GP2 Asia: Grosjean wins second GP2 Asia title at Imola

Romain Grosjean dominated the GP2 Asia feature race, winning from pole position with a huge 14s lead, and was then handed the 2011 championship title when Jules Bianchi was shunted out of the sprint race at the first corner.

Feature race

Dams’ Romain Grosjean locked up the final 2011 GP2 Asia feature race right from the start, converting pole position into a huge lead that he only lost briefly during the cycling-through of pit stops midrace.

His main rival was expected to be iSport’s Sam Bird, who had set the fastest practice time on Friday morning and who had come close to claiming pole in the qualifying session in the afternoon. But instead, Bird was never a factor – getting a seriously slow start and dropping back to eighth, and subsequently involved in contact with his team mate Marcus Ericsson – who was recovering from sliding onto the grass on lap 8 – that put him out of the race entirely.

Instead it was Barwa Addax’s Giedo van der Garde who was closest to Grosjean and pushing the leader in the early laps before the Frenchman started to stamp his authority on the race and pull away, leaving van der Garde struggling to hold off Michael Herck for second.

The GP2 Asia championship leader going into Imola, Jules Bianchi, was initially slow and found himself sandwiched between the two Ardens of Josef Kral and Jolyon Palmer, but Bianchi finally found his pace and passed Kral for fourth place on lap 6, then picked up third by overtaking Michael Herck in the pits during the mandatory round of stops for two-tyre changes. Kral and Palmer both had problematic stops and subsequently fell out of the top ten as a result: Palmer ended up 19th after struggling with damage to his front wing sustained while attacking the back of Bianchi’s Lotus ART in the opening laps, while Kral lost a fierce battle with Bianchi’s ART team mate Esteban Gutierrez for 12th.

By midrace everyone had pitted save for Rodolfo Gonzalez who briefly led the race before coming in for his stop and returning the lead to Grosjean, who was now cruising to victory and far out of reach of van der Garde, Bianchi and Herck with a lead already over 8s that eventually stretched out to over 14s by the chequered flag, giving him a 5pt overnight lead over Bianchi n the GP2 Asia championship going into the final race of the year.

Stefano Coletti claimed fifth place after a late-race error sent Team AirAsia’s Davide Valsecchi off-track at Acque Minerali, giving the Trident Racing driver a chance to claim the position. Valsecchi was able to recover and hold onto sixth place ahead of Rapax’s Fabio Leimer, but was subsequently disqualified from the results for a breach of article 4.3.12 of the technical regulations when the car floor was found a bit too low.

Dani Clos overcame the handicap of a 20th grid spot with the aid of an early pit stop to storm up the positions and claimed eighth position, which initially him the pole position for the sprint race under the reverse grid system until Valsecchi’s disqualification boosted him to seventh and handed the sprint pole to Super Nova’s Fairuz Fauzy instead. By contrast, Oliver Turvey started 14th and remained mired in the lower orders, finally crossing the finish line in a disappointing 15th place.

Luca Filippi’s ill-starred return to Scuderia Coloni saw him end up as the last of the 23 cars running by the chequered flag. The other retirees apart from Bird were Luiz Razia (who went off track in the first lap) and Nathanael Berthon, who stopped at the side of the track on lap 16 just shy of the midpoint of the 35 lap event.

Feature race results

1. Romain Grosjean Dams 35 laps
2. Giedo vander Garde Barwa Addax Team + 14.349s
3. Jules Bianchi Lotus ART + 17.527s
4. Michael Herck Scuderia Coloni + 21.502s
5. Stefano Coletti Trident Racing + 41.228s
6. Fabio Leimer Rapax + 51.867s
7. Dani Clos Racing Engineering + 52.813s
8. Fairuz Fauzy Super Nova Racing + 53.964s
9. Rodolfo Gonzalez Trident Racing + 54.224s
10. Marcus Ericsson iSport International + 54.661s
11. Esteban Gutierrez Lotus ART + 55.390s
12. Josef Kral Arden International + 55.840s
13. Pal Varhaug Dams + 1m 07.700s
14. Oliver Turvey Ocean Racing Technology + 1m 19.721s
15. Johnny Cecotto Super Nova Racing + 1m 20.567s
16. Julian Leal Rapax + 1m 22.066s
17. Andrea Caldarelli Ocean Racing Technology + 1m 24.224s
18. Jolyon Palmer Arden International + 1m 24.503s
19. Mikhail Aleshin Carlin + 1m 26.672s
20. Charles Pic Barwa Addax Team + 1m 29.215s
21. Max Chilton Carlin + 1m 31.023s
22. Luca Filippi Scuderia Coloni + 1m 31.058s

Fastest lap: Romain Grosjean (Dams): 1m 28.097s on lap 32

Not classified:

Nathanael Berthon Racing Engineering after 15 laps
Sam Bird iSport International after 7 laps
Luiz Razia Team AirAsia after 0 laps
Davide Valsecchi Team AirAsia disqualified

Sprint race

The start of the GP2 Asia sprint race of 2011 saw a great getaway from Dani Clos off the front of the grid to lead the race, leading Fabio Leimer, Giedo van der Garde, Romain Grosjean – and Esteban Gutierrez, who had got a flier off the line from 11th on the grid.

