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Grosjean celebrates smart sprint success

10 July 2011

Silverstone bestowed relative warmth and undeniable sunshine on the GP2 field as they lined up for the Sunday sprint race, a world apart from the miserable, wet downpour that they had endured for the previous day's feature race start.

That didn't mean there weren't problems with the start of the race, however, with Dams' Pal Varhaug pulling off the grid and stopping on the adjacent run-off area with a technical issue while the starting procedure went ahead without him. And as the lights went out, a potentially more dangerous problem emerged when Stefano Coletti's Trident stalled in second place on the grid, forcing the drivers starting behind him to react quickly and take evasive action.

That allowed Giedo van der Garde to get away from pole on the other side of the grid, but Dani Clos was hard on his heels straight away as they tore down to turn 1. Behind them, Sam Bird just managed to avoid the stricken Coletti off the grid but the blockage compromised him and he was soon overtaken by Romain Grosjean for third place, while at the same time Clos used his superior momentum to get alongside van der Garde before passing him at turn 4,

Van der Garde wasn't thrilled with Clos' early approach: "I think at the start Clos was too aggressive: he hit me in turn 2, I came sideways and he put it in again in turn 3, so for me it was a bit too much."

"We started the race a little bit aggressive," described Clos after the race, "and I knew that Giedo was going to be really quick so at the beginning I tried to attack: I saw the space in the third corner but it was not possible, and then I got it in the fourth. After that we had a really good rhythm, I felt really happy with the car."

Clos' team mate Christian Vietoris had a more erratic first lap, first managing to get past the iSport duo of Bird and his team mate Marcus Ericsson, then losing the places again, before finally managing to get a superior exit from the final corner of turn 1 and sweep Marcus Ericsson clear off onto the run-off area so that he could lock up fifth place at last.

The race quickly settled down with drivers looking after their tyres while simultaneously biding their time in the hope that their opponents' rubber deteriorated toward the end of the race. There were some nice moves futher down the field, with Jolyon Palmer and Davide Valsecchi banging wheels on the first lap, and Charles Pic pulling off a nice slipstream overtake on Luca Filippi for tenth place on lap 10. The situation was perhaps best conveyed by the sight of yesterday's dominant feature race winner Jules Bianchi still stuck in seventh place on lap 10 (having started from eighth) alongside his Lotus ART team mate Esteban Gutierrez, neither driver able to make any progress during the first half of the 21 lap sprint.

However, once the race reached two thirds distance it was clear that many of the cars had already pushed their tyres as far as they were willing to go, with a sudden upturn in the number of lock-ups, outbraking and handling problems which in turn gave opportunities to that select group of drivers who had been able to preserve their Pirelli P Zero medium compounds and still had rubber to work with.

Racing Engineering has been notable in the past in not being one of the teams able to make tyres last as long as some of the others, and on lap 15 it was indeed evident that Clos was now seriously backing up the field with less than 2s covering the top four cars. But the Barwa Addax of Giedo van der Garde was in no better shape itself and had little prospect of challenging for the lead as it started falling off the back of Clos' car. That handed the opportunity that Romain Grosjean had been patiently waiting for.

On lap 15 he breezed past van der Garde into the Beckett Esses, and then a couple of turns later Clos was struggling with grip so severely that he locked up his brakes into Brooklands and went off the track momentarily. Although he rejoined the track still in the lead, his momentum was broken and his confidence shaken, and next time around Grosjean was able to get the better exit onto the old start/finish straight, pull alongside and then take the lead into Copse.

Once in the lead, Grosjean was able to cruise away to the chequered flag, finally winning by an impressive 7s margin - an average gap of over a second per lap from the point where he took over the lead from Clos. Clos and van der Garde did well to hold on to their respective second and third positions to join the Frenchman on the podium at the end of the race.

Racing Engineering's Vietoris was sharing his team mate Dani Clos' declining performance and he was forced to hand back that hard-won fifth place to Marcus Ericsson on lap 15. A lap later he lost another place on the run down to Copse, this time to Jules Bianchi who was finally coming alive having followed Grosjean's tactic of biding his time to look after this tyres in the first stages of the race.

Ericsson's tyres lasted just long enough to see him claim fourth place from his team mate Sam Bird, but he locked up his tyres badly in doing do and tore up the rubber even more than it had been before. Thereafter both iSport cars were struggling and locking up pretty constantly, badly enough for Bird to lose fifth position to Bianchi on the penultimate lap, but Ericsson still had enough grip left to see him hold on to fourth place by the finish and even join van der Garde in chasing Clos to the chequered flag.

At the back of the field, Coletti and Varhaug both managed to rejoin the race albeit a lap down; Coletti even used the clear air in which he found himself to set the fastest lap of the race, although he was too far down the positions to be eligible for the bonus point and it duly went to Grosjean instead. Johnny Cecotto Jr. pulled over to the side of the track and retired at turn 1 on lap 10 with apparent mechanical problems, while the only other retirement of the afternoon was Kevin Ceccon who exited the race on lap 6.

Julian Leal had a torrid time of things, handed a jump start penalty early on that required him to come into the pits for a ten-second stop-go penalty (as opposed to the normal drive-thru, because the configuration of the new pit lane at Silverstone meant that drivers could come through pit lane with almost no loss of time despite the speed limit in force.) Unfortunately for Leal he was then found to have speeded in pit lane while serving his penalty, and was forced to come in again and repeat the entire ignominious process a second time.

But no such problems for Romain Grosjean, who - after a rather mixed weekend at Valencia and having to come into Silverstone with a ten place grid penalty to serve hanging over him - had put in a solid and consistent performance to rise above the problems and have one of his best weekends of the season with regards to the GP2 championship battle.

Grosjean denied that it was as easy a win as it had looked from the outside. "It really wasn't!" he laughed. "I was just waiting, saving my tyres for a long as I could, and then at the end of the race I saw that my pace was very good – the team did a great job – and I could put 2 nice moves in to get the lead, and then I went on for the victory.

"So it's a very good weekend," he agreed. "[Especially] looking at the ten place penalty we had on the grid, which was not the best way to start the meetings, but in the end we got more points than the others so that's the main thing."

Clos seemed happy enough with second place in the circumstances. "With just 7 laps I did a mistake where I locked up the tyres, the front left, and then the rhythm was not the same, Romain had a really good car and he drove well, so he won, I was second, and it's okay."

And given his qualifying position of 19th for the feature race, Giedo van der Garde was relieved to have pulled off some solid damage limitation with points in both races. "I'm happy I got points. In the end you can see where I came from - 19th to eighth [in the feature race], so one to three [in the sprint race] - well, normally I don't like losing places, especially here, but anyway."

Van der Garde admitted that he had been biding his time waiting for the Racing Engineering car's handling to go off, but "I suffered too much on the front tyres, so in the end I couldn't pass anymore." By the final laps, the Dutch driver admitted he had nothing left to fend off Grosjean: "In the end Romain passed us like we were standing still!" he laughed.

The victory means that Grosjean has outscored his closest championship rivals in both races of the British round and has pulled out a more comfortable lead of nine points over van der Garde in the title battle compared to the single point advantage he had coming in to this weekend.

Not that a mere nine points was putting van der Garde off: "If we do one weekend very good, we can catch up. He is quick - but we know also that he can become a bit crazy sometimes!" he said, getting a good-natured laugh at his rival's expense. "Now we just have to get ready for the Nurburgring."

Round 6 of the GP2 season is in Germany in two weeks time.

Full results and times are available.


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