Pantano Wins Dramatic French Race
Giorgio Pantano has claimed his first win of the season, and the first ever for Campos Grand Prix, in a fraught race one at Magny Cours that featured a number of crashes and saw series returnee Ernesto Viso taken to hospital after a crash on the first lap which brought out the red flags and halted the race for an hour.
The Italian was joined on the podium by Lucas di Grassi and Bruno Senna at the eventual completion of the race, with all three drivers celebrating in a somewhat muted fashion, happy to finally bring the chaotic event to a close.
The drama began from the very start of the race when front row starters Timo Glock and Andi Zuber both tried to occupy the same piece of tarmac in the middle of the track: they banged wheels before Zuber was launched up and over his teammate's car, with the German lucky to escape injury as the bottom of the chassis narrowly missed his head.
With Roldan Rodriguez stalling on the grid behind the pair the remainder of the field scattered all across the track, looking for anywhere that didn't already have a car on it. Senna, di Grassi, Pantano and Pastor Maldonado were the first drivers into turn one.
Viso came up on a slower Michael Ammermuller and as the Venezuelan tried to overtake him he was launched into the sky. His car twisted over as it flew towards the concrete barrier on the right of the track, landing upside down and colliding with an advertising hoarding before flipping over again and coming to a halt at the next corner.
The crash brought out the safety car, which led the field slowly around before most of the field peeled into the pits to make their compulsory stops. The only drivers not to stop were Kohei Hirate and Karun Chandhok, who were immediately behind the safety car as the race was red flagged on the third lap. The cars were brought to a halt on the front straight and the drivers were able to get out to talk to their teams for the best part of an hour.
The race was resumed at 17.01 behind the safety car, with Hirate and Chandhok followed across the line by Pantano, di Grassi, Senna, Maldonado, Mike Conway and Luca Filippi, and went live one lap later, this time without incident. Conway was keen to move up, but a rash move on Maldonado at the hairpin saw the Briton tap the back of his rival's car and put himself into a spin, dropping down to nineteenth as he eventually got back on track.
Pantano was also chomping at the bit, but his job was made a little easier when Hirate was called into the pits next time by for a drive through penalty as a result of an overtaking move behind the safety car before the red flag. Chandhok then gave Pantano a clear run as he ran wide through the esses and took a trip across the gravel for his troubles, with Maldonado sliding past Senna on the same lap.
The order had now shaken out at the front of the field thus: Pantano, di Grassi, Maldonado, Senna, Filippi, Xandi Negrao, Adrian Zaugg and Vitaly Petrov. The front runners swapped fastest laps between them as they re-found their rhythm, while behind them Conway lost his again as he spun off the track while trying to undo the earlier damage.
Most of the action was now happening further back: with the front runners pulling away there was almost a free for all behind them as the remainder of the field jockeyed for position, with a fierce, continuous battle running for most of the race between Sakon Yamamoto, Christian Bakkerud, Andy Soucek and Javier Villa as they flowed up and down the timesheets between Borja Garcia at the front and Mike Conway behind them.
With the early stops there were always going to be tires problems to come, with some drivers protecting theirs and others chewing through them to keep up the pace. As the lap counter got into the mid twenties it was becoming clear who had done what: Nicolas Lapierre was able to put himself into the points after gliding past Petrov before being handed a bonus as Zaugg took Negrao off in front of the French driver, while further up the order Maldonado was dropping back like a stone.
Villa too had clearly been looking after his tires: as Maldonado dropped back to be taken by Filippi, Senna and Petrov, Villa was pushing back the other way as he cut through the field like a hot knife through butter.
With the laps running out Lapierre looked to take his turn at passing Maldonado, but he was caught out by just how slow the Venezuelan was driving at this stage and spun to avoid hitting him, finally getting restarted as Petrov and Zaugg blew by. The two circles met at Lapierre as Villa also slid by one corner later, and the Frenchman was back outside the points despite all of his hard work.
As if to bookend the drama of today's race, the last lap changed the order all over again: at the front Filippi's tires finally gave up on him as Senna muscled his way by at the hairpin to claim another podium finish, Roldan Rodriguez claimed the fastest lap despite being a lap down, and Lapierre finally repayed Maldonado by claiming the final points finish and tomorrow's pole.
In front of him Giorgio Pantano was pleased to capture yet another win at one his favorite hunting grounds, almost nine seconds ahead of Lucas di Grassi who in turn was 13.6 seconds ahead of Bruno Senna. A bitterly disappointed Luca Filippi was the next man across the line, with Vitaly Petrov well behind him just holding on ahead of Adrian Zaugg and Javier Villa.
But as Pantano brought the field to a halt in parc ferme and walked over to shake hands with team boss Adrian Campos, who was delighted to have finally captured his team's first win in the series, it was clear to see that everyone's thoughts were with their friend and rival Viso.
Pos Driver Team Time/Behind
1. Pantano Campos Grand Prix 1h52:32.513
2. Di Grassi ART Grand Prix + 8.777
3. Senna Arden + 22.476
4. Filippi Super Nova + 24.585
5. Petrov Campos Grand Prix + 40.162
6. Zaugg Arden + 40.699
7. Villa Racing Engineering + 41.206
8. Lapierre DAMS + 48.246
9. Conway Super Nova + 52.431
10. Maldonado Trident Racing + 55.890
11. Yamamoto BCN Competicion + 59.032
12. Garcia Durango + 1:01.960
13. Soucek DPR + 1:04.692
14. Tung BCN Competicion + 1:08.394
15. Tahinci FMS + 1:27.103
16. Rodriguez Minardi Piquet Sports + 1 Lap
17. Nakajima DAMS + 1 Lap
Driver Team Laps
Negrao Minardi Piquet Sports 31
Hirate Trident Racing 31
Bakkerud DPR 18
Chandhok Durango 6
Glock iSport 0
Zuber iSport 0
Ammermuller ART Grand Prix 0
Viso Racing Engineering 0
Fastest lap: Rodriguez, 1:23.405 on lap 39