With bad luck befalling some of the bigger names in the 2013 GP2 Series amid a race full of incidents, collisions and controversies, Hilmer Motorsports emerged the undoubted stars of the say with a maiden win courtesy of Sauber F1 test and reserve driver Robin Frijns, and his new team mate Jon Lancaster endorsing the team's calibre in Spain with an impressive third place in his first race in the feeder series in over a year.
Pole man Marcus Ericsson had originally got off to a solid start in the DAMS when the lights went out, but behind him things quickly turned messy with a slow-starting Felipe Nasr and Sam Bird on the second row allowing a flying Stefano Coletti to dive through the gap between the Carlin and Russian Time cars. Coletti's start was such a flyer that he even beat Ericsson's team mate Stéphane Richelmi for second place into turn 1.
Fabio Leimer tried to follow Coletti through, but James Calado had the same idea and the two clashed: Leimer lost the front wing of the Racing Engineering car and had to limp around the 2.892-mile Circuit de Catalunya to get back to pit lane for a replacement which left him well outside the top ten for the rest of the race, while there was damage to the right hand sidepod of the ART that forced Calado into retirement.
Nasr recovered from his poor start to bump his way past Richelmi for third place - a move that was investigated by the race stewards without further action being taken - but elsewhere there was a much more dramatic collision as a frustrated Nathanael Berthon who was stuck behind the scrapping Sergio Canamasas and Tom Dillmann ended up being distracted from his braking point: the Trident ended up hurtling over the back of the Caterham and into the gravel, a sudden reduction in the number of attached wheels confirming that the Frenchman wasn't going to be getting back underway anytime soon. He'd carry the hurt into Sunday's race as well, after being handed a ten-place grid penalty for the sprint outing for causing the accident.
Canamasas also retired with a severely battle-damaged Caterham, but Dillmann had somewhat miraculously escaped with minimal consequences and went on to gradually rise up the running order as he stayed out on his hard tyres while others who had started on the soft tyres needed to pit sooner rather than later. Those like Hilmer Motorsports' Robin Frijns who came in first got the best advantage in terms of track position, while those that left it a lap or two longer like Coletti lost ground in comparison.
Despite a stutter as he tried pulling away form his pit stall, Ericsson was still in effective lead among those who had already completed their mandatory pit stop, albeit actually running in tenth place ahead of Frijns, Jolyon Palmer and Sam Bird. As the group closed on a slower pack of cars still to pit, disaster struck for Ericsson as the traffic jam behind the Venezuela GP Lazarus of Kevin Giovesi compressed the pack and resulted in contact between Ericsson and Bird. The DAMS sustained suspension damage as a result and retired in the gravel a few corners later, yet another disastrous outing for Ericsson who has yet to score a point now in five races in 2013; Bird continued but would be handed a five place grid penalty for Sunday's sprint race for causing the accident.
Kevin Ceccon briefly held the lead until his soft tyres gave up the ghost, whereupon Johnny Cecotto Jr. and Mitch Evans took up the gauntlet with their pit stops still pending. Frijns was now up to third place with Palmer, Bird and Coletti all within two seconds of the back of the Hilmer, and Nasr joined the party once he was able to get around the Caterham of Alexander Rossi for seventh place.
An attempt by Tom Dillmann to run back-to-back hard tyres in the feature race was thwarted when he made contact with Richelmi on lap 24 while battling over tenth place. Both cars were able to continue but Richelmi was handed a drive-thru penalty for the incident and Dillmann was left with it all to do again if his tyre gambit wasn't to be completely thwarted. He had comparatively fresh tyres with to do it, and gradually he clawed his way back into the top ten and into the points.
By lap 28, Cecotto and Evans had finally pitted leaving Frijns in charge of the race with nine laps remaining ahead of Palmer and Bird, with Nasr now all over the back of Coletti's Rapax. Despite the Monegasque's best efforts, Nasr finally forced his way through on lap 30 to capture fourth place and two laps later he went on to outbrake Sam Bird for third place as well. Just three seconds covered the top five, with Jon Lancaster only a little further back in sixth place in an impressive return to GP2 with Hilmer even as his team mate continued to calmly lead the race.
Nasr's blood was well and truly up and he had no compunction about attacking his own Carlin team mate Jolyon Palmer for second spot. Despite making slight contact with the back of Palmer's car, Nasr completed the move and left the Briton struggling to fend off an assault from his compatriot Bird - which he did, but at the cost of forcing Bird off the track into a spin that dumped Bird out of the race. Palmer's move was investigated by the race stewards after the race and he was subsequently handed a 20s penalty in lieu of a drive-thru.
While Nasr was doing all he could to hunt down Frijns for the lead, there was an edge-of-the-seat battle for the final podium position between Palmer, Dillmann and Lancaster. Dillmann pushed it too hard however and ran wide, allowing Lancaster and Coletti to re-pass him as he dropped back to sixth place by the chequered flag.
At the front, Frijns had ensured that he kept enough in hand over Nasr to clinch the win, while once the threat for Dillmann was ended it was a relatively easy third place for Palmer ahead of Lancaster and Coletti. Behind Dillmann, Alexander Rossi came home in seventh place with Kevin Ceccon in eighth initially securing the sprint pole for Trident under reverse grid rules.
However, although Palmer shared the podium with Frijns and Nasr, he would subsequently lose his third place and drop to tenth as a result of the 20s penalty for forcing Bird off track four laps from the end. That promoted Jon Lancaster onto the podium in his place in only his second race weekend in GP2 and his first in 2013, and gave Hilmer their perfect third outing in the GP2 Series since taking over from former series stalwarts Ocean Racing Technology at the start of the year. As early impressions go, that's not bad at all for the trio of Frijns, Lancaster and Hilmer. - and hopefully the first of many for all three.
With Ceccon promoted to seventh by Palmer's demotion, he'll start from the front row for Sunday's sprint race but it's Arden's Johnny Cecotto Jr. who is the lucky dog as he inherits pole position for the morning outing.See full race results