Pantano all the way in Monza
Giorgio Pantano has blitzed the field from pole position to take an easy win in race one at his home circuit of Monza, leading Luca Filippi and Timo Glock home with a dominant display of speed and verve.
Despite slowing on the final lap Pantano was greeted by the chequered flag eight seconds ahead of his countryman, who inherited second place after Lucas di Grassi bizarrely slowed on the second last lap, allowing the field through before getting underway again and also handing title rival Glock the final spot on the podium to extend his lead in the championship.
Pantano easily held onto the top spot when the lights went out after a strong start with no wheelspin, while the rest of the field lit up their tires in hot pursuit. The order at the front of the field was unchanged into the first chicane, but behind then chaos reigned as Adrian Zaugg was turned around by Glock as the cars bunched up in the tight corner: Zaugg, Mike Conway, and Olivier Pla were all out on the spot as the remainder of the field struggled to find a way past.
The inevitable safety car was called onto the track, and the front of the field consisted of Pantano, fellow front row starter Lucas di Grassi, Kazuki Nakajima (who sliced his way up one place as Lesmo), Vitaly Petrov, Adam Carroll, Xandi Negrao, Filippi and Bruno Senna, with Glock well back in 17th position.
With the stranded cars removed the race went live one lap later, catching out a number of drivers, including Carroll and Glock, who thought they would take the opportunity to take a free pitstop. Pantano's restart was note perfect, as was Filippi's, with the latter timing his run on Negrao perfectly to slide up a position at the chicane: unfortunately he was a little too fast as he caught Petrov unawares at the Lesmo complex and had to run wide to avoid the Russian, undoing his good work.
Nakajima was soon in for his customary early stop, coming out ahead of Karun Chandhok to put himself at the front of the already-stopped queue. With Pantano setting fastest laps at the front of the field it opened the floodgates, with Senna, Filippi, Negrao, di Grassi and Petrov all pitting over the next few laps, the latter suffering a stuck tire to undo his excellent qualifying performance.
With Pantano well ahead of the remaining non-stoppers his real challenger was still di Grassi, who was sixth on track ahead of Negrao and Nakajima and waiting for the stops to shake out. The Italian was still easily the fastest man on track, and there seemed to be little chance of anyone derailing the latest in a long line of victories at the track.
But on lap thirteen Markus Niemala was very slow into the chicane with Roldan Rodriguez and Andi Zuber right on his tail: the Spaniard was tapped by the Finnish rookie and Zuber took his chance to get by both, but Rodriguez came back and the pair collided at the second chicane, spinning in unison with Zuber getting away again but Rodriguez beached on the high curb, prompting another safety car period.
Pantano's engineer was immediately onto the radio to call him in: if the Italian was quick enough he would be able to re-emerge in the lead before the safety car found him, and when second placed Ricardo Risatti also stopped Pantano's life became even easier. With no one even close enough on track the Italian came out to slow up behind the safety car, with Risatti spinning behind him at Ascari on cold tyres, and Pantano's job was effectively done.
When the race went live again Pantano was easily able to hold onto his lead ahead of di Grassi, Negrao, Filippi, Nakajima and Senna, but further back Glock's never say die attitude had pushed him up to ninth place, right on the tail of Chandhok and Andy Soucek, who was trying desperately to hold on to the final points paying position. Nakajima seemed to cut the chicane to get ahead of Filippi and hold station, but the action was to come further around the track.
Carroll took a look at Sebastien Buemi before spinning oddly on the run down to the parabolica, but ahead of them Soucek fell to the pressure and ran wide at the long, fast corner, allowing Glock through but coming slowly back on track right in the path of Zuber, who had nowhere to go but into the nose of the Spaniard: as pieces of carbon fibre showered the circuit both drivers, though unharmed, were out on the spot, and the safety car made another appearance.
Nakajima seemed to be caught out by the slowing cars and spun off track, dropping from fifth to tenth before finding his way back on track while the man he had been trailing made yet another great restart, with Filippi easily disposing of Negrao once again to put himself onto the podium behind di Grassi and Pantano. Glock was also on a charge, taking a look inside Senna at the first chicane before slicing his way through at the second one, and then taking Chandhok further around the circuit to put himself up to fifth.
The German soon picked up another position when Negrao slowly made his way back into the pits: the Brazilian was back out again shortly after but his pace indicated a problem that was to put him heartbreakingly out of the points once again. The motorsport gods were clearly upset with Brazilians today as, with one lap remaining, di Grassi suddenly slowed to a crawl as the rest of field gladly disposed him before he could get going again, the mystery ailment striking a devastating blow just as he was looking to regain the lead in the championship.
One lap later Pantano was greeted by the checkered flag and a roar from his home crowd, who were equally delighted when Filippi crossed the line to make it a one-two finish for Italy. Glock took the final podium after a superb drive was rewarded beyond his wildest dreams, going some way to banishing thoughts of previous bad luck earlier in the season. Senna capped a strong day with fourth position, just ahead of a storming drive from Karun Chandhok, while behind him there was a mad dash for the final points.
Javier Villa somehow managed to shake off Sebastien Buemi to claim sixth place, while behind the pair there was barely controlled chaos: Ricardo Risatti claim the final point, and tomorrow's pole, just ahead of Markus Niemala, Nicolas Lapierre, Jason Tahinci and Vitaly Petrov, with Pantano easily claiming the point for fastest lap.
And it was Pantano who was soaking up the adulation as he got out of his car in parc ferme, with the satisfied look of a man who got exactly what he expected after unwrapping his Christmas presents. With the pace that the Italian has shown all weekend the win was nothing more than he deserved, as he continues down the path of a repeat of his dual-win weekend here last year.
Pos Driver Team Time/Behind
1. G. Pantano Campos Grand Prix 55:32.531
2. L. Filippi Super Nova International + 7.962
3. T. Glock iSport International + 9.681
4. B. Senna Arden International +13.572
5. K. Chandhok Durango +18.393
6. J. Villa Racing Engineering +19.179
7. S. Buemi ART Grand Prix +20.436
8. R. Risatti Trident Racing +25.100
9. M. Niemela BCN Competicion +25.604
10. N. Lapierre DAMS +26.156
11. J. Tahinci FMS International +27.113
12. V. Petrov Campos Grand Prix +27.897
13. K. Nakajima DAMS +66.156
14. L. Di Grassi ART Grand Prix +73.136
15. A. Negrao Minardi Piquet Sports + 1 lap
H. Tung BCN Competicion 21 laps
A. Soucek DPR 17 laps
A. Zuber iSport International 17 laps
A. Carroll FMS International 17 laps
R. Rodriguez Minardi Piquet Sports 13 laps
K. Hirate Trident Racing 3 laps
B. Garcia Durango 1 laps
A. Zaugg Arden International 0 laps
M. CONWAY Super Nova International 0 laps
M. MARTINEZ Racing Engineering 0 laps
O. PLA DPR 0 laps
Fastest lap: Pantano, 1:31.442 on lap 28