After the build-up about the race being the title decider, it proved something of an anti-climax when the championship was immediately put beyond any doubt by an early crash for Julies Bianchi. Polesitter Fairuz Fauzy, who had suffered a really bad getaway, fell backwards through the positions and was then in too much of a rush to make up for lost ground. He locked up going into the first corner and set off a chain-reaction shunt with Stefano Coletti’s Trident that then hit Bianchi’s Lotus ART putting all three of them out of the race along with the Arden of Jolyon Palmer.

The crash briefly brought out yellow flags that gave Carlin’s Mikhail Aleshin a chance to close up to the back after having been forced to start from pit road, and with Bianchi out of the race it meant that feature race winner Romain Grosjean could not be overtaken in the points for his second GP2 Asia title no matter the outcome of rest of the sprint race.

But there was still a race to fight over, and once the green flags came out battle was rejoined with Clos confident in the lead ahead of a pushy Leimer. Behind van der Garde in third was Grosjean who continued to be the fastest man on track, although Grosjean found that even with the speed advantage it was another matter entirely when it came to trying to overtake the Barwa Addax in front. Behind them both Gutierrez was lurking, ready to pounce on a mistake by either car in front: when no opportunities presented themselves by the penultimate lap, Gutierrez launched his fiercest attempt to pass the new champion through Variante Alta only to find himself firmly rebuffed by Grosjean – who appeared to have to cut across the grass to retain his place and may find his result subject to a stewards’ review, although Gutierrez was forced to take a similar line as well. But once that moment was passed, no further chances presented themselves to Gutierrez and the chequered flag came into view.

Ahead of them, Dani Clos had led from that great start right through to the end of the race, despite some fast laps from Leimer that seemed to threaten his lead at various stages of the race. But Clos always had enough in his back pocket to respond with and finally crossed the finish line with a lead of almost 1s over Leimer, with van der Garde 3s away in third and then the duelling Grosjean/Gutierrez pairing nearly 4s further back.

Rodolfo Gonzalez had run in sixth place early in the race but was always clearly the slowest of the front-runners, and was seen locking his brakes up as a result of the pressure being exerted by Marcus Ericsson and Michael Herck behind him. A mistake by Ericsson saw him run wide into Tamburello on lap 5, which allowed Herck to take up seventh place. Herck subsequently found himself up another position and left in a lot of clear space when Gonzalez subsequently retired his Trident on lap 15.

Davide Valsecchi, starting from the back of the grid after being excluded from the feature race results for a technical infringement relating to the ride height of his Team AirAsia car, initially made good progress but was unable to retain many of those gained positions after he sustained some midrace damage to his front wing. Julian Leal also needed a pit stop for a new front nose and fell to the back of the lead lap.

Sam Bird completed a dismal weekend – that had started so well with his form in practice and qualifying on Friday – with a second retirement today, after Johnny Cecotto Jr forced him off the track into the gravel at Tamburello on lap 21.

Sprint race results

1. Dani Clos Racing Engineering 25 laps
2. Fabio Leimer Rapax + 0.931s
3. Giedo van der Garde Barwa Addax Team + 4.007s
4. Romain Grosjean Dams + 7.826s
5. Esteban Gutierrez Lotus ART + 8.366s
6. Michael Herck Scuderia Coloni + 15.312s
7. Pal Varhaug Dams + 27.415s
8. Oliver Turvey Ocean Racing Technology + 29.294s
9. Josef Kral Arden International + 29.721s
10. Luca Filippi Scuderia Coloni + 30.139s
11. Charles Pic Barwa Addax Team + 32.505s
12. Andrea Caldarelli Ocean Racing Technology + 36.006s
13. Nathanael Berthon Racing Engineering + 36.893s
14. Max Chilton Carlin + 38.998s
15. Luiz Razia Team AirAsia + 39.815s
16. Marcus Ericsson iSport International + 40.192s
17. Davide Valsecchi Team AirAsia + 42.100s
18. Julian Leal Rapax + 1m 05.466s
19. Johnny Cecotto Super Nova Racing + 1 lap
20. Mikhail Aleshin Carlin + 1 lap

Not classified:

Sam Bird iSport International after 20 laps
Rodolfo Gonzalez Trident Racing after 14 laps
Fairuz Fauzy Super Nova Racing after 0 laps
Jules Bianchi Lotus ART after 0 laps
Jolyon Palmer Arden International after 0 laps
Stefano Coletti Trident Racing after 0 laps

Next race

That completes the truncated 2011 GP2 Asia season. The first round of the 2011 GP2 main series starts well be held from May 6 to 8 in Istanbul, Turkey as the support event to the F1 Grand Prix of Turkey.

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