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Palmer dodges accidents to win Monaco sprint

26 May 2012

A messy start to the GP2 Monaco sprint race on Saturday afternoon provided iSport's Jolyon Palmer the opportunity to take the lead of the race and blast away from Max Chilton once the safety car came in, easily controlling the race from there to the chequered flag for his first GP2 Series win.

It had been Trident's St├ęphane Richelmi starting the 30-lap sprint race from pole position under the reserve grid rules after finishing in eighth place in the Friday morning feature race, and he had Lotus GP's James Calado alongside him. Both drivers had to be wary of giving either of the two second row men - Palmer alongside Carlin's Max Chilton - any chance of striking on the first run through Ste Devote.

Unfortunately for local boy Richelmi, the start went badly for him despite a good launch from the line: he fell back on the run down to the first corner and got squeezed off the racing line by Palmer, who was able to shoot into the lead. Richelmi was forced to move left and in doing so ended up making contact with the front nose of Calado's car on the outside, which sent the Trident car spinning around and into the barrier in the run-off at Ste Devote.

That sparked confusion for the pursuing cars through the chicane that caught out many of the other drivers, with Stefano Coletti - one of the few men to have opted for an interesting supersoft tyre strategy for the race where most others were on primes - ending up running into the rear of feature race winner Johnny Cecotto Jr's Barwa Addax, the crumpled Coloni joining Richelmi's car in the run-off area. Various cars were also forced to cut across the corner and take evasive action.

But just when it appeared that the race had escaped any further immediate repercussions, Cecotto - perhaps suffering from damage following the earlier impact with Coletti - spun on the run up the hill to Massenet right in front of the rest of the field.

Davide Valsecchi was first on the scene, having bogged down at the start with the anti-stall on his DAMS. He had been lucky to get off the grid at all but inevitably lost multiple positions, leaving him running well down in the midfield and vulnerable to getting cauht up in other people's accidents. Sure enough after spinning, Cecotto's powerless Barwa Addax car rolled back across the track right into Valsecchi's path and it ended up impacting the rear left of the DAMS, sending Valsecchi into a race-ending hit with the Armco.

Behind this incident, everyone reacted - and there was a mass of collisions, including the scary sight of Felipe Nasr being launched skywards over the back of Victor Guerin's Ocean Racing car. That left the track completely blocked for the better part of a minute, before the ever-efficient Monaco track workers cleared a way through and get those cars still under their own power under way again.

In all, ten cars were out as a result of the first lap incidents: Richelmi and Coletti from the initial incident at Ste. Devote; and then Cecotto, Valsecchi, Nasr, Guerin, Tom Dillmann, Ricardo Teixeria, Fabio Onidi and Giancarlo Serenelli at Massenet. Serenelli's Venezuela Lazarrus GP team mate Fabrizio Crestani also retired soon after following contact with the barriers. The safety car was inevitably brought out for the clean-up operation as cars were hoisted into the air by the cranes and off to the side of the track.

The race resumed after four laps behind the safety car. Palmer was in the lead for the restart, and Calado still in second despite his shattered front wing. Clearly struggling for grip, he was soon six seconds off the leader, but moreover the front wing was falling apart with every passing second and it was only a matter of time before he was shown the black and orange flag to summon him into pit lane for a mandatory replacement. Racing Engineering's Fabio Leimer was also into the pits at the same time, retiring from the race with damage after sliding slightly too wide at the Swimming Pool and hitting the Armco on lap 8.

That left Palmer with a massive 10s lead at the top of the timesheets ahead of Chilton, with van der Garde picking up third place ahead of iSport's Marcus Ericsson, van der Garde's Caterham team mate Rodolfo Gonzalez in fifth. Arden's Luiz Razia was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the opening lap chaos and was now up in sixth place with an excellent chance to make up some of the lost ground over the championship leader Valsecchi in the points standings.

With Julian Leal also pulling off the track and exiting the race on lap 12, fully half of the field had been eliminated from the race before the midway point. Inevitably, the thinning of the field combined with Palmer's huge lead made the rest of the race rather an anti-climax and something of a procession as everyone sought to simply make it to the end without further incidents. Chilton did his best to make a show of it now he didn't have the ailing Calado in the way: he was able to more than halve Palmer's huge lead, but then the iSport driver was hardly feeling under any pressure to push hard in response.

In the end, Palmer's margin of victory was down to just one second, but even so he had never been under any genuine pressure since the restart. Not only was it Palmer's first GP2 win, it was his first series podium and he was joined for his inaugural GP2 trophy presentation and champagne celebrations by Chilton and van der Garde.

Luiz Razia had not been able to make any further progress on sixth place, but he did ensure that he snatched up the extra points for fastest lap on the final circulation of the day.

Despite rejoining the race with a new front wing and going on to set some fastest sector times, Calado's streak of race finishes came to an end when he retired in the pit lane on lap 20. He was the last of the cars to exit the race, leaving just 12 cars to complete the race out of the starting grid of 26.

Full race results are available.


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