Title protagonists don’t always keep winning as a season’s progress in junior formulae.
Whereas an early charge can form the basis of a title challenge, it can be difficult to maintain that winning feeling as the season rumbles on.
In some cases drivers run out of steam, or maybe the once healthy budget begins to cough a little.
Occasionally though, a category’s fine young things or luckless wonders close in on the experienced lions and steal some of the glory.
GP2 is no different and it says much that title rivals Davide Valsecchi and Luiz Razia have found winning difficult in recent months. Indeed Razia’s last victory was at Silverstone in July, while Valsecchi must look to late April in Bahrain for his last success.
Spa-Francorchamps – hosting the tenth of twelve rounds – witnessed Marcus Ericsson and Josef Kral celebrating, while Valsecchi and Razia lingered below once again.
The title fight between the leading duo is intense – Razia and Valsecchi lie level at 204 points, but at this rate the direction of the title could come down to a straight fight over the lesser positions. It is just that close…
Feature Race (September 1st)
Marcus Ericsson grabbed his first GP2 victory of the season following a heavily disrupted Feature Race at Spa-Francorchamps. Crossing the finish line, the Swede enjoyed an 11.5 second gap over James Calado, with Davide Valsecchi shadowing in 3rd spot.
The iSport racer made a super start from the second row, jumping to 2nd just behind polesitter Rio Haryanto, before eventually slipping passed the Indonesian exiting Eau Rouge on the third lap.
That also proved a tense move – in the background, Rodolfo Gonzalez slid off at the exit of Eau Rouge, prompting a sector yellow flags; however the stewards adjudged Ericsson had made the move after the dangerzone.
From there, Ericsson’s pace was such that he may well have pulled away had it not been for an incident unfolding behind him.
As a train of cars drew up the top of Radillon, Nigel Melker’s Ocean Racing Technology machine darted left across the track, pummelling the tyre barriers at the end of the endurance pitlane. Melker was extracted from his destroyed machine and was taken to hospital for checks and an overnight stay.
The Dutch racer received some bruising, but beyond that was relatively unharmed.
Such was the ferocity of the crash, red flags were unfurled – first to care for Melker and then to fix the deranged barrier – a stoppage that lasted close to an hour. A brief safety car period preceded the red flag, allowing many of the field to pit for their mandatory tyre stop on the sixth tour.
Initially Ericsson was beaten out of the pits by Haryanto, who then lost several spots by spinning behind the safety car…
Meanwhile Giedo van der Garde, Stephane Richelmi, Stefano Coletti and Simon Trummer all stayed out, but were damned to fall behind when their tyre change eventually came.
When the race restarted Ericsson merely had to wait for the latent foursome to accept their fate, yet the Swede pushed his way passed a clearly struggling Trummer and continued to press van der Garde, Richelmi and Coletti despite their obvious need to stop.
His time would come, with Ericsson inheriting a healthy lead from Richelmi with two laps remaining.
It was a similar story for Calado. The Englishman ran 4th early on after being swamped on the Kemmel Straight, but a solid stop by Lotus mechanics allowed Calado to pull two extra places. From there, his race became a story of tyre management as he struggled with a set of degrading Pirelli’s.
Calado had done enough – just enough – to stay ahead of Valsecchi, although should the race have been a little longer, that might have been a very different tale.
The Italian – on a charge as he attempts to get his title hopes back on track – pitted with the main pack, emerging 8th and sliding back up the order as late stops came in to play. Valsecchi had an extra place gifted him by a spinning Simon Trummer on lap 17.
Josef Kral worked himself into points contention after the Czech nailed a near perfect start. The Barwa Addax racer had climbed to 8th after his safety car tyre change, becoming 4th as the field sorted itself.
Admittedly, Kral only just pipped van der Garde and Luiz Razia at the line. Staying out until lap 19, van der Garde kept enough life and pace in his Pirelli tyres to play his way into the points. A tenth lap pass on Julian Leal gave the Dutch racer some much-needed free air; however there was not enough left to demote Kral.
Razia was a big winner in the pitlane, but also made much needed moves on track when the opportunity arose. Indeed, the Brazilian wasted no time in forcing a way passed Jolyon Palmer and Leal when race restarted to break into the top ten, eventually rising to 6th at the flag.
