3 September 2012
Kral comes alive with first series win
Czech Republic driver Josef Kral pulled off a fairy tale start to the Spa sprint race, leapfrogging four cars off the starting grid and leading from there all the way to his maiden series win.
Josef Kral hadn't claimed a single point all season long heading into Spa. He'd even been benched from the Barwa Addax line-up for the two consecutive weekends in Bahrain in April in favour of the experienced Dani Clos. How then to explain that not only did he pull off an impressive fourth place in the feature race on Saturday, but then converted his fifth place on the reverse grid on Sunday morning to a famous victory, his first in GP2?
Only 25 cars lined up on the grid for the start of the sprint race, Nigel Melker's Ocean Racing car being too badly damaged to be repaired in time after his crash at Eau Rouge on Saturday afternoon. That caused the feature race to be red flagged, but Melker himself escaped lightly with minor injuries to his hands and ribs and he'd been quickly discharged from the local hospital where he'd been flown in the the aftermath of the accident. Whether he - or moreover the car - will be in a fit state to take part in Friday's GP2 activity at Monza is still to be determined, however.
One man down, but the rest were ready to take to the historic 7km Spa-Francochamps circuit for another 18 laps, with Felipe Nasr starting from the pole position alongside Julian Leal, and Giedo van der Garde on the second row alongside championship contender Luiz Razia.
But as the lights went out, it was the Czech driver on the third row behind them who got the launch of the weekend, taking the inside line past all four sluggish cars ahead of him to make it into La Source in the lead. Only James Calado from seventh place had the wits to try following Kral's initiative, but he'd started just a little too far back to sneak past the leaders before the point where the hairpin bit. Calado wisely backed off, let the other cars struggle to make the turn, and then nipped through on the inside in second place on the exit to resume his pursuit of Kral.
Kral's team mate Johnny Cecotto Jr. had seen what the pair had done and sought to emulate it, also taking to the grass verge on the run down to La Source. But starting from 17th place he was only ever going to find a crowded race track by the time he arrived at the apex. The hapless driver who happened to be passing through at just the wrong moment was Carlin's Max Chilton, who was sent into a spin by the impact. To add insult to injury, Chilton had his front wing trodden over by the Racing Engineering car of Nathanaël Berthon, who had the misfortune to be next on scene.
Things were little better on the wider line out of La Source. Three of the leaders had come out of the hairpin and ended up trying to occupy the same piece of tarmac at the same time: Julian Leal on the outside and Davide Valsecchi on the inside sandwiched the car of Giedo van der Garde, and the pinch briefly lifted the Caterham up into the air before slamming it down again.
Van der Garde was rather crumpled, but Leal and Vasecchi escaped unscathed and were able to resume the run up to Eau Rouge. But as Valsecchi came onto the Kemmel Straight to Les Combes, he wandered into an accident that had nothing to do with him: his main championship rival, Arden's Luiza Razia, got onto the grass on the left hand side of the track while battling Calado for second place. Razia lost control and spun across the tarmac, somehow without collecting anyone. However Valsecchi feared imminent contact and took evasive action - which ended up slamming him into the barrier on the right hand side.
Razia was not happy, and blamed Calado for his initial spin: "I had a good start and felt sure I could take second place on the run to Les Combes," he explained. "I thought I was aiming for a legitimate gap, but Calado came across and I ended up on the grass. I had a speed advantage coming out of Raidillon onto the straight, but in my opinion some drivers don't use their mirrors."
All this, and only 30 seconds of the race gone. To recap: Cecotto was out with damage from the turn 1 accident, and with a five place grid penalty for next weekend's feature race at Monza after being deemed by the race stewards to have caused the accident in the first place. Valsecchi and Razia limped back to the pits for repairs and were eventually able to carry on at least for a while, but neither had any hope of scoring any points and so the pair would exit Spa tied in the lead of the drivers' championship. Also pitting for repairs were Chilton, van der Garde and Berthon, but the sturdy GP2 cars had done their job and all were still running.
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