Nancy Knapp Schilke, GP2 Correspondent
Mexico’s hot-shoe was the surprise winner in today’s heated battles on the Valencia Street Circuit in Spain. Esteban Gutierrez took his first GP2 Series win on the same circuit last year in the Sprint Race. Even with a sluggish start when the lights went out, the Lotus GP driver kept his cool on a very hot day to score his first Feature Race.
“It's definitely a track that I like, and also it's a special result for the team and me! And also for many other aspects, because we have been having a difficult start to the season, up and down, mistakes from my side, mistakes from the team, and in general not having things on our side. With this result, we have to use this good energy and good feeling to go forward in the next few races,” said Gutierrez.
With this result, we have to use this good energy and good feeling to go forward in the next few races.
Chasing Gutierrez for the victory but coming up short was iSport International’s Marcus Ericsson. The Swede was under pressure from Luiz Razia but was able to keep the Arden driver at bay as they headed to the checkered flag.
“I think today we showed we had the pace to be with the guys in front. We had a really good race: it was a completely crazy race [laughs] with the safety cars and people overtaking and everything, and I thought 'I could be P6 or I could win this: it could be anything!' [laughs] But it worked out, it was great fun to drive and the team have done a great job again to give me a great car, and to be on the podium here from ninth, I think that's great!” said Ericsson.
Razia commented, “It was really good! The start was really nice and I was behind Ericsson, P6 and 7, so from 11th it was a really good start, and then I managed my tyres quite well and I managed to overtake Nasr, and I was 5th. My pitstop was great, the team did a really good job. I finished third, and I'm really happy. This is the most we could do today.”
There were three full course cautions that brought out the Safety Car during the action and for one driver, there was heartbreak. Pole winner James Calado did not hesitate as the field headed into the first turn, and once he held onto the lead, he appeared unstoppable. The Lotus driver did have a bit of help when the lights went out when front row starter Felipe Nasr was slow to take off, allowing Calado a clean line followed by Caterham Racing’s Giedo van der Garde.
Like his DAMS teammate, Davide Valsecchi also did not have a good start, and he nearly stalled his engine. That caused the rest of the drivers to find a way around the points leader, who started sixth due to a penalty handed him after qualifying. Gutierrez sailed away as he was alongside Valsecchi due to also receiving a post qualifying penalty, dropping him out of third on the grid. By the time the pack reached Turn 2, they were bunched up and at the third turn, Fabio Leimer and Jolyon Palmer had contact with Palmer losing his front wing whilst the Racing Engineering driver continued in fifth position.
Leimer moved up to fourth when Nasr started to slide backwards. The Swiss driver had pressure behind him from Ericsson and Razia. While those three battled for fourth, the fight for second had intensified between van der Garde and Gutierrez.
Calado was in his own world while the battles behind the race leader continued. At the Hairpin, the Dutchman and the Mexican had slight contact, and while they both continued, the door was opened for Leimer and the Ericsson to take second and third. Van der Garde elected to pit early and as the Caterham crew changed the tyres, the right rear gun stuck still attached to the wheel nut. The team got him back on track but he came close to hitting another team’s mechanic.
Several other drivers entered pit lane for their mandatory pit stops. As they returned to the track, Rodolfo Gonzalez ended up coming in contact with a rear wing endplate which was lying on the racing line. The damage done to the Caterham Racing car brought out the first Safety Car.
In an odd move, the Calado did not take advantage of the caution to head into the pits. His rivals did .
When the green flag restarted the race on the 17th lap, Nasr ended up with the same mechanical issue as he had at the start of the race. To top it off, the Brazilian caused everyone behind him to search for a way to get around him as he was on the bridge when his DAMS car faltered. It took only seconds for all heck to break out which would bring the Safety Car back out on track.
Palmer took the inside line while the other drivers, including Fabrizio Crestani took the outside line. The Venezuela GP Lazarus driver met Palmer on the other side of the bridge, sending Crestani into barrel rolls.
As they returned to action with Calado still in the lead, with Leimer, Gutierrez, Ericsson, and Razia ready to pounce and as they entered the final turn to view the green flag, Gutierrez and Leimer touched, sending them both wide. Razia and Ericsson were able to pass their rivals, but just barely. The Mexican racer recovered before his Brazilian and Swede rivals were able to pick up speed and leave him in the dust. Gutierrez was back in second. Leimer was able to get back on track with a loss of three positions.
After returning to the circuit, Gonzalez was looking to make up lost time, and in the heat of the battle, he and Giancarlo Serenelli brought out the final caution of the race. The incident was at the chicane. With the Safety Car bringing the field under control, Calado’s plan to pit under green was out the window, forcing the Briton to give away his lead and therefore his victory.
Gutierrez had no complaints and as the green flag waved, he soared off, and try as he might, Ericsson could not catch the flying Mexican. Razia was under mounting pressure from Leimer, even as they crossed the finish line nose to tail.
The race winner commented on his teammate Calado’s loss and the team: “At some point they're happy but on the other side they are very sorry for James. I feel a bit sorry for him too, because he did a fantastic race from the beginning, he pulled away with fantastic speed, and generally I think he deserved the win because he did pole yesterday, today he was leading the race and what happened to him is something that is not in his hands, so hopefully we can do a 1-2 sometime later in the season.”
Carlin’s Rio Haryanto was fifth followed by Nathanael Berthon (Racing Engineering), and Max Chilton (Carlin). Valsecchi was eighth and will start the Sunday’s Sprint Race from the pole.
The GP2 Series takes everything into consideration and hold tight to their rule book and immediately after the race ended, the officials announced that the Barwa Addax drivers -- Josef Kral and Johnny Cecotto -- were both excluded .
Per the series statement: “The Barwa Addax drivers were each given tyres which were allocated to the other at the compulsory pitstop, and although they were subsequently called back to the pits by the team to change the tyres, the stewards found that a breach of Articles 25.6 and 25.9 had occurred, and accordingly both drivers were subsequently excluded from the race.”
Now for the penalties that will affect the grid for the Sprint Race, and perhaps Calado ended up with a bit of luck. He finished ninth but now has been bumped up to the pole for Sunday’s morning race.
The driver who was to start on the pole was one of the three who received penalties. Valsecchi race finishing time now has 20 seconds added which will bump the Italian down to 18th on the grid. The stewards judged him to have “overtaken the safety car during the second of today's three safety car periods.”
Palmer was judged to have caused an avoidable accident when he collided with Crestani. The Briton was given a ten place grid position.
Gonzalez was handed the same penalty as Palmer and also for causing an avoidable accident. The Venezuelan collided with Serenelli.