2011 GP2 Asia Race of Italy (Round 2, Feature Race, March 19th)

Imola. © Wikipedia Commons

Romain Grosjean cruised to an easy victory in the opening race of the final round of the 2011 GP2 Asia Series in Imola.

The Frenchman fought off an early attack from eventual runner-up, Addax’s Giedo van der Garde, eventually giving Grosjean a five-point lead in the standing with only a single sprint race remaining.
It helped that the DAMS runner also picked up a last dash pole position in qualifying, following that up with the race’s fastest lap. Saturday truly was a clean sweep for the former Renault pilot.

Whereas Grosjean stormed away from the line, fellow front-row man Sam Bird (iSport) bogged down, dropping to 8th by the opening chicane at Tamburello. Bird’s day would only continue to worsen – fighting over a poor 9th place with teammate Marcus Ericsson several laps in would see the iSport pair crash into eachother, rendering Ericsson’s day damaged and Bird’s over.
Championship challenger Jules Bianchi (ART GP) also had a poor start – albeit not as dramatic as Bird’s. With van der Garde soaring and Michael Herck (Coloni) maintaining his 3rd place, Bianchi could not hold Arden’s Josef Kral off for long, as Kral swiped 4th place away from the ART GP driver.
As Bianchi struggled, the Frenchman was also desperately trying to hold off Jolyon Palmer (Arden). Unfortunately Palmer collided gently with Bianchi’s rear on the run down to the Rivazza – a knock that would remove a section of Palmer’s front wing.

Van der Garde on the other hand had a startling launch from 5th on the grid, leaping ahead of Herck and the aforementioned Bianchi and Bird to 2nd place.
Esteban Gutierrez was another quick starter. The Mexican shot off his 15th place on the grid to 10th by the opening corner, before forcing passed Davide Valsecchi (Team AirAsia) to take 9th by the end of the first lap.
by the fifth tour, Gutierrez had closed in on Bird, only to run wide at Acque Minerale. It was an adventure that cost the reigning GP3 Champion three spots as Valsecchi, Mikhail Aleshin (Carlin) and Stefano Coletti (Trident) zoomed by, dropping the Mexican to 12th.

Determined not to make the same error, Bianchi pushed Kral and by lap 7, Bianchi stole 4th from the Czech driver. Sadly for Kral, a slow pitstop on the following lap would see him tumble down the order, where he clattered wheels with the now struggling Gutierrez.
With Grosjean seemingly unattainable, Bianchi zeroed in on the quickening Herck, yet it was made somewhat easy for the Frenchman. As Bianchi reduced the gap to Herck from 5 to 1.5 seconds, Herck readied himself for a stop that gave Bianchi just enough free air to jump him after his tyre change – 3rd!!

It would not be until 16th lap that Grosjean finally pitted, although the DAMS leader would have little to worry about. In fact the only runner to come close to the Frenchman was Trident’s Rodolfo Gonzalez.
With little to lose, the Venezuelan opted for a lengthy opening stint and it was his good pace that rewarded him with the (temporary) race lead, although Gonzalez wore it well. Eventually Gonzalez stayed out for a further four laps before pitting for new Pirelli’s, placing the lead back in Grosjean’s hands – the Trident racer emerged in 10th position.

As for Grosjean, the remaining laps were easy and rather than losing pace on ageing rubber, the DAMS charger set the fastest lap of the race on the penultimate tour.
Indeed such was Grosjean’s pace, that by the time the chequered flag flew at the end of 35 laps, the Frenchman had secured a 14.3 second lead over van der Garde, with 3rd place Bianchi a further 3 seconds behind.

Herck also ran a solid, if quiet race for Coloni, eventually taking 4th. The Romanian had a long gap to Coletti who took 5th ahead of Valsecchi; however Valsecchi failed a ride height test post-race and was excluded from the results.
With that Fabio Leimer and Dani Clos moved to 6th and 7th respectively, while Fairuz Fauzy moved to 8th to grab pole for the Sprint race. Gonzalez and Ericsson rounded out the top-ten, just missing the points.

The final results of the Feature Race at the fabulous Imola circuit leaves Grosjean with a significant advantage coming into the Sprint run.
With a five point lead and only seven available, the 2011 GP2 Asia Series is his to lose.
Race Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Pos  Driver               Team                   Time/Gap
 1.  Romain Grosjean      DAMS                 52m59.103s (35 laps)
 2.  Giedo van der Garde  Addax                 + 14.349s
 3.  Jules Bianchi        ART                   + 17.527s
 4.  Michael Herck        Coloni                + 21.502s
 5.  Stefano Coletti      Trident               + 41.228s
 6.  Fabio Leimer         Rapax                 + 51.867s
 7.  Dani Clos            Racing Engineering    + 52.813s
 8.  Fairuz Fauzy         Super Nova            + 53.964s
 9.  Rodolfo Gonzalez     Trident               + 54.224s
10.  Marcus Ericsson      iSport                + 54.661s
11.  Esteban Gutierrez    ART                   + 55.390s
12.  Josef Kral           Arden                 + 55.840s
13.  Pal Varhaug          DAMS                + 1m07.700s
14.  Oliver Turvey        Ocean               + 1m19.721s
15.  Johnny Cecotto       Super Nova          + 1m20.567s
16.  Julian Leal          Rapax               + 1m22.066s
17.  Andrea Caldarelli    Ocean               + 1m24.224s
18.  Jolyon Palmer        Arden               + 1m24.503s
19.  Mikhail Aleshin      Carlin              + 1m26.672s
20.  Charles Pic          Addax               + 1m29.215s
21.  Max Chilton          Carlin              + 1m31.023s
22.  Luca Filippi         Coloni              + 1m31.058s


     Nathanael Berthon    Racing Engineering      15 laps
     Sam Bird             iSport                   7 laps
     Luiz Razia           AirAsia                  0 laps
     Davide Valsecchi     AirAsia               + 44.563s (Disqualified)
Pos  Driver               Team           Points
 1. Romain Grosjean       DAMS               23
 2. Jules Bianchi         ART GP             18
 3. Giedo van der Garde   Addax              12
 4. Stefano Coletti       Trident            11
 5. Davide Valsecchi      Team AirAsia        9
 6. Marcus Ericsson       iSport              9
 7. Josef Kral            Arden               8
 8. Michael Herck         Scuderia Coloni     7
 9. Fabio Leimer          Rapax               4
10. Dani Clos             Racing Engineering  2
11. Sam Bird              iSport              2
12. Fairuz Fauzy          Super Nova          1

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