GP2: Rounds 7/8 – Valencia, Spain – June 26/27

Feature race

Something of the madness of the midsummer sun in Spain hit the GP2 field at Valencia, with some big incidents wiping out a large proportion of the field early on as drivers seemed to forget the basics of fair competition. Not exactly the most beautiful of races, then – but awfully entertaining for the fans.

Sergio Perez converted pole to the lead through the sweeping turn 1 just fending off Pastor Maldonardo with the two making light contact, and Jules Bianchi (who had been sent off from the grid with a cooling fan still left in an air intake, which fortunately fell off in the formation lap) slotting in to third. But behind them, going into the hard right turn 2, Vladimir Arabadjiev was to trigger a major conflagration with a late braking move that took in up to eight cars in the fallout. Most were able to get underway again, but Oliver Turvey, Fabio Leimer, Jerome D’Ambrosio and Rodolfo Gonzalez were among those to take no further part in the event. Fabio Leimer was also invoved but managed to continue for 25 laps until suddenly grinding to a halt out of turn 4, leaving the race with yellows in that part of the track for the remaining four laps; Arabadjiev also carried on, and made it to the end before his engine started belching smoke all over the place; but he would get handed a 10-place grid penalty for the next race for causing the initial incident.

Back at the start of the race, and at the very next corner there was more mayhem as first Johnny Cecotto appeared to lose control with no brakes and plough into a barrier, while on the other side of the track Josef Kral tried a move on Ho-Pin Tung that launched them both briefly into the air. It also caught up Luiz Razia and Giacomo Ricci, Kral coming to rest on top of them both. The stewards took the view that it was all Kral’s fault, and gave him a 10-place grid penalty for the next race.

A safety car was inevitable while the cars were pulled apart and craned away, with only 14 cars left running after a mere four laps. At the restart, Maldonardo was caught out by an early challenge from Bianchi into the final turn before the main straight: after the safety car line but before the start/finish line, which made it perfectly legal. Maldonardo was pushed wide by Bianchi’s challange and lost not only second place, but then third to Davide Valsecchi through lost momentum.

Bianchi was also quick to get past Perez for the lead, but when Valsecchi tried the same he mistimed the challenge and tipped Perez into a spin that dropped him out of the top ten. Valsecchi would get a drive-thru penalty for the collision, dropping him down just on front of Perez for the remainder of the race; Perez did well to resist the temptation for payback.

There was more drama to come at the mandatory pit stop for two-tyre change: Coloni’s Alberto Valero was released from his stop with Perez just inches away int he pit lane, more more seriously Valero still had the rear jack attached to the back of his car. Perez wisely backed off for the inevitable moment when it flew off, and when it did it went right into the fencing where there was an opening for a TV camera. It was incredible footage from the camera – and also its last, the final image being a distorted shot skywards. Other cameras chronicled the cameraman leaping away from the violently bucking camera, hopefully just shaken and not harmed. The Coloni team got handed a 1,500 euros fine for the unsafe release.

Maldonardo had been all over the back of Bianchi by this point, and when Bianchi ran wide out of the final turn of lap 20 Maldonardo needed no second invitation to claim the lead. He kept this through his own pit stop – one of the last to come in, the stop was actually quick sluggish, but he had pulled out enough of a gap to return to the track in front of the ART car, and now went on to easily stretch out an 8s lead by the end. Bianchi’s team mate Sam Bird was right behind them, Bird having made up impressive ground during the pit stops to make it an ART 2-3.

The concluding laps were relatively quiet, the biggest battle now involving Charles Pic, Marcus Ericsson and Michael Herck (who had lost places early on to Clos and Pic) but no one could make a decisive move before the chequered flag came out.

Maldonardo’s win – the first time in 2010 that a driver has notched up more than one victory – is a big boost to his GP2 championship campaign, especially with chief rival Serio Perez finishing out of the points. Now all he needed was to maintain the momentum into the sprint race on Sunday morning.

Race results

Pos Driver              Team               Time
 1. Pastor Maldonado    Rapax        56m55.681s
 2. Jules Bianchi       ART            + 8.296s
 3. Sam Bird            ART           + 16.094s
 4. Giedo van der Garde Barwa Addax   + 16.788s
 5. Dani Clos           Racing Eng    + 38.974s
 6. Charles Pic         Arden         + 42.415s
 7. Marcus Ericsson     Super Nova    + 42.914s
 8. Michael Herck       DPR           + 43.722s
 9. Alberto Valerio     Coloni        + 48.508s
10. Davide Valsecchi    iSport        + 50.411s
11. Sergio Perez        Barwa Addax   + 51.308s
12. Christian Vietoris  Racing Eng    + 55.338s
13. Vladimir Arabadjiev Coloni          + 1 lap
14. Adrian Zaugg        Trident         + 1 lap

Retirements:

    Fabio Leimer        Ocean        25 laps
    Rodolfo Gonzalez    Arden        0 laps
    Josef Kral          Super Nova   0 laps
    Luiz Razia          Rapax        0 laps
    Giacomo Ricci       DPR          0 laps
    Ho-Pin Tung         DAMS         0 laps
    Jerome D'Ambrosio   DAMS         0 laps
    Johnny Cecotto      Trident      0 laps
    Oliver Turvey       iSport       0 laps

Sprint race

Marcus Ericsson became the seventh winner in eight races in the GP2 season, a staggering turnaround for the rookie who was made to start at the back of the grid on Saturday for causing a crash with Adrian Zaugg at Istanbul. From zero very much to hero with a convincing win at Valencia, which began with a solid start while polesitter Michael Herck suffered from debilitating wheel spin.

