David C. Schilke, International Editor
The GP2 series has come to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza circuit in Italy for the final weekend of the season. With Romain Grosjean already crowned the new GP2 Champion, this weekend’s focus has been on the tight battle for vice-champ, as five drivers entered the finale in the fight for runner-up spot. Among them was yesterday’s pole sitter Charles Pic, along with Luca Filippi who joined him on the outside of the front row.
While both drivers were eager to win today’s feature for the maximum amount of valuable points, Filippi had the advantage as the Italian crowd cheered on their fellow countryman. Off the start line Filippi put in a brilliant start while Pic struggled on the clean line. Once cleared in the lead, the Scuderia Coloni driver never looked back and dominated the 27 lap feature, earning an extra needed point for fastest lap along the way.
"I have never won in GP2 here in Monza," explained Filippi in the press conference, "– I've had two podiums, but I've never had a win – so it was really important to me, for myself, just to have a Monza win in GP2. I really, really wanted this perfect win, and especially in race one: it's more important. We had the pace, the speed to do it, and I'm very glad: for me and the team we are all Italian, so it's very important for us."
For Pic, the race wasn’t as simple, as he had to defend his second place from a string of rivals, including champion Grosjean. Yet the Frenchman did well to hold second place and with it the vice-champion spot, albeit by only one point over Filippi.
Pic admitted the race was lost off the start-line, "The start was not great! I had a little problem with my clutch, which moved just before the start, so that's the reason why I had a lot of wheel spin and it was very hard to control it. Anyway today Luca was faster than us, and we were missing some pace: I think we know why it has happened and we will try to resolve it, to be faster and stronger tomorrow and to try to have a good race."
Grosjean settled for third in today’s feature. The newly crowed champ is out for maximum team points this weekend for his DAMS team, who is trying to overcome the healthy lead by the Barwa Addax Team. With Pic finishing ahead of Grosjean, the fight will continue tomorrow with Barwa Addax 12 points ahead.
The Champion is looking forward to his final race in the GP2 Series, "I've been winning at every single GP2 race track since 2008, but I haven't won at Monza: if I can get the win then I would have won everywhere, which would be great! (laughs) I had the personal challenge of winning both races, but it's over now! (laughs) This was maybe a little bit ambitious, but I start from P6: let's see after the start. These guys will be fighting really hard for the championship, I will be there for fun for my last GP2 race ever, so I will just go for it and have some fun, because it's the last 21 laps I will do!"
Fourth was Sam Bird for iSports International. The Brit came in this weekend with a shot at second in the title fight but finishing fourth wasn’t enough today to keep him mathematically in the running. Bird is 10 points behind Pic, with only 7 maximum points available to him tomorrow.
That leaves Jules Bianchi and Giedo van der Garde left in the fight with Pic and Filippi. They sit tied with 49 points apiece to Pic’s tally of 52. Bianchi recovered from a dismal qualifying effort to finish in eighth today and earned tomorrow’s sprint race pole. With Pic and Filippi forced to start seventh and eighth respectively tomorrow, the Lotus ART driver looks poised to earn enough points to claim the runner-up for himself. It will be up to Pic and Filippi to fight their way past their rivals to close on Bianchi tomorrow. Meanwhile van der Garde is all but out of the running, as the Addax driver finished 21st in today’s race and will start from that low position tomorrow. There will be little chance for him to move into a points paying position, let alone close in on his leading rivals.
So tomorrow the final GP2 battle for the year is set, Bianchi will have pole and if everything goes well, he will claim the vice-championship as well. Pic and Filippi will be on a charge to prevent that, but they’ll have to get past Grosjean on their way up the field, which is no small task. It looks the Barwa Addax Team all but has the teams’ title under control but DAMS and Grosjean will stay in the fight until the end. Stay tuned to Motorsport.com for tomorrow’s exciting conclusion of the 2011 GP2 Main Series.
Meanwhile, today saw the crowning of this season's GP3 Champion, Valtteri Bottas, in the first GP3 race at Monza. The series was formed last year and is meant to be the third rung on the ladder to F1, with the next step after GP3 naturally a ride in GP2. The Lotus ART rookie earned four race wins, including today's, to finish ahead of teammate James Calado. It wasn't smooth sailing for the Finn, as the first half of the season carried a steep learning curve.
However, finding the right setup is critical to any champion and by the end of the season Bottas was clearly the man to beat. "For sure it’s tough when drivers in their second GP3 season already have a good race routine with the car; know how to handle it at race starts and how to setup the car," said Bottas. "So at the beginning of the season it was quite difficult to be a rookie in the Series, but then as soon as I got comfortable with the driving style and how to take the start well it was no problem. I already had two seasons in F3 and two in Formula Renault - it’s still a race car."
In a post race investigation, Michael Herck, Scuderia Coloni teammate to the race winner, was found to have been at fault in an incident with Josef Kral. The GP2 Officials handed Herck a 10 grid penalty for tomorrow's sprint race.