GP2: Rounds 15/16 – Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium – Aug 28/29

Feature race

Jerome d’Ambrosio and Pastor Maldonardo lined up on the front row of the GP2 feature race in Belgium, after a rain-hit, red flag-afflicted qualifying session saw Michael Herck top the timesheets only to be handed a three-place penalty for ignoring too many yellow flags.

D’Ambrosio managed to hold on to first place in the opening corners, although it took some weaving that looked suspiciously close to blocking on the run up the hill to Les Combes. Oliver Turvey found himself squeezed out on the inside into La Source hairpin, while Sergio Perez ran wide through that first corner and moved up to third place for his pains.

But then the fun and games were temporarily suspended as the safety car was deployed. Back in the midfield through La Source, Sam Bird had banged wheels and damaged his car’s steering, reducing him to a crawl out of the hairpin. Dani Clos had been caught unawares by the ART’s lumbering pace and hit Bird, sending his own car into the air before coming to rest alongside the wall at the back of the pit lane, but not before depositing large chunks of bodywork on the main track that needed collecting. Clos subsequently complained of lower back pain and was diagnosed in hospital as suffering from a compressed vertebrae, which meant he missed the sprint race on Sunday.

D’Ambrosio got a good restart ahead of Maldonardo and Perez, while Turvey quickly lost another position to Charles Pic, the iSport car clearly not faring well in race trim. The running order stayed relatively static through to the mandatory pit stop and two-tyre change, whereupon a fantastic effort by the Rapax pit crew saw Maldonardo emerge from his pit box right in front of d’Ambrosio who had come in on the same lap. D’Ambrosio’s race would come to an end a few laps later with engine failure.

It was a less happy pit stop for Sergio Perez, however: he was judged to have broken the pit lane speeding limit and given a drive-thru penalty which dumped him down to 13th place. This wasn’t just a body blow to Perez, it was also bad news for fans of the GP2 championship, handing Maldonardo a points lead that puts his championship campaign perilously close to clinching the title well before series end.

But Maldonardo wasn’t yet in the lead, however – and wouldn’t be until just three laps before the end, as series returnee Alvaro Parente headed the field having decided to delay his pit stop in the hope of one of those trade mark Spa showers that would have sent everyone to the pits for wet tyres and wipe out the need for his own mandatory stop. Rain was indeed threatened just after halfway, but only light drizzle materialised and tyre changes weren’t needed.

When Parente did finally pit and hand the lead back to Maldonardo it was a sluggish performance by the Coloni pit crew, but Parente’s long stint in the clean air up front had given him such a margin that he was still able to rejoin in second place, just ahead of Romain Grosjean who had been putting in a classy run in the car usually taken by the injured Ho-Pin Tung at DAMS, pulling off some of the nicest overtaking moves of the race on the likes of Vlado Arabadjiev, Parente’s team mate for the weekend. While Grosjean’s chances of F1 may have been and gone, his return to GP2 today showed just how head and shoulders he is above the GP2 series these days.

But Parente wasn’t done yet, and now had a new advantage – fresh rubber for the final laps of the afternoon, which meant that he ate up the gap between himself and the leader, and on the final run-down to the Bus Stop he closed right up to the back of the Rapax car. A single mistake by Maldonardo, or one last heroic (but potentially disastrous) lunge by Parente could have transformed the result, but Maldonardo grimly held on and passed the finish line just ahead of Parente.

With the podium positions taken by Maldonardo, Parente and Grosjean, this is arguably the strongest driver result GP2 has had in years.

Race result

Pos Driver              Team              Time/Gap
 1. Pastor Maldonado    Rapax            52:27.763s
 2. Alvaro Parente      Coloni              +0.243
 3. Romain Grosjean     DAMS                +4.766
 4. Charles Pic         Arden              +13.815
 5. Luca Filippi        Super Nova         +16.085
 6. Oliver Turvey       iSport             +21.117
 7. Sergio Perez        Addax              +21.713
 8. Rodolfo Gonzalez    Arden              +27.375
 9. Giedo van der Garde Addax              +30.834
10. Johnny Cecotto Jr   Trident            +32.342
11. Christian Vietoris  Racing Engineering +32.772
12. Fabio Leimer        Ocean              +33.642
13. Marcus Ericsson     Super Nova         +34.932
14. Jules Bianchi       ART                +40.297
15. Adrian Zaugg        Trident            +41.390
16. Luiz Razia          Rapax              +45.553
17. Max Chilton         Ocean              + 1 lap
18. Davide Valsecchi    iSport             + 1 lap
19. Vlado Arabadjiev    Coloni             + 3 laps

Retirements

Jerome D'Ambrosio  DAMS               20 laps
Michael Herck      DPR                18 laps
Fabrizio Crestani  DPR                 2 laps
Sam Bird           ART                 0 laps
Daniel Clos        Racing Engineering  0 laps

Sprint race

Sergio Perez, starting from second on the reverse grid for the spring race, got a good run through Eau Rouge and managed to wrest the lead in a tough battle with polesitter Rodolfo Gonzalez in the run up to Les Combes. After that Perez was in command of the race, despite no fewer than four lengthy safety car periods during the morning’s 18 lap outing.