Meanwhile Leal drove a canny race to 7th to grab some rare points, pipping Felipe Nasr by two seconds over the line.
For Nasr it was a close run thing – the Brazilian was on a charge after being held behind Valsecchi in the pits, dropping to 20th at the stops. Tactical driving played into his hands – where degradation depleted the pace of opponents, Nasr maintained his Pirelli’s allowing the DAMS’ pilot to rise through the field.
Passes on the battling Rio Haryanto and Max Chilton in the final few tours promoted Nasr to 9th, before taking Stephane Richelmi just before the finish line to assume 8th and reverse grid pole for Sprint Race.
Richelmi – whose strategy came so close to working out perfectly – hung on for 9th, while Haryanto claimed the final point, ending a tough day for the poleman.
The Indonesian attempted to brutally squeeze Gutierrez against the pitwall at the start, before spinning on his own under the safety car. Unlike Ericsson, Gutierrez was penalised for overtaking under yellow flag conditions following Gonzalez’ off, after he sailed passed Calado in Eau Rouge. A sluggish stop only served to worsen his day.
2012 GP2 Round of Spa-Francorchamps (Rd 10, Feature Race, 25 laps) Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Marcus Ericsson iSport 1h55m36.519s 2. James Calado Lotus + 11.530s 3. Davide Valsecchi DAMS + 13.604s 4. Josef Král Addax + 15.098s 5. Giedo van der Garde Caterham + 15.482s 6. Luiz Razia Arden + 16.903s 7. Julian Leal Trident + 26.615s 8. Felipe Nasr DAMS + 28.903s 9. Stephane Richelmi Trident + 29.230s 10. Rio Haryanto Carlin + 29.568s 11. Esteban Gutierrez Lotus + 31.182s 12. Max Chilton Carlin + 32.160s 13. Daniel de Jong Rapax + 37.340s 14. Nathanael Berthon Racing Engineering + 39.130s 15. Simon Trummer Arden + 49.936s 16. Fabio Onidi Coloni + 54.918s 17. Johnny Cecotto Jr. Addax + 58.788s 18. Ricardo Teixeira Rapax + 1m25.639s 19. Rene Binder Lazarus + 1 lap Retirements: Stefano Coletti Coloni 22 laps Victor Guerin Ocean 21 laps Jolyon Palmer iSport 18 laps Sergio Canamasas Lazarus 11 laps Nigel Melker Ocean 2 laps Fabio Leimer Racing Engineering 0 laps Rodolfo Gonzalez Caterham 0 laps
Sprint Race (September 2nd)
Kral grabbed his first GP2 win following a controlled drive at Spa-Francorchamps on Sunday. A storming start made the difference, as the Barwa Addax man surged through from the third row to the front of the pack.
Nasr came through to claim a late 2nd place from Calado’s Lotus machine.
Having to fight off a determined Calado for the opening half of the event kept Kral on his toes, but the Czech withstood the pressure and began to pull away as Calado’s tyres ran short of breath. From 1.1 seconds at the halfway mark, the leading gap grew to over five seconds as the chequered flag waved for the delighted Kral – his first win in forty-four GP2 starts.
For Nasr, the Brazilian endured a difficult start. An untried clutch proved to be slipping, dropping Nasr to 5th by the opening turn, as Kral slipped through followed by Calado, Razia and Valsecchi.
Part of Nasr’s problem would resolve itself rather quickly, when a defensive Calado squeezed Razia on the Kemmel Straight, causing the Brazilian to slide across track and collect the innocent Valsecchi. Razia would continue – albeit near the back – but Valsecchi’s day was done.
Up front, Calado pressed Kral hard – too hard in fact; by the two-third mark, the Englishman was struggling for grip, allowing Nasr back into play for 2nd spot. A tough dual in the final laps saw Calado put up a brave fight, but when his Lotus slid sideways through the Bus Stop on the final lap, Nasr dived through to take the runner-up spot.
Calado had little choice but to accept 3rd, knowing that in the process he had also risen above teammate Gutierrez in the points standings.
