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 Retirements: 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