Di Grassi takes maiden GP2 win
Lucas di Grassi has silenced his critics after claiming his maiden GP2 win in race one at Istanbul Park, taking the top step of the podium ahead of Giorgio Pantano and Adam Carroll as well as the lead in the championship ahead of fourth placed Timo Glock.
The Brazilian's win was set up by his usual demon start and a good pitstop by his ART mechanics under the safety car, and then later by a mistake by Andi Zuber ahead of him, which meant the lead cycled back to di Grassi when the all of the pitstops shook out.
Di Grassi was not the only fast man at the start: Zuber sliced between teammate Glock and poleman Luca Filippi when the lights went out to take an early lead in the race, with the front row starters falling into place in order behind him but ahead of Pantano, Carroll, di Grassi, Xandi Negrao and Kazuki Nakajima.
Behind them chaos reigned as Mike Conway swapped ends out of turn one and rolled straight into Andy Soucek, who went over the Englishman just as Adrian Zaugg found the stricken Super Nova, putting debris all over the track as the rest of the field scattered as they looked for a way past. With Filippi spinning to a stop in the middle of the chicane at turn ten and pieces of car at the end of the start straight there was no other option but to bring out the safety car.
Which is when the field dived in for a pitstop en masse, except for Glock, Negrao, Roldan Rodriguez and Ricardo Risatti. Zuber was the first man in, followed by di Grassi (who had forced his way past Pantano at turn two and Carroll when Filippi spun), and they were the first men out again, followed by Carroll and Pantano, then Borja Garcia, Sebastien Buemi and local hero Jason Tahinci.
Which is the order they stayed in after the race went live again on lap four. Glock was kept out rather than queuing behind Zuber in the pits, but it meant that the German was going to have to set qualifying laps every time around from the lead of the race and then hope that luck would swing back to him in the latter stages when he had fresh tires against the remainder of the field on old rubber.
Glock did his part well, leaving the other non-stoppers behind to hold up the usual fast men as he set fastest lap after fastest lap. Risatti was unable to stem the tide in his first race in the series, dropping down the order and exposing Rodriguez to the effective leader of the race: Zuber was the first of the stoppers, and he was determined to claim his second win of the season.
Zuber wasn't letting his teammate have everything his own way, running at a similar pace but nonetheless being slightly held up by Rodriguez. Lap after lap he piled the pressure on with his engineers telling him the gap forward to his teammate, who was edging away slowly but surely.
On lap 20, with Glock setting yet another fastest lap and almost ten seconds further up the road, Zuber was caught out under braking at the end of the straight into the final complex, flicking left to avoid Rodriguez but throwing himself over the curbs, across the track and into the gravel. The Austrian waved in vain for a push from the marshals, who would not have been able to pull his car out, and Zuber's win evaporated.
Which handed the adjusted lead to di Grassi, who was never going to make the same mistake: with his team keeping him updated on the gap up to Glock the Brazilian had the luxury of sitting behind Rodriguez and watching the laps tick over, although to his credit he still piled the pressure onto the Spaniard, just in case. With Negrao and Rodriguez in on laps 25 and 29 it was a straight speed fight between the two title protagonists, and all eyes in the pitlane were on the timing screens.
Glock had a 16 second gap back to di Grassi when he stopped at the end of lap 28, and it was never going to be enough. The iSport engineers were looking further back to di Grassi's teammate Buemi in fifth, who could have been called upon to be a spoiler after the inevitable stop until the Swiss driver was forced into the pits and retirement due to a gremlin, after which the focus turned to Garcia: with the gap out to 27.6 seconds it was time to come in at last.
Di Grassi tore past and into the actual lead as Glock trundled down to the very end of the pitlane for his stop, with Carroll and Pantano engaged in an almighty tussle a few seconds behind. Two rears were changed and the German tore straight out and back onto the track, arriving just in time to keep the Garcia/Nakajima slugfest behind him but a twelve second gap up to the new leader: with five laps remaining it seemed an impossible challenge.
In front of him the fight for second was red hot, with Pantano filling Carroll's mirrors all the way round the circuit. The inevitable push came on lap 30 when the Italian stuck his nose inside his rival at the end of the back straight: Carroll held his nerve and hauled the inside line back in the twisty complex, just keeping his nose ahead on the front straight, but Pantano had the momentum and sliced his way through as they dropped into turn one.
Behind them Glock was carving into their lead, but with the laps running out only a mistake by one of his rivals would hand him a podium for his troubles: it was a forlorn hope which was shattered when di Grassi was cheered across the line by his team just over a second ahead of Pantano, with Carroll dropping back but just holding on to beat Glock across the line.
Behind them Garcia punched the sky with delight after holding on against race-long pressure from Nakajima for fifth, with Negrao taking seventh as a reward for his early race pace and Karun Chandhok driving an incredible race to finish eighth in a car that he had previously claimed was almost undriveable, while Nicolas Lapierre claimed the point for fastest lap on the final tour after stopping again for fresh tires.
But all eyes were on di Grassi as he cruised into the pits and parked his car behind the number 1 sign: the Brazilian stood on top of his car to survey his cheering team in front of him, pointing his fingers to the logo of long time supporter Renault across his chest before bounding over to hug every member of his team individually in celebration of his first win in the series, and the re-emergence of ART after their first win since Silverstone last year.
Pos Driver Team Time/Behind
1. Di Grassi ART Grand Prix 57:11.277
2. Pantano Campos Grand Prix + 1.371
3. Carroll FMS International + 5.830
4. Glock iSport International + 6.163
5. Garcia Durango + 10.183
6. Nakajima DAMS + 10.774
7. Negrao Minardi Piquet Sports + 14.695
8. Chandhok Durango + 19.756
9. Tung BCN Competicion + 20.629
10. Senna Arden International + 22.944
11. Rodriguez Minardi Piquet Sports + 27.227
12. Villa Racing Engineering + 27.589
13. Martinez Racing Engineering + 54.026
14. Tahinci FMS International + 69.504
15. Lapierre DAMS + 75.194
16. Risatti Trident Racing + 92.816
17. Petrov Campos Grand Prix + 1 Lap