GP2

Kovalainen hangs on for Monza win

Heikki Kovalainen hung on in the face of a strong challenge by Nico Rosberg in the closing laps of today's GP2 series at Monza, to take his fifth GP2 victory in the first race of the weekend doubleheader at the famed Italian Grand Prix...

Heikki Kovalainen hung on in the face of a strong challenge by Nico Rosberg in the closing laps of today's GP2 series at Monza, to take his fifth GP2 victory in the first race of the weekend doubleheader at the famed Italian Grand Prix circuit.

"I had to fight for that victory!" Kovalainen said after the race. "It certainly wasn't easy. My front tires worked well throughout the race, but the rears couldn't keep up."

The Finn started the race from pole, and never lost his lead throughout the race -- apart from the pit stops -- but it was not for lack of effort by Rosberg, who took the start alongside Kovalainen. The due fought wheel to wheel, taking curves two wide on the first lap, but Kovalainen always seemed to have just enough speed to hold his challenger at bay.

The start was marred by a heavy crash, with Olivier Pla running into an errant Juan Cruz Alvarez. With newcomer Toni Vilander stalled on the grid due to a gearbox problem, the safety car came out to calm things down.

On the restart, it was Nelson Piquet Jr who grabbed second place, followed by Rosberg's ART teammate, Alexandre Premat, and then the German himself. Things looked good for ART until Rosberg pushed hard for a pass, touched Premat's right rear wheel, and spun the Frenchman out of the race.

"It was not easy," Rosberg confirmed. "There were a lot of incidents. The first couple of laps were crazy. I had a tough start with Heikki. I had a go twice and each time he’d mess up the first part and then that made it hard to go past on the second part."

Rosberg had an easier time dealing with Piquet, but catching Kovalainen proved difficult. The mandatory pit stops saw the status quo maintained, although Piquet had his moment of glory in the lead, pitting later than the two leaders.

After the stops, Kovalainen struggled to lap Vilander, whose car had been repaired, but who was by now running well behind. And by the time he made his way past his countryman, his rear tires were starting to go off, giving Rosberg the opportunity he had been looking for.

But it was not to be: Kovalainen had just enough grip left to hang onto the lead, and take a win -- by just 1.1 seconds -- crucial to his championship aspirations. Rosberg, who is nine points behind in the title chase, managed to maintain the gap, though, by setting the fastest lap time in the dying moments of the race -- although Girgio Pantano had run faster yet, his time was stripped for driving straight through a chicane.

"I thought with six or seven laps to go that he was not going to be able to pass me if I didn't make a mistake," the winner continued. "Maybe in the last two or three laps he stopped pushing or something so I pushed a little bit and managed to pull away a bit."

Piquet took the final podium spot, some 12 seconds adrift of the front-runners, followed by Nicolas Lapierre, Adam Carroll and Pantano, the threesome being nearly 20 seconds adrift of the Brazilian.

Scott Speed, third in the championship, had to abandon the race in the pit lane due to mechanical problems, and with Premat having been bumped off by his teammate, Kovalainen is now 38 points ahead of Speed and 44 of Premat, making Speed's and Premat's championship hopes largely theoretical at this point.

The sprint race follows tomorrow, with today's eighth- and seventh-place finishers, Ferdinando Monfardin and Neel Jani, starting from the front row.

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Series GP2
Drivers Nelson Piquet , Scott Speed , Nico Rosberg , Heikki Kovalainen , Adam Carroll , Neel Jani , Olivier Pla , Nicolas Lapierre , Alexandre Prémat , Juan Cruz Alvarez , Toni Vilander