Champion Hulkenberg eases to fifth win
19 September 2009
Nico Hulkenberg cemented his status as the dominant force in this year's GP2 Series by cruising to a fifth win of the season at Portimao.
The German driver leapfrogged early leader Vitaly Petrov through the pit stops before shrugging off a late safety car period to come home almost ten seconds ahead of fellow podium winners Luca Filippi and Lucas di Grassi.
Getting a good start from third on the grid, Hulkenberg made the most of front row sitter Dani Clos' wheel-spinning getaway to slot in behind Petrov, while di Grassi held third, Roldan Rodriguez fourth and Clos fifth.
As expected, the tight first turn caused a casualty in Edoardo Mortara, the Italian coming off worse in a collision with Javier Villa after an over ambitious lunge into the side of the Super Nova car. Johnny Cecotto Jr was also caught out and forced into retirement, prompting a short safety car period.
At the restart, Hulkenberg launched his attack on Petrov, tucking beneath the Russian down the lengthy home straight to briefly scramble through, only for him to run wide and allow his rival back through again.
However, with Hulkenberg evidently the quicker of the two drivers, the ART team showed its hand when they hauled him in for his stop relatively early. However, the measure of the early stop advantage was being highlighted by Filippi, the Italian having been the first driver to take his stop before very nearly overhauling Hulkenberg, despite running down in tenth early on.
Prompting a flurry of pit activity, although Petrov came in for his mandatory stop soon afterwards, he could only re-emerge in an effective fourth place, behind Hulkenberg, Filippi and di Grassi.
Regaining the lead on lap 24 when long-time leaders Michael Herck and Luiz Razia eventually made their respective pit-stops, Hulkenberg didn't have time to establish a margin over the chasing pack when the safety car was deployed again, this time to clear the stranded cars of Alvaro Parente and Sergio Perez, the pair becoming entangled at the first turn as they disputed a points' paying position.
At the restart, Hulkenberg quickly got the hammer down to put distance between himself and Filippi, the Super Nova driver beginning to suffer somewhat from his early stop.
Eking out his advantage with every lap, Hulkenberg would eventually cross the line ten seconds ahead of Filippi, the Italian holding off a late charge by both di Grassi and Petrov to secure his third podium of the season and stop a run of five retirements.
With Petrov finishing in fourth position, di Grassi is now guaranteed to finish no higher than third in the overall standings for the second season running, while the Addax driver confirmed his runners-up spot by shadowing the Brazilian across the finish line.
Some way further back, an entertaining – and unlikely - dual for fifth position went in favour of Rodriguez, but only after holding off a spirited attack from Herck, whose decision to stay on track late was rewarded with an outstanding sixth place finish.
Marking the Romanian's first points in GP2 at the end of his second season in the series, the result also means DPR get on the scoreboard at the final time of asking. He earned the result too, Herck having returned to the track after his pit-stop in eighth position before fending off Davide Valsecchi, passing Maldonado and almost overhauling Rodriguez.
Seventh place, and a spot on the front row for race two, eventually fell to Kamui Kobayashi, who put on a late race spurt to overtake five drivers in the space of four laps. He will line-up alongside Valsecchi in the sprint race, the Italian battling handling problems after losing a section of his nose cone, but defending his position from Andreas Zuber and Davide Rigon.
Elsewhere, Maldonado – who had run as high as fifth – tumbled down the order with tyre problems to cross the line in 13th, while front row sitter Clos endured a dismal race, the Spaniard slipping out of the top eight early on before a high-speed spin ended his hopes of scoring his first points of the season.