di Grassi: At last, everything went fine!
9 June 2009
Fat Burner Racing Engineering's Lucas di Grassi belatedly claimed the first victory of what many imagined to be a dominant season as the GP2 Series rolled on to its third round at Istanbul Park at the weekend.
Stepping from third overall in the 2008 standings into the seat vacated by champion Giorgio Pantano, the Brazilian was hotly tipped to take the team to successive titles, but has had to endure a difficult start to the 2009 campaign, with just a handful of points to show from the first four races in Barcelona and Monaco. Things didn't appear to getting much better in Turkey after a troubled qualifying session left di Grassi 13th on the grid.
Knowing that he would have to take risks on the fast and flowing circuit if he was to make up places, get into the points and secure a decent starting slot for Sunday's sprint event, the Brazilian - having already benefited to the tune of one place due to post-qualifying penalties elsewhere - made a good start and capitalised on Karun Chandhok stalling on the grid to edge his way up the order.
Having kept away from any possible incident at the first corner, he appeared ready to fight his way into the points when, as has been the case, misfortune struck and
he lost his front wing after contact with Alberto Valerio at the last corner of the lap. With the pit-stop window not opening for another five laps, the Brazilian lost further positions after pressing on with a lack of front downforce, dropping back to 20th before he could take on a new nose without penalty.
Despite having received an efficient pit-stop, di Grassi nevertheless rejoined in last position but, crucially, did not over-drive in his bid to make up the lost ground. Instead, lap after lap, he picked off places through a combination of passing, retirements and a safety car period, before eventually getting within touching distance of the top ten. Setting consistent lap times despite the age of his tyres, the Brazilian then put Davide Rigon under mounting pressure, finally passing the rookie and, shortly afterwards, veteran Andi Zuber, to claim ninth at the flag.
The frustration at missing the points, and Sunday pole, by a single position did not last long either for, when Giedo van der Garde was handed a post-race penalty, di Grassi moved to eighth, giving him the advantage he needed for race two.
"The start was good, but the opening lap of the race was really bad," the Brazilian acknowledged afterwards, "I touched with Valerio in the last corner of lap one and lost the car's front wing. Because the mandatory pit-stop can only be done from lap six on, I stayed out for five laps without the front wing, losing positions.
"After the pit-stop, I had dropped back to last and, when the safety car was deployed, I was running in 20th place, but then I pushed a lot and was able to overtake several cars. During the last lap alone, I passed two - Rigon and Zuber - in the last corner, which allowed me to finish the race in eighth position."
Race two, by contrast, went exactly according to plan, as di Grassi led from start to finish, keeping out of reach the chasing pack for 23 laps and setting the best lap time as he cruised home to his first win of the season.
"I am very happy!" the veteran bubbled, "For the first time since the season started, everything went fine. After Saturday's race, with a lot of action, everything was really perfect today. The team did a brilliant job and the car was very good. Now I am looking forward to more wins this season!"
There was a sense of relief about team president Alfonso de Orleáns-Borbón too, as the reigning drivers' champion finally kick-started its season. di Grassi's win, plus the bonus for fastest lap, moved him into sixth place in the standings, albeit with just under half of leader Vitaly Petrov's 33-point haul. The Brazilian has now scored in the last four races, however, and, given that he missed the first three double-headers and still finished third overall in 2008, cannot be discounted.
"The guys did an amazing job," de Orleans-Borbon commented, "Even though Lucas started quite far back [in race one] and lost his wing, which forced him to drive without it for five laps, he was able to get the car back and race up to eighth.
"Sunday was a fantastic race from Lucas - and the first of many wins of the season. Thanks also to all the boys for having made these results possible, and for their great work, which was once more impeccable."