Two of the GP2 Series' powerhouse operations made solid if unspectacular starts to their 2009 campaigns, taking home points from a competitive weekend in Barcelona.

Double champion ART Grand Prix and 2007 title winner iSport International left the Spanish venue with five points apiece after Pastor Maldonado and Giedo van der Garde respectively opened their accounts across the two races.

Maldonado is rated amongst the likely contenders for this year's title - provided he can kerb his sometimes reckless ways - and got the better of rookie team-mate Nico Hulkenberg on a weekend when ART appeared to be edging back towards the sort of form that took Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton to the first two GP2 titles.

The Venezuelan qualified tenth for race one after being hampered by traffic, but produced a strong -and controlled - drive to cross the line in fifth place and earn four points. A bigger score looked possible in Sunday's sprint event, where he would start from the outside of row two, but a typically fraught GP2 start saw Maldonado drop back to tenth, behind his team-mate, in the early going.

From there, however, he overtook no fewer than four of his rivals to claim the final point of the morning, and heads to round two in Monaco - where he traditionally excels - in optimistic mood.

"The weekend was not too bad," Maldonado admitted, "The car is getting better and better, and we improved a lot from the first to the last lap in Barcelona. The problem is that the tyres were good enough for one quick lap and then they'd lose at least three or four tenths so, when you pick up some traffic like I did, there's no way to be up front. But we worked very hard for the long stints this winter and it paid off.

"I pitted late in the [feature] race and we changed all four tyres, which was really a great move because I was much faster than all the others at the end of the race. I did not want to take any risks, but I could push hard and overtake several cars and enjoyed myself very much.

"It was the same thing in race two, but with an even better car. The changes we made were heading in the right direction, and I was very confident and really fast. I wanted to secure some good points because it is important to start the championship on the right foot, but we have improved a lot already and I hope we will definitely be able to close the gap in Monaco. The podium and the win will be our target!"

Team-mate Hulkenberg qualified fourth on the grid for race one, but problems at the start and during his pit-stop - as well as a subsequent drive-thru' penalty - saw the German drop back to 18th. That merely prompted a brilliant drive through the field but, even then, a points finish went begging as he reached only ninth place - missing the Sunday pole by a single place as well. Points looked likely on Sunday until he was hit by another car and finished only 14th.

"Rookie or not, I can't be satisfied by this weekend," Hulkenberg sighed, "It was a tough one and we came back with no points which was certainly not our goal.

"Qualifying was good, even though I think second position could have been ours, but the worst was to come. I released the clutch too quickly at the start of race one and it triggered the antistall system. I had to take the clutch again and really started my race in 19th position. I overtook several cars and we made a late pit-stop to try and recover from my mistake, but the speed limiter was not working when I came into the pits and I got a drive-thru'. On Sunday, we got it wrong when it came to fine-tuning the car because we were expecting different tyre wear but, on the positive side, the performance is there and there's no doubt we can be very competitive. We just have to avoid any further mistakes"

Fellow rookie van der Garde enjoyed better fortune, making up for a frustrating Asia Series campaign, and benefited from the misfortune of iSport team-mate Diego Nunes, who was caught out by a bigger collision between Lucas di Grassi and Alvaro Parente, damaging his front wing, barge board and steering. In the ensuing chaos, van der Garde picked his way through to P7, two points and a front row start for Sunday's sprint.

The Dutchman was unlucky in race two as he dropped a couple of places at the start after being pushed onto the grass, but recovered to fourth by the chequered flag to add three further points to his tally.

"We did a great first race," he enthused, "I had really good speed and we had a really great start. Of course, we were a little bit lucky in the end, but that's racing and we went from 18th to seventh, which is great.

"I finished fourth [in race two] because [poleman Kamui] Kobayashi pushed me on the grass because I had a much better start. Two guys passed me because I had to brake quite early for the first corner. The rest of the race, I stayed with the [leaders] at the beginning, as I was consistent and quick, but, in the middle of the race, I dropped off because the rear tyres went off."

Nunes, like fellow Asia Series racewinner Hulkenberg, ended the weekend without a point after suffering at the hands of di Grassi in both races.

"I did a quite good start [in race one] but, after that, I got stuck behind di Grassi," he reflected, "I had a good fight with him but, in the middle of this fight, I lost two positions and my race started to go worse after that. I also lost one position in the pit-stop to Edoardo Mortara but was still in the top eight then Parente had a crash with di Grassi just in front of me and I couldn't miss them.

"The start [of race two] was normal, but I lost one position as I think di Grassi jumped the start and nobody saw it. Again, I got stuck behind him and, when I attacked him, he cut the chicane and came back in front of me. Again, nobody penalised him. Finally, I attacked him again, and then I could push. I caught the group in front of me, but I was missing seven laps in the end. I managed to pass [Vitaly] Petrov and Hulkenberg, and then I caught [Luca] Filippi, but one lap wasn't enough, the race was already over."


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