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Pit stop propels Giedo van der Garde to victory

12 May 2012

After the tactical fun and games of tyre strategies during Friday qualifying, the Saturday GP2 feature race in Barcelona proved to be a rather more straight-forward race fought out on the track, with pit stops ultimately proving decisive as to who claimed the chequered flag at the end of 37 hard-fought laps.

The start of the race saw a thrilling battle between front row men James Calado and Fabio Leimer: the Racing Engineering car got the better traction off the grid and seemed to have the jump on the polesitter down into turn 1, forcing Calado to go hardcore with a vicious swipe over the width of the track to run Leimer clear off into the pit lane exit in his efforts to stop Leimer from controlling the inside line into the first corner.

It was still incredibly close for the two as they exited turn 1 and headed into the next corner, and Calado once again left no room for his rival in his efforts to keep the lead. Finally it paid off and Leimer had to relent, turning his attention instead to maintaining his second place over a fiesty Giedo van der Garde in the Caterham, who in turn was having to watch his back from the efforts of Coloni's Stefano Coletti.

Further back, Stephane Richelmi had the worst start off the grid from third position and found himself swamped by his pursuers, and then getting repeated hustled off the side of the track over the course of the first lap so that by the time they returned to the start/finish straight the Trident Racing car was dumped down in 12th position.

The field remained closely packed over the early laps, with fierce battles between Nigel Melkur, Luiz Razia and Johnny Cecotto Jr. over tenth place, and between Esteban Gutiérrez, Rodolfo Gonzalez, Marcus Ericsson, Felipe Nasr and Tom Dillmann for 14th place.

The two race leaders had remained in close contention and opted to pit together surprisingly early on lap 13, Calado narrowly beating Leimer in a side-by-side run down pit lane in what immediately looked like a dangerous release into the path of the Lotus GP.

Van der Garde realised he couldn't leave his response too long, and came in himself on the following lap as did: Van der Garde's ace up his sleeve - for now at least - was the team's call to change two tyres only, putting him back out on track just in front of Calado. The Lotus GP driver had to dispense with the yet-to-pit Victor Guerin and Julian Leal before he could take up the Caterham's challenge.

Max Chilton, Fabio Onidi, Johnny Ceotto and others further back also came in on lap 14, while Davide Valsecchi stayed out until lap 15 before opting to pit the DAMS. The final cars to come into pit lane were Gutiérrez and Ericsson: not helped by a hold-up with his tyre change, Gutiérrez fell back to 14th, but he retained position over Ericsson.

With the pit stops complete, van der Garde was returned to the top of the time sheets ahead of Calado, Leimer, Coletti and Valsecchi - which meant that the only gainer from the pit stops among the leader had been the Caterham.

But the biggest loser turned out to be Fabio Leimer, who was informed on lap 20 that he had indeed been awarded a drive-thru penalty for unsafe release into Calado's path. That would immediately take him out of contention for the podium, the second time in 2012 that a penalty had wrecked his race and dumped him all the way down to 13th place and straight into a heated battle with Jolyon Palmer.

Calado might have breathed a big sigh of relief thinking that the pressure was off, but Stefano Coletti picked up the baton and soon the Coloni was cutting into the gap between second and third. Less than one and a half seconds covered the top three on lap 30, who had eked out a margin over over 7s over Valsecchi in fourth place - the DAMS driver seemingly having only a fraction of the raw pace that he'd enjoyed in is domination of Bahrain. His rookie team mate Felipe Nasr was also finding Barcelona an altogether tougher prospect than the last two race weekends at Sakhir, as he laboured around the Circuit de Catalunya at the margins of the top ten, ultimately losing out on the final point to a determined assertive pass from Gutiérrez through turn 1 on lap 34.

Nasr was one of the victims of iSport's Jolyon Palmer, who was on a march in the later stages of the race. He also pulled off a neat move on Johnny Cecotto at turn 12 on lap 29 to take tenth place. Up ahead, Trident's Nigel Melkur had earned a drive-thru penalty of his own for speeding in the pit lane, and when he dropping out of eighth place - which would have given him the sprint race pole position under the reserved grid rules - Palmer was boosted up into ninth and only one position away from claiming the sprint pole for himself.

Unfortunately for Palmer, Arden's Luiz Razia has possession of eighth spot now and had absolutely no intention of surrendering a crucial points-scoring opportunity on Sunday to anyone if he could possibly help it. And given that he's currently in a strong second-place in the GP2 drivers championship, it was clear that Razia had the talent and the experience to enforce his will on the matter: Palmer got no chances.

Up in front, everyone was waiting to see whether van der Garde's two-tyre pit strategy would backfire on his: but it didn't. And while he was never able to pull out much of a margin over Calado in second place, nor did he ever look seriously pressured. Calado in turn was eventually safe from Coletti, whose tyres predictably fell away from him in the closing laps.

Further back down the running order, there was an odd moment of last lap madness to mar what had been an otherwise incident-free race, when Johnny Cecotto locked up going into turn 11 while battling with Tom Dilmann for position, allowing Fabrizio Crestani to sneak past them both in one move. Dillmann sought to press home his slight advantage but got tapped into a spin by Cecotto, and Julian Leal then spinning as he tried to make his way through the middle of the spat. Inevitably, stewards announced that they would be looking into the incident after the race.

The only formal retirement all afternoon was Ricardo Teixeira, who exited from the race on lap 9. He pulled over to the side of the track on turn 5 after just having made a very early mandatory pit stop, having chosen the surprising strategy of starting on the short-life soft option tyres. Lazarus driver Giancarlo Serenelli picked up a drive-thru penalty for ignoring the yellow flags that waved while the marshalls recovered the stricken Rapax.

Full race results and times available.


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