Perez’ main rival, Pastor Maldonardo, retired on the first lap, the first retirement of many during the race. Fabio Leimer was next out, left venting steam up against the wall at the same time that Sam Bird spun at Pouhon after touching the treacherously slippy kerbing on the damp track. But the first safety car of the race was actually triggered by Luca Fillippi tangling with Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic over 4th place down the start/finish straight, shattering his front wing in the process. A safety car was needed to allow the the marshalls to run out into the track and retrieve the large bits of debris.

Oliver Turvey had made a solid start in third, and briefly tangled with Gonzalez for second in the run up the hill from Eau Rouge, but he appeared to have less straight line speed in this section than others and paid for it by losing two places at this same spot to van der Garde and Alvaro Parente in successive laps once the green flags came out.

Johnny Cecotto Jr. ended up running into the gravel on lap 6, and shortly afterwards Christian Vietoris made the mistake of straying onto the kerbing out of Rivage and spun, bouncing off the barrier and leaving the car stalled half on the track, causing a second safety car. Other cars were starting to display technical problems by this point, with Jerome D’Ambrosio stalling in the pit lane entrance and Vlado Arabadjiev coming in next time around with a misfiring engine that proved terminal.

At the restart on lap 10, van der Garde had a lunge on Gonzalez for second place into La Source, and while he wasn’t able to make it stick there he got the better exit out of the hairpin and hunted down the Arden car on the long straight run uphill through Eau Rouge. While Gonzalez tried to fend that off, Alvaro Parente took the other side and made it a Gonzalez sandwich that Rodolfo finally backed out of before the Les Combes chicane, losing two places in a single manoeuvre.

Further back, Gonzalez’ team mate Charles Pic made a similar mistake to Christian Vietoris’s earlier indiscretion, spinning out of Rivage and ending up sliding along the metal barrier on the other side of the track until he finally made contact with the edge of the tyre wall at turn 14 which ripped the front right suspension and wheel clear off the Arden, and caused extensive damage to the tyre wall as well. The safety car’s service were inevitably required while the tyre wall was rebuilt, and the length of service took its toll on the poor Mercedes road car which started to struggle to maintain the pace as its tyres showed signs of wear and tear after so many appearances on the track during the weekend.

Once the safety car came in the final three laps ran without significant incident, van der Garde just able to hold off a strong challenge from Parente but neither of them able to do anything about the dominant display from Sergio Perez – although the winner got the adrenalin going by nearly losing the backend of the Addax out of the final corner within sight of the chequered flag. Fortunately he was able to gather it up with some quick handiwork, and be took the win to keep the GP2 championship battle mathematically alive.

Race result

Pos Driver              Team           Time/Gap
 1. Sergio Perez        Addax        41:51.924s
 2. Giedo van der Garde Addax            +2.574
 3. Alvaro Parente      Coloni           +3.583
 4. Rodolfo Gonzalez    Arden            +4.826
 5. Oliver Turvey       iSport           +7.060
 6. Romain Grosjean     DAMS             +8.037
 7. Marcus Ericsson     Super Nova       +8.740
 8. Davide Valsecchi    iSport           +9.472
 9. Adrian Zaugg        Trident         +10.282
10. Luiz Razia          Rapax           +10.587
11. Max Chilton         Ocean           +11.630
12. Sam Bird            ART             +12.171
13. Michael Herck       DPR             +12.553
14. Fabrizio Crestani   DPR             +13.269

Retirements

Charles Pic             Arden           11 laps
Vlado Arabadjiev        Coloni           9 laps
Jerome D'Ambrosio       DAMS             8 laps
Christian Vietoris      Racing Eng       6 laps
Johnny Cecotto Jr       Trident          5 laps
Jules Bianchi           ART              4 laps
Luca Filippi            Super Nova       2 laps
Fabio Leimer            Ocean            1 lap
Pastor Maldonado        Rapax            0 laps

Fastest lap, Perez 1:57.014s

Championship standings

Drivers                         Teams
Pos Driver               Pts    Pos Team                     Pts
1   Pastor Maldonado     87     1   Rapax                    107
2   Sergio Perez         60     2   Barwa Addax Team         99
3   Daniel Clos          43     3   ART Grand Prix           65
4   Giedo van der Garde  39     4   Racing Engineering       61
5   Jules Bianchi        39     5   iSport International     51
6   Oliver Turvey        30     6   Arden International      32
7   Charles Pic          28     7   DPR                      28
8   Sam Bird             26     8   DAMS                     19
9   Davide Valsecchi     21     9   Scuderia Coloni          17
10  Luiz Razia           20     10  Super Nova Racing        16
11  Christian Vietoris   18     11  Trident Racing           9
12  Giacomo Ricci        16     12  Ocean Racing Technology  8
13  Alvaro Parente       13
14  Jerome D'Ambrosio    12
15  Michael Herck        12
16  Marcus Ericsson      11
17  Fabio Leimer         8
18  Romain Grosjean      7
19  Adrian Zaugg         6
20  Luca Filippi         5
21  Rodolfo Gonzalez     4
22  Alberto Valerio      4
23  Johnny Cecotto Jr.   3
24  Josef Kral           0
25  Ho-Pin Tung          0
26  Max Chilton          0
27  Vlado Arabadjiev     0
28  Fabrizio Crestani    0
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