Ericsson was only a second adrift of the Nasr / Calado fight. The Swede had once again displayed stellar speed in Sunday’s Sprint and needed to after being passed by Gutierrez and Fabio Onidi off the line.
Moves on Onidi, Haryanto and Richelmi brought Ericsson back into contention, with his efforts being made easier when Leal and Gutierrez clashed during a battle over 4th spot; an incident that promoted everyone else two places as well.
Somehow Fabio Leimer claimed 5th place as his own. Starting 23rd, the Swiss pilot was 12th after lap one. Leimer was in the mood for points on Sunday and it showed – an early pass on Sergio Canamasas took the Racing Engineering driver to the edge of the top ten, before swooping upon Palmer (lap 10), Onidi (lap 12), Haryanto (lap 14) and Richelmi (lap 15).
There was then a 13 second gap to 6th place Richelmi, who led a gaggle of four cars across the line. After several laps holding Gutierrez (and later Ericsson) at bay, the Monegasque racer began to lose tyre grip, forcing him into a fight with Haryanto, Stefano Coletti, Leal and Palmer.
Despite the pressure, the Trident racer held on, aided somewhat by the rearguard action fighting amongst themselves.
Initially Haryanto pressed the difficult Richelmi, until Coletti and then Palmer took the charge, but with the laps running short, Richelmi persevered to take three points and 6th place. Haryanto was a mere six-tenths shy at the line, with Coletti – the final point scorer – a further seven-tenths back. Leal and Palmer just missed out on points, despite their valiant efforts.
There was disappointment for Onidi, whose fabulous start promoted him from 16th to 9th, becoming 8th two tours later; however the Italian fell back down the order almost as quickly, ending the day a rather distant 12th.
It wasn’t all great first lap runs unfortunately. Johnny Cecotto Jr made a rather questionable start by driving down start / finish on the grass strap lining the pitwall, passing nearly a dozen cars in the process.
Robbed of grip as he approached La Source, the Venezuelan powered back onto the track, pummelling the rear of Chilton. The embarrassed Cecotto Jr retired on the spot, while Chilton continued, albeit in last place.
2012 GP2 Round of Spa-Francorchamps (Rd 10, Sprint Race, 18 laps) Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Josef Kral Addax 36m59.474s 2. Felipe Nasr DAMS + 5.109s 3. James Calado Lotus + 5.290s 4. Marcus Ericsson iSport + 6.335s 5. Fabio Leimer Racing Engineering + 11.041s 6. Stephane Richelmi Trident + 24.694s 7. Rio Haryanto Carlin + 25.237s 8. Stefano Coletti Coloni + 25.957s 9. Julian Leal Trident + 26.257s 10. Jolyon Palmer iSport + 27.441s 11. Daniel de Jong Rapax + 32.681s 12. Fabio Onidi Coloni + 35.830s 13. Esteban Gutierrez Lotus + 35.928s 14. Rodolfo Gonzalez Caterham + 37.222s 15. Ricardo Teixeira Rapax + 37.867s 16. Simon Trummer Arden + 38.387s 17. Rene Binder Lazarus + 41.470s 18. Victor Guerin Ocean + 47.175s 19. Nathanael Berthon Racing Engineering + 52.735s 20. Luiz Razia Arden + 56.434s 21. Giedo van der Garde Caterham + 1m19.121s 22. Max Chilton Carlin + 1m22.027s Retirements: Sergio Canamasas Lazarus 9 laps Davide Valsecchi DAMS 9 laps Johnny Cecotto Addax 0 laps
2012 GP2 Series Drivers' Championship (Rd 10) Pos Driver Points 1. Luiz Razia 204 2. Davide Valsecchi 204 3. James Calado 160 4. Esteban Gutierrez 150 5. Giedo van der Garde 141 6. Max Chilton 124 7. Fabio Leimer 103 8. Marcus Ericsson 89 9. Felipe Nasr 85 10. Johnny Cecotto Jr 80 2012 GP2 Series Teams' Championship (Rd 10) Pos Teams Points 1. Lotus 310 2. DAMS 289 3. Arden International 208 4. Carlin 162 5. Racing Engineering 160