Sepang highs and lows for Racing Engineering
26 March 2013
Just how fickle the motorsport gods can prove to be was illustrated all too well by the fortunes of Racing Engineering at the season opening round of the 2013 GP2 Series in Malaysia this weekend.
The team's lead driver Fabio Leimer clinched the race win on Saturday in the feature race at Sepang, with Juliàn Leal making it a team effort with a strong fifth place in his début for the team despite sustaining some early front wing damage while tussling for position in the opening laps. But on Sunday, both Racing Engineering drivers were taken out of contention through little fault of their own and emerged pointless from the sprint race.
The race win came after Leimer had got a great start off the grid to slip into second place into turn 1, after which he stalked long-time leader Stefano Coletti for pretty much the entire race. An attempt to leapfrog the Rapax during the round of mandatory pit stops hadn't paid off, so Leimer bided his time hoping that his rival would suffer from tyre degradation late in the race.
"I saw that Coletti had problems with his tyres really early," said Leimer. "I tried to push so he might make a mistake and also tried to pass him twice, but it was not possible. When he pitted really early, we decided to stay on track a bit longer to have better tyres towards the end of the race.
"This was exactly the right strategy - we had really, really good tyres towards the end of the race and I was just waiting for Coletti to have problems with his," he added. "I saw [James] Calado was closing in, but continued to wait and finally overtook Coletti on the outside. This was actually easy as I had good traction. From that moment on I just drove to bring this win home."
After clinching his first GP2 Series race win since Spain 2011, Leimer added that the Malaysia feature race had been "the hardest race ever" because of the heat and humidity at Sepang, and the tyre degradation faced by everyone during the afternoon.
Unfortunately the sprint race did not go nearly so well, after he ended up being rear-ended by ART's James Calado on the opening lap. Although the Racing Engineering car was able to continue, it was now seriously compromised.
"In turn 4, Calado tried to overtake me on the inside when I was already closing for the turn in - he touched the rear of my car," explained Leimer. "After that it was just driving in the field. I do not know why, but I had quite a lot of vibration on the rear of the car - it's likely it came from the crash with Calado.
"With five laps to go I therefore started to struggle with the rear tyres and went off the track," he said. "I came back, but it's disappointing to lose six places in the end."
Even more unfortunately for the team, Calado's collision with Leimer had sent the ART spinning out of control into an impact with the team's second driver Juliàn Leal, whose car sustained serious damage through no fault of the young Colombian's and which retired on the spot.
"It was a very short race for me. It was a shame as I expected a very good position today," said Leal. "The car was okay, so I think if we had finished the race, we could have been on the podium. But this is how races are and we have to look ahead and continue to work into this direction."
"Obviously these are very disappointing results for both drivers," admitted the team's sporting director Thomas Couyotopoulo of the Sunday outcome. "As a team we were in a good position to score a lot of points, but in the end we scored none.
"It's disappointing as, given our starting positions, expectations were high and even though he didn't do it on purpose, both cars were affected by Calado's contact with them," he added.
But Leimer for one was looking on the bright side of things and focussing on what the team had achieved on Saturday rather than dwelling on the circumstances out of their control on the Sunday.
"Overall for sure this was a strong weekend," he insisted. "We were quick in qualifying and won the first race, so I think we are on the right path, and I think in Bahrain we can fight for the win again."
Round 2 at Sakhir International Circuit, Bahrain will be held on April 19-21. Leimer heads into the event in second place in the GP2 Series driver championship, 11 points adrift of Rapax's Stefano Coletti.
In the team standings, Racing Engineering is just seven points behind Rapax despite its pointless finish to the second day in Malaysia.