van der Garde keeps on rolling
1 January 1901
Birthday boy Giedo van der Garde carried the momentum he had built up over the early part of the Monza weekend into race one, coming from eighth on the grid to claim the opening race of the new season.
Although there was no Superpole session for the first meeting of the season, the reverse grid system was still applied, meaning that polewinner van der Garde had to start from the outside of row four, with Draco's Bertrand Baguette on pole, ahead of Charles Pic, Fabio Carbone and Pasquale di Sabatino. Teenager Pic made the best start, drawing level with Baguette before being put in his place by the Belgian. di Sabatino, meanwhile, used the battling pair to get into the mix.
Back in the field, however, things were hotting up, with Interwetten's Salvador Duran ending his race in the gravel trap after colliding with Prema's Alvaro Barba, the Spaniard also dropping back several places as a result before being forced to retire.
Baguette completed lap one out front, ahead of di Sabatino, while Pic, Marco Bonanomi and van der Garde went into the Parabolica three-abreast. Unsurprisingly, there was contact, with Bonanomi coming off worst in a brush with Pic, as van der Garde, Robert Wickens, Fabio Carbone, Julien Jousse and Pablo Sanchez managed to keep out of the incident.
There was greater drama on lap three, as leader Baguette suddenly slowed to a crawl, his Draco machine falling victim to a troublesome gearshift that allowed di Sabatino to assume control of the race, ahead of van der Garde and a mammoth scrap for third.
"With the pole and the good start, I really hoped for victory," Baguette admitted, "But, during the race, I realised that the gears did not meet the commands and, after I realised that, I could not do anything. Unfortunately, my race was compromised, but I hope to be able to take a revenge tomorrow. "
Wickens managed to get the better of Carbone at the beginning of the start-finish straight on lap seven, but the Brazilian attempted to hit back immediately. However, his efforts to get back past the Canadian resulted in contact with the Carlin car's left rear wheel, sending it into a spin. Not long afterwards, Carbone was involved again, this time with Jousse, although the Frenchman appeared to be to blame as he locked up at the opening chicane and slid sideways into the Ultimate Signature car.
“Starting from row six, it wasn't easy, especially when I came up against Fabio Carbone," Jousse said later, "We had a coming-together when I tried to get past, and I was lucky that my car wasn't damaged in the incident.”
At the front, di Sabatino and van der Garde were now neck-and-neck and, between Carbone incidents, the Dutchman decided it was time to attack. Heading into the opening chicane, he made his move and, although di Sabatino held his own, his approach to the second chicane was compromised and van der Garde was able to sweep around the outside and into the lead.
By the mid-point, the P1 Motorsport driver was dominating, opening up a gap over di Sabatino, Sanchez and Jousse who, having survived his clash with Carbone, used every ounce of his experience to find a way past his young Mexican opponent. Meanwhile, Tech 1 team-mate Pic and KTR's Guillaume Moreau - who had started from the back row - were involved in a heated battle for eighth place, with the second year driver appearing to have the upper hand.
Despite its frenetic start, the race settled down over its second half, and the order remained unchanged, allowing van der Garde to claim his first win in the category. The Dutchman, who has been class of the field to this point of the weekend, finished some five seconds ahead of di Sabatino and nine clear of Jousse.
“Everything has been going great since we got to Monza," the winner commented, "I got a little lucky from the start, as there were cars all over the place and, to get past di Sabatino, I didn't want to take too many risks. But everything went fine. It's the first win for P1 Motorsport, so a fine performance for this new team.”
Sanchez, at only 18 years of age, sprang the surprise of the day to finish fourth, and best rookie, coming in ahead of Carlin's Mikhail Aleshin and series returnee Borja Garcia. Running on his own, a couple of seconds behind the Spaniard and comfortably ahead of the Moreau-Pic scrap, was James Walker, who put in an aggressive drive to come from row eight to claim seventh.
“I'm happy to have a positive start to the season,” he said, “I am determined to score points at every opportunity this year, and am especially pleased as this is one of our weaker circuits. Monza is always tough, so you have to be aggressive here, and to get the job done is a great feeling. The team are all fired up for tomorrow now.”
Fellow Briton Pippa Mann overcame the disappointment of seeing a potential pole position taken away from her after qualifying to make up ten places and claim the final point for P1 - just as she had last season.
“I'm very pleased to have come from so far back on the grid to score a point today – it's a great result for me," she said, "I was disappointed to have been penalised in qualifying and start from 20th when I could have been on pole, and obviously had a lot of work to do. But the car felt good and I was able to really push hard to gain so many places.”
Race two takes place on Sunday, with van der Garde well placed for a second win as he starts from pole courtesy of his pace-setting performance in qualifying. The Dutchman will line-up with Wickens alongside and Bonanomi and Alvaro Barba sharing row two.