Sam Bird had failed to get away on the formation lap and had to sart from the pit lane, which was probably no bad thing as chaos once again erupted into the first hard right corner of turn 2, the scene of yesterday’s multicar accident.

It began when Christian Vietoris ran into the back of the luckless Giacomo Ricci, launching him into the air. Vietroris returned to earth remarkably quickly and fairly intact, but avoidance action behind him saw Johnny Cecotto running into the rear of Fabio Leimer. On the other side of the track, Serio Perez was having a flying start (up to fourth from 11th on the grid after his disappointing time in the feature race) when suddenly Alberto Valerio tried a lunge cutting the apex of the corner and smashing into the back of Perez’ car.

Everyone expected a safety car at this point, but most of the cars – while damaged – were able to limp around back to the pits. Perez came in for repairs, but it put him a lap down in traffic: to rub salt in the wound, he was then given a drive-thru penalty for ignoring blue flags and not letting other cars past, even though he was putting in the fastest laps of that stage of the race. Clearly the racing gods were not with him in Valencia.

Just when it looked like we were getting away without an interuption to proceedings, a serious accident between Joseph Kral and Rodolfo Gonzalez caused a length pause. Kral ran into the back of Gonzalez and – in echos of Vietoris accident just moments earlier – he was launched skywards. Kral was not as lucky as Vietoris however, and the car twisted and cartwheeled in the air. When it did return to earth it was still skidding across the tarmac at worryingly high speed, and it slammed into the safety barrier. It took some time to extract Kral from the car, medics worryingly working with the safety crews, and as a result of the safety car period the race ended up being time-limited so as not to affect the running of the Formula 1 Grand Prix at the circuit a few hours later. Kral was removed by ambulance to the hospital, conscious but complaining of back pain, pain in the right arm, and bruising to the legs.

Ericsson led a shaky restart, seemingly no one quite clear about exactly when they could put the power down and start overtaking, as the green flags and lights kicked off disconcertingly early. Still, Ericsson was able to hold off second placed Giedo van der Garde (who had wrested second from Herck before the end of the first lap) and gave him no further opportunities for the rest of the race.

Pastor Maldonardo rose to fourth place, benefited from problems for Dani Clos, who fell back in the opening laps with an apparent problem, also losing places to Davide Valsecchi and Luiz Razia in short order before recovering and fighting hard for the rest of the morning. But Maldonardo was unable to take third place from Herck, his best chance coming out of the final corner of the race and which was emphatically blocked by Herck weaving across the track ahead of him as the two took the chequered flag.

But it’s still a good result for Maldonardo – another points finish, while poor old Sergio Perez once again finished compltely pointless despite winning pole position on Friday. It means an emphatic change in the balance of power in the GP2 championship – things are getting interested in the title fight between the two rivals.

Race results

Pos Driver               Team             Time
1.  Marcus Ericsson      Super Nova  45:33.442s
2.  Giedo van der Garde  Barwa         + 0.883s
3.  Michael Herck        DPR           + 5.120s
4.  Pastor Maldonado     Rapax         + 5.292s
5.  Charles Pic          Arden         + 9.233s
6.  Davide Valsecchi     iSport       + 17.778s
7.  Daniel Clos          Racing Eng   + 18.315s
8.  Jerome D'Ambrosio    DAMS         + 18.910s
9.  Vlado Arabadjiev     Coloni       + 21.318s
10. Sam Bird             ART          + 23.831s
11. Max Chilton          Ocean        + 25.997s
12. Oliver Turvey        iSport       + 30.387s
13. Ho-Pin Tung          DAMS         + 32.713s
14. Johnny Cecotto Jr.   Trident      + 33.394s
15. Adrian Zaugg         Trident        + 1 Lap
16. Sergio Perez         Addax          + 1 Lap

Retirements:

    Luiz Razia           Rapax       15 laps 
    Rodolfo Gonzalez     Arden       1 laps  
    Josef Kral           Super Nova  1 laps  
    Christian Vietoris   Racing Eng  0 laps  
    Giacomo Ricci        DPR         0 laps  
    Alberto Valerio      Coloni      0 laps  
    Jules Bianchi        ART         0 laps  
    Fabio Leimer         Ocean       0 laps  

GP2 championship standings

Pos Driver                   Pts
1   Pastor Maldonado         42
2   Daniel Clos              27
3   Giedo van der Garde      27
4   Luiz Razia               20
5   Sergio Perez             19
6   Jules Bianchi            19
7   Sam Bird                 17
8   Charles Pic              15
9   Davide Valsecchi         14
10  Michael Herck            10
11  Marcus Ericsson          8
12  Fabio Leimer             8
13  Giacomo Ricci            8
14  Jerome D'Ambrosio        7
15  Oliver Turvey            6
16  Alberto Valerio          4
17  Johnny Cecotto Jr.       3
18  Christian Vietoris       2
19  Josef Kral               0
20  Ho-Pin Tung              0
21  Max Chilton              0
22  Vlado Arabadjiev         0
23  Rodolfo Gonzalez         0
24  Adrian Zaugg             0

Pos Team                     Pts
1   Rapax                    62
2   Barwa Addax Team         46
3   ART Grand Prix           36
4   Racing Engineering       29
5   iSport International     20
6   DPR                      18
7   Arden International      15
8   Super Nova Racing        8
9   Ocean Racing Technology  8
10  DAMS                     7
11  Scuderia Coloni          4
12  Trident Racing           3
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