2011 GP2 Asia Race of Italy (Round 2, Sprint Race, March 20th)

Imola. © Wikipedia Commons

Although Romain Grosjean sealed his second GP2 Asia Series crown in Imola on Sunday afternoon, it was Racing Engineering’s Dani Clos that took the Sprint Race in style.

Admittedly, it was not all plain sailing for Grosjean – a post race penalty dropped him out of the points places, but the Frenchman still garnered a solitary score for fastest lap.

Indeed, Clos jumped into an instant lead as poleman Fairuz Fauzy (Super Nova) was slow away. The Malaysian dropped into the pack, passed by both championship contenders – Grosjean (DAMS) and Jules Bianchi (ART GP).
Sadly, those wishing for an epic title finale were quickly denied – Fauzy, determined to retake his lead, massively outbraked himself at the entrance of Tamburello, wiping out both Bianchi and Trident’s Stefano Coletti.
It truly was a ridiculous move by Fauzy, who should know better than that by now.

As the dust settled and a weary Bianchi removed himself to the paddock, Clos began to pull away from Rapax’s Fabio Leimer. Clos didn’t hog the good starts – Giedo van der Garde and Grosjean nabbed 3rd and 4th despite having both started on the fourth row.
Esteban Gutierrez also got away well. The Mexican lined up 11th on the grid following a difficult Feature Race, but was running 5th as he started the second lap.
It would be the beginnings of a race long battle.

Showing spurts of speed this weekend were Rodolfo Gonzalez (Trident) and Michael Herck (Coloni). The oft-criticised pair found themselves 6th and 7th early on and under pressure from iSport’s Marcus Ericsson (8th).
The Swede was not shy about attacking the Gonzalez / Herck pairing, but it would all come to nothing. Ericsson, probably trying too hard, spun twice (on laps five and and eight) leaving him near the rear of the field. Sadly Gonzalez could not complete his impressive run – mechanical gremlins would soon creep into his Trident machine, pulling him out of the race on the 14th tour.

Ericsson and Gonzalez were not the only drivers finding life at Imola tough, as Team AirAsia’s Davide Valsecchi suffered a truly torrid weekend. Following his Feature Race disqualification, the Italian suffered several offs during the race that would leave him mired at the back.
Even Julian Leal couldn’t locate good fortune. An early clash for the Rapax driver slightly dislodged his front wing, necessitating an eventual pitstop.

Meanwhile, the van der Garde / Grosjean / Gutierrez battle continued apace – the trio pushed eachother hard around Imola’s picturesque hills; always teasing, but unable to finalise the matter.
From the 8th lap right to the flag, rarely was there more than two seconds covering the trio and for much of the race, the gap measured just under one second.
All the while Grosjean ducked and dived around van der Garde, glaring around the outside and peeking down the inside. At the same time Gutierrez stalked patiently, waiting for his moment like a skilled hunter.

For Gutierrez, it would take time, but it would come. It would not be until the penultimate lap, but the stalemate was broken, as the Mexican – picking the perfect opportunity – dived down the inside of Grosjean at the Variante Alta, snatching 4th of the newly crowned Champion.
Yet, just as it seemed Gutierrez had forced the issue, Grosjean took to the grass to re-pass the ART GP pilot and keep the place. For Grosjean, it was an illegal move that would see him receive a 20 second post-race penalty.
Van der Garde on the other hand had escaped – the final podium spot was his.

The midpack was not absent of action either. Despite no points offerings, Sam Bird found himself charging for 11th spot with only four laps to go after starting 24th.
With a struggling Johnny Cecotto Jr (Super Nova) ahead, the Englishman took the inside line at Rivazza to pass. Unfortunately for Bird, Cecotto Jr’s revenge came less than a lap later – the Venezuelan inexplicably rammed the rear of Bird entering Tamburello, taking Bird out of the race. While Cecotto continued, he too would receive a post-race time penalty.

Amidst all this, Dani Clos barely appeared on the radar. The improving Spaniard garnered his first GP2 Asia victory and while he did so with no significant amount of pressure from behind, the racing Engineering driver still took the flag with some class.

Fabio Leimer also ran quietly, but well to take 2nd. The Swiss man did get close to Clos (ahem), but never truly looked like passing him. Giedo van der Garde was the final podium finisher, with the gutsy Esteban Gutierrez 4th.
The improving Michael Herck (5th) assumed a score for Coloni ahead of final points finisher, Paul Verhaug (6th). Following his post-race penalty, Romain Grosjean took home 7th spot with Oliver Turvey (8th, Ocean) and Josef Kral (9th, Arden). Luca Filippi secured 10th place for Coloni, despite starting 23rd.

There may not have been huge amounts of overtaking in the race, but there were several very intense battles that kept one of their toes.
And so the fourth GP2 Asia Series is complete and Romain Grosjean is the Champion (again). Now he needs to bring this form to the Main Series.
2011 is already showing plenty of promise.
Race Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Pos  Driver               Team                   Time/Gap
 1.  Dani Clos            Racing Engineering   37m25.901s (25 laps)
 2.  Fabio Leimer         Rapax                  + 0.931s
 3.  Giedo van der Garde  Addax                  + 4.007s
 4.  Esteban Gutierrez    ART                    + 8.366s
 5.  Michael Herck        Coloni                + 15.312s
 6.  Pal Varhaug          DAMS                  + 27.415s
 7.  Romain Grosjean      DAMS                   + 7.826s**
 8.  Oliver Turvey        Ocean                 + 29.294s
 9.  Josef Kral           Arden                 + 29.721s
10.  Luca Filippi         Coloni                + 30.139s
11.  Charles Pic          Addax                 + 32.505s
12.  Andrea Caldarelli    Ocean                 + 36.006s
13.  Nathanael Berthon    Racing Engineering    + 36.893s
14.  Luiz Razia           AirAsia               + 38.998s
15.  Max Chilton          Carlin                + 39.815s
16.  Marcus Ericsson      iSport                + 40.192s
17.  Davide Valsecchi     AirAsia               + 42.100s
18.  Julian Leal          Rapax               + 1m05.466s
19.  Johnny Cecotto       Super Nova              + 1 lap**
20.  Mikhail Aleshin      Carlin                  + 1 lap
     ** 20 second penalty

     Sam Bird             iSport                  20 laps
     Rodolfo Gonzalez     Trident                 14 laps
     Stefano Coletti      Trident                  0 laps
     Jolyon Palmer        Arden                    0 laps
     Jules Bianchi        ART                      0 laps
     Fairuz Fauzy         Super Nova               0 laps
Pos  Driver               Team           Points
 1. Romain Grosjean       DAMS               24
 2. Jules Bianchi         ART GP             18
 3. Giedo van der Garde   Addax              16
 4. Stefano Coletti       Trident            11
 5. Fabio Leimer          Rapax               9
 6. Davide Valsecchi      Team AirAsia        9
 7. Marcus Ericsson       iSport              9
 8. Michael Herck         Scuderia Coloni     9
 9. Dani Clos             Racing Engineering  8
10. Josef Kral            Arden               8
11. Esteban Gutierrez     ART GP              3
12. Sam Bird              iSport              2

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