second excellent move on di Grassi to take the lead. But as the track dried further the momentum seemed to swing back to di Grassi, who outbraked Maldonardo going into the first chicane with four laps to go. Maldonardo had nothing left to challenge with, and the chequered flag went to di Grassi.

In other incidents, birthday boy Kamui Kobayashi (22 today) got bumped off the track and onto the grass by a clash of wheels with Alberto Valerio. Although it was suggested he might be penalised for the accident, Valerio ultimately got a 25 second penalty when it was shown that he sped in the pitlane.

And having braved the treacherous wet-dry conditions mid-race, Luca Filippi was finally undone in the final moments when he hit a damp patch under a bridge that snapped his car right into the wall.

Race results:

Pos  Driver        Team                      Time
 1.  Di Grassi     Barwa Campos Team       1h00:23.203
 2.  Maldonado     Piquet Sports             + 0.736
 3.  Buemi         Trust Team Arden          + 6.785
 4.  Grosjean      ART Grand Prix            + 17.789
 5.  Senna         iSport International      + 18.324
 6.  Rodriguez     FMS International         + 20.488
 7.  D'ambrosio    Dams                      + 22.709
 8.  Valsecchi     Durango                   + 24.826
 9.  Soucek        Super Nova Racing         + 32.866
10.  Pantano       Racing Engineering        + 34.682
11.  Chandhok      iSport International      + 35.259
12.  Valerio       Durango                   + 45.567
13.  Conway        Trident Racing            + 59.501
14.  Iaconelli     BCN Competicion           + 111.344
15.  Asmer         FMS International         + 1 lap
16.  Filippi       Trust Team Arden          + 2 laps

Retirements:

    Driver        Team                    Laps
    Yamamoto      ART Grand Prix            27
    Tung          Trident Racing            26
    Herck         DPR                       22
    Parente       Super Nova Racing         19
    Nunes         DPR                       16
    Kobayashi     Dams                      15
    Petrov        Barwa Campos Team         3
    Zuber         Piquet Sports             3
    Villa         Racing Engineering        3

Fastest lap: Conway, 1:35.456 on lap 32
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