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 Retirements: 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 lapsPos 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