by Dan Shires

Frenchman Alexandre Premat kept his head whilst all around him lost theirs to win the inaugural GP2 race in Istanbul on Saturday afternoon.

The 23-year-old driving for ART Grand Prix followed up his victory at the Hungaroring two weeks ago to take his second win of the season, ahead of Italian Giorgio Pantano in the Super Nova and Spaniard Borja Garcia in the Racing Engineering.

Premat made use of his strong sixth place on the starting grid to keep a watching brief in the early stages before working his way up to first after a problem for his team mate and early leader Nico Rosberg and a late pit stop for American Scott Speed during a second safety car period.

The race began under the hot Turkish sun as the cars lined up on the grid of the Istanbul Otodrome for the first time. Good racing had been promised following rave reviews from the drivers in practice and qualifying, and as the lights went out pole sitter Nico Rosberg had a reasonable getaway with Scott Speed making up ground from second place. They were both almost jumped by Jose Maria Lopez in the number 14 DAMS entry from third on the grid, but Rosberg cut across and made his advantage stick as they entered the first corner.

Speed's entry to the 's' bend was a little two hot however, and just gave Rosberg a minor nudge in the tailpipe slightly damaging his nosecone.

Further back it the cars bunched up as they all jockeyed for position, as Mathias Lauda and Alexandre Negrao touched sending them both onto the apron with the Brazilian losing the bodywork ahead of his cockpit.

As the leaders progressed around the first of the 33 laps, Rosberg held his advantage, followed by Speed, Lopez, Pantano and Nelson Piquet with Adam Carroll in the second Super Nova attacking Premat around the outside of turn seven.

The action was occurring all over the circuit with both Speed and Pantano harrying the back of the drivers ahead of them, before Premat had a go at Piquet with Carroll trying to dive through as well. Former Minardi F1 driver Gianmaria Bruni attempted to pass Piquet in the same breath but couldn't make the move stick.

As the drivers entered the final turn to complete lap one, 20th placed Neel Jani tripped over himself and ended up on the inside of the pit wall which caused the deployment of the safety car, causing the majority of the teams to bring their drivers in for their first pit stops.

After three laps behind the Mercedes Jani's Racing Engineering entry was cleared away and the race was back on.

Rosberg, Speed and Lopez carried on the road through the safety car period, as down in sixth place Pantano tried to put a move on Premat as the Frenchman simultaneously tried to pass Mathias Lauda, who had stayed out during the pitstops and miraculously found himself in fourth position.

However the Austrian was fast becoming a mobile chicane as the battle between Premat and Pantano became all the more intense, and Nelson Piquet began to join in the action as well. Premat squeezed past Lauda on lap five, and as the gaggle entered the start of lap six Pantano had a go at the Coloni driver only to be halted by a slight nudge from Piquet. As they continued to battle around the lap, Pantano was obviously the quicker of the two and becoming more frustrated behind the Austrian.

At this stage of the race the two leaders Rosberg and Speed were lapping almost a second a lap quicker than Jose Maria Lopez and two seconds quicker than the rest of the field behind them. Their battle was continued well into lap eight with the Finn 0.686 seconds ahead of the iSport driver until Speed to a very deep lunge into the lead of Rosberg on the back straight. What initially looked to be an overoptimistic overtaking manoeuvre turned out to be evasive action, as Nico had a problem that had caused him to slow down dramatically before he entered the pit lane. The ART team mechanics set about working on the problem, and corrected it before sending the Finn back out to the rear of the field.

Scott Speed now appeared to be in control of the race and showed it by setting the fastest lap so far on lap ten, but he still had the issue of when to take his pit stop to deal with. Following him was Argentine Lopez, and the DAMS driver was able to catch up to the American when Speed threw his lead away by spinning on the entry to the rear straight because of dust on the corner.

Championship leader Heikki Kovalianen and his team-mate Nicolas Lapierre were having a shocking race having qualified 13th and 18th respectively, and appeared to be all at sea with their chassis settings throughout the race. At the end of lap 12 Kovalainen found himself in ninth position with his Lapierre in eleventh, but the Finn was forced to slow allowing the hard-charging Clivio Piccione to streak past.

Further forward Mathias Lauda was continuing his strong run as he attacked the guys ahead of him, but was having to double his concentration efforts because Borja Garcia and Juan Cruz Alvarez were all over the Austrian through every overtaking opportunity. Having dispensed of Kovalainen who continued to drop down the order, Piccione began to get involved in the Lauda, Garica, Alvarez battle.

As the group entered the end of lap 16 in the tight complex of corners between the long back straight and the front straight four drivers ran past the Austrian, with Garcia, Bruni and Lapierre running three wide into the final corner. It didn't work - Bruni tapped the back of Lapierre, and the Frenchman spun in front of him as Garcia squeezed by. Both men were out on the spot.

This brought out the second safety car period of the day, with both Speed and Lopez making their pit stops before rejoining further down the order in seventh and eighth.

The safety car came back in on lap 19, and Premat led Pantano and Piquet away with Alvarez, Garcia and Piccione following the trio through. Premat took charge of the situation, and began to push as hard as he could with only Pantano able to stay with him.

Speed tried to regain momentum by overtaking both Piccione and Alvarez over the course of the next two laps, but Garcia was able to pull away from him which gave him a buffer for the rest of the race.

Premat and Pantano surged ahead at the front with pace that Piquet had no response to, and he was soon falling into the clutches of Garcia. At this stage Speed was setting fastest lap after fastest lap, and was beginning to pressurise the Spaniard, giving Garcia the incentive to pass Piquet at the close of lap 31 to claim the final podium position.

With laps running short, Pantano was becoming frustrated behind Premat as he had behind Lauda earlier in the race, and was readying himself to make a move on the Frenchman.

He decided his best opportunity was at the beginning of the final lap, and made a wild dive to the inside of Premat basically handing the win to the ART driver. The Italian wasn't giving up lightly, and clawed his way back to three tenths behind Premat at the final corner but was unable to capitalise on it.

Garcia crossed the line in third for his first ever GP2 podium finish, with Piquet in fourth and Scott Speed in fifth. Lopez and Adam Carroll followed them in, whilst Hiro Yoshimoto claimed the final point and the pole for Sunday's sprint race.



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