Fabio Leimer has grabbed his third feature race win of the season with a storming drive in scorching conditions this afternoon in Monza, stealing a march at the start to lead his rivals all race long, apart from the pitstop window, for victory ahead of Sam Bird and Tom Dillmann and, with it, the championship lead.
When the lights went out Bird made a decent start from pole but Leimer made a better one next to him, slicing inside the Briton at the first chicane and tearing away, with a fast starting Marcus Ericsson and Jolyon Palmer just holding off an incredible start from Jake Rosenzweig, who blew past Stefano Coletti and Dillmann into the chicane.
Coletti soon pushed past to chase his championship rivals, with Dillmann bumping by the American a few laps later, with Rosenzweig unfortunately retiring soon after with probable damage to his left front. The Monegasque driver pitted on lap 7, one lap ahead of Ericsson, but was soon back again for a drive through after speeding in the pitlane, undoing all of his good work.
With the leaders swapping fastest laps between them Palmer jumped into the pits on lap 11, but his left rear soon detached at the Lesmos as he coasted to a halt. Leimer was in next time round to change his primes, with Bird staying out longer on his hard tyres, setting up an intriguing tyre strategy battle between the pair.
Ericsson soon ground to a halt too, with a rear puncture, but all eyes on the pitwall were on the gap between Bird and Leimer, which seemed to be static as they resumed their fastest lap battle from different sides of the circuit. The Briton stayed out until lap 20, but reappeared 4 seconds behind Leimer, seemingly casting the result in stone.
But no one told Bird, who kept up his string of fastest laps as he closed the gap down to below a second as the laps rolled away, with fresher primes against his rivals older hard tyres. But Leimer was made of sterner stuff, held his nerve, and was greeted by the chequered flag 0.8 seconds ahead of Bird, with Dillmann rolling across the line 5 seconds or so later.
Stéphane Richelmi had a quiet race for P4, five seconds ahead of Julian Leal, who did a great job to finish ahead of James Calado in 6th, with Adrian Quaife Hobbs, Alexander Rossi, Sergio Canamasas and Vittorio Ghirelli taking advantage of clever strategies to round out the points.
The win changes the shape of the drivers’ championship, with Leimer now leading Bird by 153 points to 145, while Coletti and Felipe Nasr failed to add to their points after both dropping out with mechanical gremlins, standing on 135 and 130 points respectively, ahead of Calado on 119. RUSSIAN TIME lead the way in the teams’ championship on 223 points to Racing Engineering’s 205, ahead of Carlin on 198, DAMS on 165 and Rapax on 153 ahead of tomorrow morning’s sprint race.