With two wins in the first ten feature and sprint races of 2013 courtesy of Robin Frijns (Barcelona) and Jon Lancaster (Silverstone), GP2 Series newcomers Hilmer Motorsport must be thinking that they have this feeder series race-winning trick pretty much cracked. In which case, they'll be feeling entirely validated by the outcome of the Nurburging sprint race on Sunday morning, which saw both drivers start in the top three and Lancaster go on to claim the top spot of the podium some 42 minutes after the lights went out.
The post-race stewards investigations hadn't resulted in any changes to the starting order - the only sanction handed down overnight was a 20 second time penalty for Jake Rosenzweig (Barwa Addax), but it hadn't affected his position in the final standings. The investigation into multiple cars overtaking under the early feature race safety car was left as an understandable result of the confusion of the moment, meaning that Stefano Coletti's excellent and hard-won podium for Rapax was safe. However, Kevin Ceccon would miss the second race as the accident damage to the Trident has been too extensive to repair in time.
That left Tom Dillmann in pole position under the reverse grid rules, the Russian Time driver lining up alongside Jon Lancaster and immediately ahead of Robin Frijns under the reverse grid rules for the start of the Sunday morning sprint race, held this week under pure blue cloudless skies at the historic 3.199-mile, 16 turn Nurburgring.
Unfortunately Dillmann got a poor start, struggling to get going after having run out of sets of new tyres on which to start the day. That allowed Jon Lancaster to launch himself into a clear lead through turn 1, while Dillmann gathered himself in time to get through the first corner in second place just ahead of ART's James Calado, Racing Engineering's Fabio Leimer and DAMS' Saturday feature race winner Marcus Ericsson. The big loser of the opening seconds proved to be Lancaster's team mate Robin Frijns, who had apparently been startled by Dillmann's slow getaway and as a result had been passed by a stream of cars before he could himself get up to speed.
Lancaster was flying while Dillmann was clearly holding up a train of cars, allowing the Briton to open up a lead of more than two seconds in the first two laps - all of which evaporated when Stephane Richelmi ended up spinning and stalling, the DAMS left in the middle of the track pointing in the wrong direction which forced the race director to scramble the safety car.
Lancaster led the field to the green flag at the restart on lap 5, Dillmann once again seemingly finding it hard to get up to speed on his set of pre-used medium tyres. In the circumstances, Dillmann did an impressive job to ward off Calado's advances over the course of the initial lap after the restart, but finally Calado dived down the inside on lap 6 and Dillmann was forced to yield. That ended up offering Fabio Leimer an opportunity to follow Calado through and leave Dillmann demoted two spots in as many corners.
Tyre issues were not limited to Dillmann, however, and ART were seemingly as concerned about Calado's durability for the remainder of the race. As soon as Calado was released to give chase to Lancaster and put in some fastest laps, the ART pit wall team was on the radio with an urgent warning to conserve tyres forcing Calado to back off and allowing Lancaster to once again pull away at the front again to relative safety.
Further back, Stefano Coletti was also running used tyres in the same fashion as Dillmann, and having about as much success as the Fenchman - in other words, soon seen dropping like a stone out of the top ten. Both men ended up pitting on lap 12, Coletti for a supersoft compound gambit while Dillmann was beset with insoluble gear selection issues.
Meanwhile feisty Robin Frijns was determined to get back some of the positions he'd lost at the start with a nice move on Felipe Nasr for seventh place; unfortunately that emboldened him a little too much and he went sniffing down the inside of Sam Bird's Russian Time for sixth place where no such opportunity existed. Seeing this, Frijns wisely tried to back out - but too late, and there was contact which damaged the Hilmer's front right suspension.
Having been up in 16th place, Nathanael Berthon was again the victim of a spin early in the race this time with the assistance of Caterham's Sergio Canamasas which dropped the Trident car to the rear of the field. Canamasas soon joined him there after being handed a drive-thru penalty by the stewards. Racing Engineering's Julian Leal was lucky to escape a similar fate or an thumping contact that bounced Jake Rosenzweig off the track, let alone a second scare in which he forced Fabio Crestani's Venezuela GP Lazarus car fully off onto the grass. Leal faces a post-race investigation into the first incident.
As the race came down to the last six laps, all the careful biding of time and tyres was out of the window as ART gave Calado the green light to try running down Lancaster, who had now dialled back his own pace to maintain a lead of around a second and a half over his compatriot. Leimer and Ericsson held watching briefs in third and fourth but both were seriously concerned about tyre wear, while Sam Bird had survived his clash with Frijns but was now under heavy pressure from Carlin's Felipe Nasr. That finally paid off for the Brazilian when he captured fifth place on lap 20, and then fourth place minutes later from Ericsson who was by now struggling badly with an almost total loss of grip from his rear tyres.
Bird meanwhile was left under attack from Arden's Johnny Cecotto Jr., and contact between the two cars as Bird tried to defend sent the Briton off onto the grass and allowed Cecotto, Alexander Rossi (Caterham) and Mitch Evans (Arden) all to take advantage. All three quickly hunted down Ericsson and passed the feature race winner, the cumulative result being that the Swede was pushed out of the points in the final laps.
Up front, Calado's attempts to hunt down the leader had come to nought and Lancaster calmly controlled the remaining laps to cross the line in first place to claim back-to-back sprint race wins to add to his home victory last weekend at Silverstone. Making it a British 1-2, Calado will be happy enough with two second place finishes at the Nurburgring to finally reignite his championship standings after a disappointing start to the season, especially with points leader Coletti faltering today.
A long way back from the leading pair by the end, Fabio Leimer was able to hold off Felipe Nasr's late charge to retain the final podium position. Johnny Cecotto led his merry band of late chargers (Rossi and Evans) across the line in fifth, sixth and seventh respectively, while Bird was able to cling on to eighth place ahead of Rene Binder (Venezuela GP Lazarus) and Simon Trummer (Rapax) to round out the top ten.
In the championship standings, Coletti exits Germany with a lead of 27 points over Nasr in the GP2 championship standings, with Sam Bird and Fabio Leimer close behind and now joined in fifth position by Calado who is pulls himself to within just under 50 points off the lead after his two podium finishes this weekend.
See full Sunday sprint race results
and current championship standings