1 September 2012
Ericsson wins wild and long feature race
Marcus Ericsson pulled away from James Calado to win a GP2 feature race that lasted nearly two hours, after a major crash for Nigel Melker resulted in a lengthy red flag stoppage.
Marcus Ericsson claimed his second win in the GP2 Series, over two years after the first at Valencia in 2010, with a race that will likely go into the record books as the longest GP2 event of all time at just four and a half minutes shy of two hours.
It had started normally enough, with Esteban Gutiérrez got the best launch off the grid of the leaders and trying to find his way past polesitter Rio Haryanto on the run down into La Source. In doing so he strayed into the wet grass verge and was lucky not to spin out and trigger a massive accident; instead, he was forced to retreat back into third place battling his Lotus GP team mate James Calado for the second spot.
Gutiérrez finally got past Calado for the position on lap 2, but replays showed that the move had been under local waved yellows brought out for first lap accidents involving Rodolfo Gonzalez (who spun off the track on the run up to Eau Rouge) and Fabio Leimer (who had spun after contact with Davide Valsecchi at Les Combes.)
The Lotus battle had left the way clear for Marcus Ericsson to get the better of them both, and the clearly faster iSport car then made easy work of Haryanto for the lead out of Raidillion, although this too came briefly under the cloud of suspicion of taking place under yellow flags.
But seconds later the landscape of the race was transformed when Nigel Melker's Ocean Racing Machine went off at high-speed nose-first into the tyre wall at Eau Rouge. It was a terrifying crash doing extensive damage to the barrier that was clearly going to take some time to repair: a safety car was instantaneous, and Melker was taken away by ambulance. The Ocean Racing Technology team later confirmed that Melker was uninjured and already back in his hotel by the evening, although he would be unable to compete in Sunday's sprint race because of the heavy damage to his race car.
Under the ensuing lengthy delay, Gutiérrez sought to evade a penalty for overtaking Calado under the yellow flags by handing the position back to him. That got no sympathy from the stewards, who still handed him a drive-thru penalty for the original offence. Also on the receiving end of a drive-thru was Johnny Cecotto Jr. who had stuttered on the grid before the green lights and recorded a jump start as a result.
As everyone waited for the tyre wall to be rebuilt, the laps behind the safety car started to rack up and soon the point had been reached where everyone could come in for their mandatory tyre changes if they wished. Almost everyone did, and pit lane was bedlam; Davide Valsecchi was even investigated for unsafe release from his pit stall when he pulled back out right into the path of Fabio Onidi who stalled as a result, but the DAMS driver avoided sanction.
It was a bad stop for Gutiérrez, however, whose pit crew had a problem with a sticking right rear tyre cost him eight places by the time he came back out on track. It was still more costly for Haryanto, who promptly spun at turn 5 on his first lap out on his new cold tyres behind the safety car. He was able to recover and rejoin the parade, albeit several positions down.
By now it was clear that the damage to the Eau Rouge safety barrier was even more extensive than originally feared, and was going to take much longer to repair than anticipated. The race director finally made the call to red flag the race while the repairs progressed, and the field was led back to the starting grid by the four cars who had yet to pit - Giedo van der Garde, Stéphane Richelmi, Simon Trummer and Stefano Coletti. The leading cars that had called into pit lane - Ericsson and Calado - duly followed in fifth and sixth.
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