After a trying season in 2005, things appear to slowly be coming good for Ernesto Viso, the diminutive Venezuelan determined to make it big in GP2.

Having graduated early from F3, hoping that a part-season in F3000 would equip him well for the switch to GP2, Viso found that his pre-season pace counted for little when competition began, the BCN Competicion team suffering more than most with reliability problems, even when the rest of the field appeared to have conquered their early demons.

Although his speed was never in question, and was often confirmed in practice and qualifying on race weekends, the results refused to come, with just three podiums in 23 outings and only six scoring appearances in all, including a fastest lap bonus at Imola. Only at the end of the season, with the title already well out of reach, did BCN's luck begin to turn, and Viso's star again begin to rise.

Having been deprived of a score by an underweight car in Germany, Hungary provided a welcome three points, before the conditions at the new circuit in Istanbul appeared to have presented the team with a first glimpse of victory. Having started 14th in Sunday's sprint event, it took Viso less than five laps to be running in the top two, but BCN elected not to call either the Venezuelan or team-mate Hiroki Yoshimoto in for slicks as the track dried and the opportunity was lost.

The rain returned in Belgium and, at the notoriously difficult Spa-Francorchamps, provided the drivers with a tricky tyre choice. Saturday was drier, and Viso risked fresh grooved rubber at his mandatory stop despite increasingly heavy drizzle - a move that rewarded him with a surprise second place, and effectively kick-started his end of season revival. Worse conditions on Sunday saw the Venezuelan at his best, charging through the field almost at will, but appearing to blot his copybook with a heavy off at the top of Eau Rouge. However, with three cars tangling at the foot of the hill and spreading debris across the track, the race was halted and, when the results were calculated, Viso was credited with third.

That momentum carried over to the season finale in Bahrain where, having picked up a point in race one, he streaked away from pole on Sunday, with only champion Nico Rosberg able to keep up. The German eventually used the potential of his ART car to take the win, while Viso kept Alex Premat at bay to add another trophy to his collection.

Eleventh in the championship was not what Viso or BCN had imagined, however, and the driver took the decision to look elsewhere for 2006. Paul Jackson's iSport International team had been a frontrunner in the series' first season, taking Scott Speed to third overall despite the fact that the American failed to win a race and, happy to return to an English set-up, one with a few familiar faces on board, Viso was quick to sign up.

"The team is very quiet, but they do their job very well," he said, "They're just very focused on what GP2 is all about, and the only thing they want is to win - which is the same thing that I want, so our targets are the same. They want to win the title, like I do, so they're motivating me a lot, and I think I am doing the same for them as well. We're a very good couple and we're doing our best to get the title this season."

Testing results were not in the same league as those achieved with BCN the year before, but Viso insisted that he and iSport were going about things differently, seeking the reliability that had been missing from his 2005 campaign, while still trying to find the best set-up for his attacking style.

!I think I learned a lot from last year because, in my experience, you learn more from the bad seasons than from the good, and last season was one of the most difficult seasons for me," he explained, "I ended up looking at the season like a book. At every race, I turned the page and it was a new race for me, but it was tough because, with all the problems, I always had to try and forget them before the next race.

"I was always confident in myself, but I was always having to deal with problems that weren't of my making. This year, we're on the same piece of paper, sorting out what are my problems and giving the team the things they need to sort out. We're helping each other and I'm learning a lot from them, but also giving them good ideas."

However, having established himself as a potential dark horse for 2006, the opening round in Valencia seemed to show that his luck would be slow to change. Having qualified fifth, a lengthening brake pedal cost Viso valuable places around pit-stop time and it was only a fighting drive in the closing stages that eventually netted a point. That, of course, meant pole for Sunday, but the iSport car was out-dragged off the line by rookie Michael Ammermuller and victory went away again as Viso was left to defend from Nicolas Lapierre for the entire race.

The series then returned to Imola, seen of its first appearance, and a favourite venue of Viso's. Practice performance - second to Lewis Hamilton on Friday morning - was not replicated in qualifying, but Viso battled through to sixth by the end of Saturday's feature race. That yielded a second row start for Sunday, when things finally came right for both team and driver.

"It feels very good to be a race winner at last," Viso grinned, "I knew this would come - even if it came a little bit late because, last year, we were expecting to get some wins.

"I was always confident that I could be on the pace in GP2, but the win never happened because it was a difficult year for us, with a lot of problems. But this year has been quite good already and I'm sure it is going to get even better because the team is doing a very good job and I think I'm doing the job as well. Everything is starting to come together."

While some will point to GP2's ploy of reversing Saturday's point scorers at the head of the grid for Sunday as reason enough for Viso's success, he disagrees, reminding them that he still had to make moves on a track the Formula One's elite found difficulty passing on.

"Sunday's race was a very good race," Viso smiled at the still recent memory, "I started third but, into the braking area for the first corner, I lost a position to Lapierre. However, into the braking area for the second chicane, I got it back by going a bit deeper than him on the brakes and that set the tone.

"I quickly caught Glock and Yoshimoto, but had to wait three or four laps because there was a safety car. When that disappeared, I was able to pass Glock on the exit of Tosa and under braking for Piratella - it was an awesome overtaking as I did it on the outside. Then I overtook Yoshimoto on the outside at the first corner, which was good as well.

"It was a tough race though, as, after I had passed the two BCN cars, I had Piquet trying to put pressure on me. He was good, but I just tried to keep my tyres cool and keep the car in good condition and fight for the fastest lap. I was very happy with the car, and the guys did a very good job."

Despite the delicious irony surrounding the two cars he had to pass for victory, Viso refused to belittle his former employer, despite Glock going on to be something of a bottleneck for those hoping to follow the Venezuelan through.

"I don't want to say if my car was better or worse than the BCN cars, I was just happy with mine," he insisted, "I think that, between us, the team and I are really developing our car. We're both putting in our part, both doing the job, and it's not about whether we were better or worse than the BCN cars. I just got on very well with the car, which suits me very well, and I think that made the difference."

Viso and Piquet turned out to be in a class of their own on Sunday, he Brazilian chasing his South American rival for all he was worth, without really being able to make inroads.

"I got good information throughout the race from Gavin, my engineer, and I was just trying to keep my tyres cool," the iSport man revealed, "I was always lapping in the same sort of time - the chart shows that I was always within a tenth of a second - so I was very consistent. Before doing the fastest lap, I just cooled it down a bit - I actually lost maybe a second - and then I pushed very hard for one lap, and that's it. I just pushed for one lap in the entire race to get the fastest lap and, after that, the race was over."

For Viso, it would appear that the move to iSport can act as a catalyst, a trump card, to push him closer to his chosen goal of Formula One. Having become only the eleventh winner in GP2's 27-race history, his sights remain firmly fixed on emulating countryman Johnny Cecotto, the last Venezuelan to reach the top flight, who ended the 1982 season as runner-up, by a single point, in Formula Two.

"For sure, it was important to win in front of the F1 teams as they are looking for hungry, new, young drivers," he admitted, "Obviously, I hope to be up there in the big paddock very soon."

Like killers claiming that getting the first body out of the way makes the next one easier, Viso is happy to acknowledge that further success could come more easily, even if he insists that little has changed within himself.

"The win doesn't change anything in my confidence," he said, recoiling at the suggestion that Imola may be a tonic, "It was always very high and I know that, if I have the tools, I can win the championship. But I need the opportunity, the tools, to put everything together. The coming races are going to be at 'proper' tracks and we'll be trying to put everything together again."

 

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