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Van der Garde tops wild Monaco qualifying

26 May 2011

Giedo van der Garde proved that Barwa Addax's form in Barcelona - which saw them claim a 1-2 finish in the feature race - was no fluke as he put the #4 car on pole position again for the second consecutive GP2 feature race.

But it was almost a matter of survival of the fittest, as the half hour qualifying session saw a red flag and multiple incidents including collisions between two separate sets of team mates as drivers fought to get in a clear lap in heavy traffic.

Perhaps sensing that there was trouble ahead on this hot and sunny afternoon on Monaco, Charles Pic was waiting at the pit lane exit when the track went green, and was closely pursued by Fabio Leimer. Soon after, the track was packed with cars and finding room to set a quick time was at a high premium.

After hitting traffic at La Rascasse first time through, Luca Filippi managed to put in an early flying lap - which was just as well as immediately afterwards he lost control into Ste Devote, clipped the barriers and stopped on track going up to Casino just eight minutes into the session, bringing out yellow flag for the next five minutes while the car was removed - he would play no further part in the afternoon.

Local boy Stefano Coletti had briefly been top of the time sheets in the early minutes, but had dropped down by the midpoint of the session when he found himself coming up behind Leimer at Rascasse. Coletti made a very odd and inadvisable move down the inside of the Rapax #1 and a collision was inevitable, forcing the track officials to throw a red flag to enable a clean up of the mess. That ruined Sam Bird's efforts as he had just posted a fastest time through section one.

The traffic problems had meant that several big names had not yet been able to set times within the 107 per cent range of pole: Luiz Razia, Esteban Gutierrez and Michael Herck were still to set a fast time, as was the man who had topped the morning practice with contemptuous ease. Romain Grosjean had ended up making contact with Fairuz Fauzy at Rascasse on his first run and ended up having to pit for a new front wing, and then got stuck in traffic in the final part of his second run after setting a fastest time through the first section.

Jules Bianchi was top of the timesheets when racing resumed after the red flag (although he still faces a five place grid penalty for causing an accident at the start of last Sunday's Barcelona sprint race) and it was several minutes until he was deposed by Alvaro Parente, still sitting in for Christian Vietrois in the Racing Engineering car.

Bianchi reclaimed the top spot in the final seconds of the session, but then Sam Bird topped that time by a little over a tenth of a second before he too was upstaged, this time by van der Garde - which was to prove the unbeatable time of the afternoon. Both van der Garde and Bird had been lucky to get away after earlier on-track collisions: the Dutchman needed a new front wing after contact with Oliver Turvey, while Bird and Dani Clos tangled at Anthony Noghes amid confusion over a blue flag being shown to the Briton, forcing the Spaniard into the pits for a new front wing.

As the clock ticked down, there was had been a spate of big crashes toward the end of the session, none bigger - or more controversial - than the crash between Dams team mates Grosjean and Pal Varhaug. Varhaug had slowed through Rascasse as he came up on traffic, only for Grosjean to arrive on the scene at speed and ride straight over his team mate's rear wheel, launching him up and over to land on top of the other car. It was a mess, which was remarkably efficiently dealt with by the stewards to allow the field to finish qualifying, but it left Grosjean unable to resume and still without a time inside the requisite 107 per cent - although it's unlikely that he will be excluded from the race given his morning pace and general proven capability.

Another inter-team incident followed shortly afterwards when Marcus Ericsson missed his braking point and ploughed into the rear of his iSport team mate Sam Bird in the middle of the Swimming Pool section. Finally, just to bring proceedings to a crunching halt, Herck lost control of his Coloni exiting the Swimming Pool and went into the barriers.

Several cars were put on notice that they were under investigation for incidents during the session, including Dani Clos (for blocking faster cars) and Johnny Cecotto Jr for overtaking under yellow flags; the Dams incident will also be reviewed, GP2 officials said.

In line with Monaco's unique, topsy-turvy schedule, the feature race will be held tomorrow on Friday morning 11.15am (10.15am BST), allowing the race to run without potentially affecting the F1 headline event should a crash result in damage to the circuit and lead to a delay.

And based on today's evidence, a crash or two is more than likely ...

Full qualifying times and positions available.


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