Giorgio wins the race, but Lewis takes the crown
Lewis Hamilton is the 2006 GP2 series drivers' champion! While it was Giorgio Pantano who claimed glory in today's race, taking his second victory of the year ahead of Nelson Piquet Jr and Lewis, the Briton's fastest lap was enough to wrap up a hard-fought and thoroughly deserved title in only his rookie year in the series.
Race Report: With tensions at an all-time high, the start of this one was always going to be crucial. And so it proved. Giorgio blasted away from second on the grid, with Nelson seemingly slow off pole and with third- placed Lewis all over him into the first corner. Nelson remained calm though, and made a move on the outside of the Italian into turn one. Carrying a touch too much speed, he cut the second part of the chicane, and as he emerged in the lead duly handed first place back to Giorgio as the cars rounded Curva Grande.
Behind them, Lewis was having a tough time containing the advances of Adam Carroll. The pair diced for the opening laps, swapping position almost corner for corner until Lewis finally made third place stick and began to eek out a margin.
On lap ten Adam came in for his stop. It was to prove a vital point in the race, as when he emerged, the Ulsterman was only to make it as far as the Ascari chicane before his right rear tyre came loose, pitching Adam into a spin and out of the race. The safety car was deployed and the top three all came in for their stops, exiting in the order in which they had entered. Lewis however had the extra complication of backmarkers between himself and Nelson.
When the safety car came in Nelson tried everything to get back past Giorgio. Again he braked late for turn one and again he ran into trouble, this time taking to the grass to keep out of Giorgio's way. Nelson handed back first place for the second time in the race, and from that point on Giorgio simply disappeared.
Lewis meanwhile had passed the backmarkers and set off in pursuit of Nelson, crucially setting fastest lap in the process and taking that all important point away from Nelson, who had been the quickest man up to that point. The top three flew home in the order in which they had been for the majority of the race, but on the final tour Giorgio stole fastest lap. With the world on tenterhooks, the Italian's quick lap meant the championship was still open.
After being called to see the stewards however, Giorgio's fastest lap was taken from him after it was discovered that he had not slowed down for yellow flags shown on that final tour. With that, Lewis was declared champion. He will start tomorrow's race safe in the knowledge that he has done what many people said was impossible to win the GP2 title in his rookie year, against the very best young drivers in the world, the majority of whom were in their second season of the series. It has been his consistency, his grit, determination and above all his mesmerizing racecraft which has seen him take this accolade. Who knows what awaits our champion... but a seat in Formula One, is no less than he deserves.
1st Giorgio Pantano FMS International.51:31.171
It was great. We did a very good job today, the team did a great job in the pitstop and we didn't make any mistakes. Every lap was consistent, and that's it. It was great!
2nd Nelson Piquet Jr Piquet Sports. +5.054
I was taking a couple of risks in the race to overtake Giorgio, but every time I braked late the brakes locked. To have assured second place in the teams' championship is a great result for the work they have done. I'm sad not to have won the title, but it's been a great year and I'd like to congratulate Lewis on his success.
3rd Lewis Hamilton, 2006 GP2 series champion ART Grand Prix. +6.887
It's a big relief to know that we've done it. It's not the way I would have liked to have had it: I would have liked to have taken it by winning the race, but I'll take it. I've worked very hard and the team has done a fantastic job. We've had to work hard to fend off Nelson, and to finally have the title is a great feeling.