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Coletti wins sprint race; Bird back on podium

8 May 2011

The weather was once again warm, sunny and dry at Istanbul Park in Turkey for the second race of the opening round of the 2011 GP2 season, which saw a lengthy hold at the lights before polesitter Dani Clos got a perfect start and raced off into turn 1.

Behind him, Charles Pic got a decent start off dirty side of the grid, as did Stefano Coletti behind him, both cars beating Luiz Razia into the first turn after the AirAsia bogged down and struggled to get away. Coletti briefly got in front of Pic into the first corner but then ran out of track and had to pull back, temporarily dropping the Trident back into the clutches of the battling duo of Razia and Giedo van der Garde.

Coletti's setback was purely temporary, and with a clearly faster car he was able to slingshot round the outside of a long right hander to take second place from Pic just a few turns later, while van der Garde got the better of Razia for fifth place.

Behind them was the battling pack of Saturday's feature race winners: Sam Bird had fallen behind Romain Grosjean and Jules Bianchi, and the two were having a fierce battle that included Bianchi giving the back of the Dams car a light tap through the first corners. They were still battling toward the end of the lead lap, with Bianchi aggressively forced Grosjean into conceding position into the final corner, and Romain having none of it.

Contact was inevitable: the right side of Grosjean's front wing caught Bianchi and tipped the Lotus ART into a spin right across the track. The following cars did incredibly well not to run straight into Bianchi or into one another, and he was able to get back underway albeit down in 22nd place; Grosjean carried for a few minutes but his front wing was trashed and he was easy prey to faster cars, so he had to pit for a new nose unit that dropped him down to the back of the field.

Two of Saturday's polesitters were effectively out of contention, and that left Sam Bird the major winner up into sixth place ahead of Clos's Racing Engineering team mate Christian Vietoris, Razia's AirAsia team mate Davide Valsecchi, Bird's iSport team mateMarcus Ericsson, Super Nova's Fairuz Fauzy and Arden's Josef Kral.

Vietoris was next to exit the race with a high speed accident off into the gravel trap and into the tyre wall at turn 3 on lap 4 after battling with Davide Valsecchi.

Up front, Dani Clos had pulled out an initial big lead, but once released into second Coletti was by far the fastest of the leaders and was quickly up to the back of the Racing Engineering car. Coletti finally mode a move for the lead going down into turn 12 on lap 6, which didn't quick come off but put the two cars into the final corners side-by-side and set Coletti up nicely to dive to the inside line off the final corner for a chance of outdragging Clos down the start/finish straight. Clos tried to play an intelligent game and let Coletti take it, relying on the Trident outbraking himself into turn 1 of lap 7, but Coletti held it together and the two cars went into turn 2 side-by-side before finally Clos lost momentum and had to yield, dropping back into second place.

Coletti was never troubled again, but it was the start of a major decline for Clos. Just as had happened on Saturday, the Racing Engineering seemed extremely fast on fresh tyres only to have performance drop off the proverbial cliff after the midpoint of the race. Even so, Clos' fall to 15th place by the chequered flag was astonishing, as he was overtaken by just about everyone lap after lap for the final half of the race.

With the battle for the lead resolved, attention turned to the fight between Luiz Razia and Sam Bird for fifth place. AirAsia had an almost identical situation to Racing Engineering: fast initial pace but no durability. As Razia started to slither all over the track, Bird picked his time and passed him with ease on the run down to turn 12 on lap 9; behind them, Bird's team mate Ericsson picked off Razia's team mate Valsecchi just a few minutes later, the Italian subsequently running wide through turn 8 with his deteriorating handling and losing more positions.

With eight laps to go, Bird had closed right up on the back of Charles Pic and looked determined to get past the French driver for third, for his second podium position of the weekend. It was a fast and furious battle - literally nose to tail and wheel to wheel - but Pic just had enough to keep Bird at bay as the laps clicked down.

And then the final laps of the race were marred by a nasty crash between Davide Rigon and Julian Leal down the start/finish straight with five laps remaining: the two had been battling out of the first corner and then tried to go double file down the straight itself. Both drivers were trying to outthink the other as to whether to take the inside or outside line, and as they jockeyed for position Leal clipped the back of Rigon's Coloni and send him into a hard sideways impact with the pit lane wall.

Leal escaped with a sideways skid but no hard impact; Rigon, on the other hand, rebounded from his hit to slide across the track and settle on the grass verge on the outside. Although he stood up in the cockpit immediately afterwards, he was gesturing for support and the medical team was scrambled and needed to spend several minutes with him, as it became clear that a part of the car's suspension had penetrated the driver safety cell and injured Rigon's foot and ankle. Rigon was dispatched to hospital for immediate surgery, with fears that multiple fractures might put him out for much of the summer racing season.

With the work to clear up the debris on the main straight, the the first and only safety car of the race was deployed for four laps and when it came in, there was just one lap to go before the chequered flag. It was no procession to the flag as far as Sam Bird was concerned. At the restart, he was hit from behind even before the start/finish line from an oddly dopey Marcus Ericsson - his own iSport team mate - that threatened to end in disaster for both drivers. Ericsson ran wide and struggled with a broken front win as he dropped out of the points to eighth, but Bird was able to shake this encounter off and keep his sights on Charles Pic ahead, finally pulling off the pass with a will-not-be-denied move down the backstraight to claim third.

Bianchi and Grosjean continued to try and come back from their first lap collision, and benefited greatly in the closing laps from the misfortunes of those teams suffering serious tyre wear like AirAsia and Racing Engineering: Bianchi narrowly missed getting back into the points and finished seventh, while Grosjean ended the race in tenth.

Rodolfo Gonzalez and Johnny Cecotto Jr. both received drive-thru penalties for jump starts, but neither were in contention for a top ten finish. On the other end of the spectrum, Michael Herck appeared to stall in his grid slot and was lucky not to be collected from behind by Valsecchi at the start, but eventually got underway and finished a creditable 12th.

Full race results are also available.


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