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Valencia WS 2005: Gommendy at the wire
5 June 2005
From start to finish, the outcome of the second World Series by Renault race at Valencia's Circuit Ricardo Tormo remained in the balance, with a series of potential winners falling by the wayside with the chequered flag in sight.
After a perfect start, poleman Andreas Zuber's chances were ruined when the safety car was brought out. Then points leader Robert Kubica appeared to have wrapped up the victory, but was forced to abandon due to an electrical problem. All of which left KTR's Tristan Gommendy in the right place at the right time to record his first win of the season, ahead of Adrian Valles (Pons Racing) and Eric Salignon (Cram Compétition).
Starting on the front row, Markus Winkelhock was left on the starting grid, and was fortunate that all those behind the Draco car managed to avoid running in it. That, however, was only the precursor to a hectic first two laps, which were punctuated by a series of incidents. First, Ryo Fukuda ran his car across into the gravel on the opening corner, then Milos Pavlovic went off. Where Fukuda had managed to rejoin, however, the Yugoslav was not so lucky. Enrico Toccacelo was spotted heading for the pits, while Victory team-mate Tomas Kostka clashed with Jaap van Lagen, Daniel la Rosa flirted with the gravel and first race winner Felix Porteiro spun and hit the barriers...
Gommendy and Colin Fleming, meanwhile, were scrapping out a fierce duel in Zuber's wake, the poleman having escaped the mayhem behind him. Eric Salignon and Kubica were also ahead of the Franco-American battle, but the order was quickly reshuffled as, from the fifth lap onwards, several drivers decided to come in for their mandatory pit-stop.
Gommendy, Simon Pagenaud, Damien Pasini, Will Power and Monaco winner Christian Montanari were among the first to change tyres, while, now separated by less than five seconds, Zuber, Salignon and Kubica pulled out all the stops to try and build up a big enough lead to go for their stop and resume at the head of the field. Fleming was in fourth place, but ten seconds back of the leader, while Raffaele Giammaria and Frédéric Vervisch found themselves in unexpected fifth and sixth positions.
Salignon was the first of the frontrunners to stop, coming in on lap nine. By the time he was back on the circuit, he was in fifth and running first among those who had already stopped. Then it was Kubica's turn, pitting two laps later, the Pole rejoining in third, crucially ahead of Salignon, leaving just Zuber and Fleming to make their stops.
Vervisch and Giammaria, perhaps heady on the rarefied air of running at the front, ran into one another while, at the same time, Giovanni Tedeschi put his car in a spin. As a result of the scattered machinery, the race director decided to bring out the safety car, instantly reducing Zuber's hard-earned 15-second lead over Fleming, the American having taken advantage of a clear track to close up to the leader. Kubica, however, was happier, having seen his 35-second deficit wiped out at a stroke.
To make matters all the more calling for Zuber, the safety car went off after just one lap and, when the Austrian made his pit stop on lap 16, he already knew that the race was lost for him. It was then left to Fleming to lead for two laps before he too took his turn in pit-lane, allowing Kubica to assume top spot.
The Pole then seemed to be heading for his second victory of the year, especially when Salignon made a costly mistake, losing him five places and allowing Gommendy and local favourite Valles to move up onto the lower steps on the podium.
The race was then set up for a close two-lap dash to the finish as the safety car returned to allow safe removal of Karun Chandhok's car, but Kubica would not be part of it as, almost immediately, he encountered an electrical problem and was forced to retire. That left Gommendy out front, but his lead was under threat from Valles, the Spaniard pushing all the way to the flag before the Frenchman hung on for victory.
“What an amazing race…" Gommendy admitted, "We have been quick since the start of the weekend, but qualifying didn't go very well. I stopped early and then attacked really hard, and it paid off”
After a storming recovery to end his race, Salignon grabbed third place from Pasini at the line.
“I'm not used to long races with a pit-stop, which means that tactics play a big role," Salignon admitted, "I had difficulty in overtaking slower drivers after my stop, and then I made a big mistake when chasing Kubica. However, the heavens smiled on me and I was able to get back up the field. I just have to start winning races now!”
Behind Pasini, for whom fourth was a season's best, Kostka recovered from his brush with van Lagen to salvage fifth ahead of Giorgio Mondini, Patrick Pilet and the luckless Fleming. The even more hard-done-by Zuber eventually took tenth, behind Fukuda, who had gone off on lap one.