Maldonado closer to title with Spa Feature win
Pastor Maldonado has collected his sixth, and toughest, win of the season in today's feature race at Spa Francorchamps, benefiting when polesitter Jerome d'Ambrosio stopped late in the race and then hanging on against a huge push in the closing laps to win by just 0.2 seconds from Alvaro Parente and Romain Grosjean.
The Venezuelan had to work had all day for the victory: he held station behind d'Ambrosio when the lights went out and fought off a huge push from title rival Sergio Perez, who got a storming start from seventh on the grid to P3 just behind Maldonado and ahead of Oliver Turvey out of Ste Devote, while behind them Dani Clos was delayed by a stalled Fabrizio Crestani and then ran over the rear wheel of Sam Bird: the pair were out on the spot, prompting a safety car to remove their vehicles.
After the restart it was clear that there were going to be 3 strategies: come in early and hope for the best, hold position at the front and do a normal stop, or stay out late and hope for rain. Grosjean, Luca Filippi, Perez and Charles Pic went for the former, having a battle between themselves for points finishes until the Mexican was given a drive through for speeding in the pitlane, handing him a monster job just to keep his title hopes alive.
At the front d'Ambrosio and Maldonado came in together on lap 8: the Belgian was slightly delayed and the win looked to be out the window as his rival sliced back into the pitlane just in front of his nose: when the pair caught up to a slow (but un-pitted) Vladimir Arabadzhiev the Venezuelan ran through quickly but d'Ambrosio lost over 5 seconds before he followed, with the race looking like it was finished.
But d'Ambrosio was determined to make up for this season's bad luck with a glorious home victory: a string of fast laps saw the Belgian back in front of Maldonado by lap 18, and with seven to go was just waiting for Parente to finally make his stop and hand him the lead back.
But it was not to be: a malicious mechanical gremlin put paid to the drive of the race, handing the advantage back to the series leader. Parente had clearly waited for the storm which didn't come, finally pitting with 3 laps remaining: the fresh rubber gave him a small chance and he took it, pulling 5 seconds out of Maldonado's lead and pushing him all the way round the final lap, but the wily Venezuelan held his nerve to greet the checkered flag 0.2 seconds ahead of the series returnee.
Behind them Grosjean pulled himself out of some early battles and into the clear air to pick up a podium in his second race weekend of the season, while Pic held on from Filippi for fourth place. Turvey was next across the line, denying a late race charge from Perez, who will console himself with a front row start tomorrow morning in the sprint race next to Rodolfo Gonzalez.