By: Nancy Knapp Schilke
Stefano Coletti puts in a stunning drive for the Sprint Race victory
Stefano Coletti was a definite surprise winner in today’s GP2 Series Sprint Race. The Tident Racing driver started the race toward the back of the grid. The Monegasque was up for the challenge as he earned his second victory of the main series season. Esteban Gutiérrez was second followed across the line by the points leader, Romain Grosjean.
The rain that was predicted in Hungary came overnight which made it interesting for the teams and drivers this morning on the Hungaroring circuit. It was not called a “wet” start by the officials which allowed tire choices. Coletti started on slicks even though there were still wet areas on the track so he had to take extra care in the opening laps.
It was a crazy race.
"It has been an amazing race: I knew that in those conditions twists were behind the corner and I never stopped believing in a good result even in the initial stages when it was very difficult to stay on track with slick tyres. The pits guys, as the whole team, have been absolutely great and the credit for this win goes to them too: we have always been confident in our potential and we aimed to get that victory that slipped out of our hands in the latest rounds,” said Coletti.
Six other drivers opted for slicks including Gutiérrez who also was started toward the back of the grid. Grosjean elected to use the wet tires from his eighth place on the grid due to his win in yesterday’s feature race.
“It was a crazy race. We started on slicks and it was still a bit wet and it was quite a challenge to make no mistake and it was important to finish. We knew that the track was going to get dryer and we were hoping for this. It was very difficult at the beginning and it felt like we did not make the right call. I did my best to stay out of trouble and keep the car on the track and be as quick as possible in these conditions,” Gutiérrez said at the post-race press conference.
Grosjean commented, “ It was a funny race. We made all the right decisions until the last pitstop. Using the wets in the first stint was the right decision.”
Due to the weather with wet spots on the racing surface, there were incidents with the safety car making two appearances. The wet surface which was drying also played a factor in pit stops which is very rare in a sprint race. Most of the teams ended up switching tires three times during the event were usually it is rare to dive into the pits in the shorter race; especially for a new set of tires.
Christian Vietoris finished eighth yesterday and due to the top 8 being inverted, he was the pole man. In his Racing Engineering car, the German had no problems on the standing start and held the early lead. Breathing down his neck were top early rivals for the championship: Jules Bianchi, Giedo van der Garde, Charles Pic and Luca Filippi. However, four cars aiming to overtake a competitor Turn 1 is difficult and more so due to the wet track. Pic and van der Garde went inside of Bianchi but Filippi went too wide and ended up at the rear of the field.
Bianchi was now fourth and doing his best to hold off Grosjean but he then made an error on the second lap and made the same move in the first turn that Filippi did; however the Lotus ART driver only lost one position as the DAMS driver sailed past him. It did not take long before Grosjean was on applying pressure to Pic. Van der Garde tried his best to keep the pace set by the Vietoris but before long the gap of the leader was eight seconds over the Barwa Addax Team driver on the drying track.
Pit stops to change tires from wets to slicks started on lap seven. Pic was one of the first to make the stop and then the first safety car came out due to Carlin’s Max Chilton coming to a dead stop on the racing surface. That signaled a rash of tire changes for the rest of the field with the leader diving into pit lane followed by van der Garde, Grosjean and Bianchi making the switch to slicks. With the green flag signaling the restart, Grosjean aimed for the inside of Turn 1 to take second away from van der Garde but both drivers ran wide with the Frenchman taking the spot. Bianchi then looked to make the move to steal third from the Dutchman; however that did not work out as the two entered turn 4 with contact. The Frenchman ended up placing his Lotus ART car at the back of the field.
Coletti had quietly moved up to sixth and kept a keen eye on the battle for fourth in front of him. Luiz Razia for Team AirAsia and iSport’s Sam Bird were not giving an inch and Coletti had a bird’s eye view when the Brazilian and Briton made light contact which was enough for the Monegasque to move ahead into fourth. Van der Garde was struggling which opened the door more for Coletti who moved into third.
While the action up front was heating up, the rain returned and first on pit lane was Bianchi. At that same time, Vietoris’ gap over the points leader was less than a second as Grosjean was laying down not laps. With the pressure mounting, the German made one small mistake and with the door opened, the Frenchman took the lead briefly. Grosjean lost too much time avoiding Vetoris and Coletti moved into the lead. Before things settled for the overall lead, Racing Engineering’s Dani Clos was stopped on track, bringing out the safety car for the second and final time. The two leaders entered pit lane to take on wet tires as the track was getting slick.
Addax driver Pic was the new leader but when the race restarted, he was still on slicks and as he entered the first turn, he was wide which allowed Coletti to take the lead. In the meantime, Guiterrez was moving up the scoring chart and was in a heated battle with Grosjean. The Mexican did not back off and was tucked right behind the Frenchman and on the final lap heading to the checkered flag in the last turn, Guiterrez bested the Frenchman and placed his Lotus ART car second at the finish.
After the race, Coletti smiled as he explained why he started the race on slicks: “When I woke up this morning, I saw the weather and thought if it doesn’t rain, I don’t care, I’m starting P21. I will put on slicks and we’ll see what will happen. So we put the slicks to leave the paddock and the track was slippery and I was doubting a little bit in the car. But I thought that I had nothing to lose. If I go on wets like everyone else, I’ll finish fifteenth. If I go on slicks i can win the race, That’s what happened.”
Said Gutiérrez about his move up the race order, “Suddenly after the second safety car, I saw that I was P5. This is when I knew that I could achieve a good result. I started to push in every lap. Then trying to overtake Romain was quite a challenge I have to say that it was a really nice fight. We the drivers enjoy this kind of clean racing very much. This is how racing should be. It’s a good example.
About his battle at the end of the race with Grosjean, the driver from Mexico commented, “To be honest, I was not thinking about the end result. I just knew that he was in front and I wanted to overtake him! I tried not to make mistake and be as fair as possible. I was able to keep close to him and tried to prepare the best chance I had and overtook him on the last corner.”
Grosjean was forced to settle for third but extended his points lead over van der Garde with the Frenchman having 74 to the Dutchman’s 49. Van der Garde finished fourth followed by Bird and Bianchi.
“It was funny. He had much more grip. I was struggling as I could not do anything else,” said Grosjean on the final fight at the finish. “I knew he had nothing to play for the championship so if he was trying something I was opening the door for sure. I did not want to risk anything especially since I was in front of the others. At the end of the day, it’s only one point, no big deal and I am happy for Esteban.”
The GP2 Series teams and drivers will now start their Summer break. The next race will be at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium on August 27-28.