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Sprint win for Bird takes title battles to Abu Dhabi finale

22 September 2013

After a disappointing time of it so far in Singapore on Friday and Saturday, Sam Bird had realised only on that his best hope of staying in touch with Fabio Leimer in the 2013 GP2 Series drivers championship was to focus on claiming the sprint race pole and then executing perfect race strategy to win on Sunday. Given the difficult conditions at the Marina Bay circuit that left everyone struggling with heat, humidity and especially tyre degradation it was bound to be a tall order for the Briton; he just happened to end up making it look easy.

A clean start at the front for Bird allowed the Russian Time car to get into turn 1 cleanly ahead of Marcus Ericsson in the DAMS, while behind the lead pair Leimer (Racing Engineering) and Stephane Richelmi (DAMS) both managed to overpower Bird's team mate Tom Dillmann in the run down to the first corner.

While the start itself was clean, Stefano Coletti sparked a multi-car incident a few corners later when he tried a run down the inside of a line of cars into the turn 8 right hander, only to clatter the Rapax into the rear right of Mitch Evans's Arden. That caused a traffic jam blockage that also caught up Simon Trummer, Alexander Rossi and Dani Clos and which took a few seconds to sort out, but fortunately a safety car was not required. Rossi needed to pit for a new front wing, while unsurprisingly, Coletti was the swift recipient of a slap on the wrists from the race stewards for causing the incident.

Left having to run the supersoft tyres for the sprint race, feature race winner Jolyon Palmer made the most of the situation by gaining some laps early on to pass Dillmann for fifth place, but others including his Carlin team mate Felipe Nasr were now paying for running their final set of fresh primes on Saturday and starting to struggle. James Calado was among those feeling the pain, and after being passed by his compatriot Jon Lancaster in the Hilmer on lap 3 his efforts to maintain position over Sergio Canamasas left the Caterham planted in the outside barrier when the Spaniard made an attempt to pass the slower ART around the outside. Calado was eventually forced to admit defeat and put on lap 7 for new tyres, which put him at the back with Coletti who after serving his penalty had also made a second visit on to pit road for a new front wing.

Despite being left in a dangerous part of the track, Canamasas' car was still able to be handled under local waved yellows - for which Calado's team mate Daniel Abt received a penalty for failing to sufficiently respect and then shown the black flag for not serving the drive-thru in the required time - and so a safety car was avoided once again, much to Sam Bird's relief as he continued to work on maintaining his two second lead over Ericsson at the front.

More cars were being forced to make visits to pit road for tyre replacements: Felipe Nasr, already suffering from a missing gear, came in on lap 8; Dillmann for a new front right on lap 10; Rossi made his second visit to pit lane after earlier being involved in that first lap blockade; Jake Rosenzweig in on lap 16 in the Barwa Addax; and Venezuela GP Lazarus' Vittorio Ghirelli also in next time around.

Jolyon Palmer was himself soon inevitably on the decline after starting on the supersofts, the Carlin starting to seriously haemorrhage positions as the race hit mid-distance forcing the team to call him in for new rubber at the end of lap 11. Even though that enabled him to start setting new fastest laps upon his return to proceedings, his hopes of finishing in the points were well and truly at an end for the day.

Palmer's exit from the front meant that Lancaster was up to fifth place behind an unchanged quartet of Bird, Ericsson, Leimer and Richelmi at the front, the Hilmer man well clear of Arden's Johnny Cecotto Jr. in sixth place who had an empty part of the track all to himself ell ahead of Daniel de Jong (MP Motorsport) and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs (Hilmer) in the final points positions.

Any fears that Bird's pace might be dropping off were laid to rest on lap 16 when he punched in a time fully one second faster than Ericsson to almost redouble his lead over the DAMS man, and over the remaining four laps he pulled this out even further so that by the time he crossed the line and claimed the chequered flag for the fifth time in GP2 his margin of victory over Ericsson had climbed to 5.7 seconds.

There was a bizarre coda to the race shortly after the finish when third-place man Leimer collided with Rossi on the cool down lap when the Caterham pulled sharply left across the track in front of Leimer when told to proceed directly to the GP2 paddock rather than heading to the main pit lane and podium area which to where Leimer was bound. The impact caused heavy damage to both cars and left Leimer shaking out a sore right hand, and meant that the podium proceedings were slightly delayed with only two cars making it back to the winners enclosure in parc ferme while Leimer showed up several minutes later on foot.

Leimer and his team will have plenty of time to sort out the damage from this post-race misunderstanding in the six-week gap in the GP2 schedule before the season finale in Abu Dhabi on November 1-3. And the drivers and teams will head to that final weekend with both titles very much up in the air and no one holding the whip hand: Leimer's lead over Bird in the drivers battle is down to just five points, with Nasr now too far back in third to realistically still be in the running; while in the team title race Russian Time have eased their lead over Carlin back out to 17 points with Racing Engineering just a further six points adrift, making it too close to call between the three.

Full sprint race results and championship standings.


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