Giorgio Pantano dominated the 34 lap Feature race in the second round of the GP2 Series at Istanbul Park. He took a convincing win over nearest challengers Romain Grosjean and Andreas Zuber who claimed second and third respectively.
Pantano started from pole and led the whole race, the win puts Pantano on top of the championship leaderboard with 21 points, way ahead of closest championship rival Zuber who has 13 points.
"I'm happy for the team, for everybody, because we did the job. We improved the car from Barcelona to here and we see the results. It was very quick yesterday, it was quick in the race today. We are quite there to compete for the championship," commented Pantano.
The GP2 feature race followed the Formula one qualifying in the Turkish capital of Istanbul. The country which, amongst others, has Iran, Iraq and Syria as neighbours is one of F1 Supremo Bernie Ecclestone's favourite circuits. The track designed by Hermann Tilke is a challenging collection of 16 corners and features a 46 metre rise and drop around the unusual anti-clockwise lap.
The GP2 cars featuring a Dallara chassis and powered by a V8 Renault engine took to the 5.338 km track. The track temperature was low and the surface relatively green due to an earlier downpour and the fact the track is rarely used throughout the rest of the year.
While Pantano had a good start keeping the pole position advantage into the first corner, behind him Grosjean took second away from Zuber. Adam Carroll who started from third and Bruno Senna in fifth both got away badly losing several places off the line.
Senna's woes were soon to be compounded when he was squeezed by cars on either side of him on the approach to Turn 1, damaging his front wing. Although he battled hard, he would eventually finish 15th after being forced to make two pit stops due to the pit window not opening until the sixth lap.
Pantano was a class apart, rapidly pulling out a lead of nearly eight seconds over Grosjean and Zuber which he maintained for much of the race. The top three left their compulsory pit stop for late in the race. Most of the field had already stopped when with just 10 laps to go Alberto Valerio spun at the tricky high speed Turn 8, this left him stuck in the middle of the track.
The top three pitted as soon as it was clear the safety car was to be deployed, this effectively ended Zuber's chances of taking second in a pit stop battle as they exited the pits in the same order.
When the safety car came in, there were just six laps left. With fresh rear tyres the three lead cars again pulled away from the bunched pack behind them on the restart. Pantano demonstrated his superior pace yet again, quickly pulling three seconds ahead of Grosjean before cruising to a seemingly effortless victory.
Zuber dropped back on the restart but fought back to finish close behind Grosjean by the time the pair reached the chequered flag. He was unable to hound the second place man as he had been doing for much of the race.
Karun Chandhok finished fourth, ahead of Vitaly Petrov back in fifth. The hard charging Carroll climbed as high as seventh but mysteriously dropped back to eighth with one lap to go as Javier Villa flew past to claim the place. Carroll's eighth position does however give him pole position for Sunday's sprint race due to the reverse grid.
The GP2 series, that has only been around since 2005, is self proclaimed as Formula one's strongest feeder series. Indeed 2005 Champion Nico Rosberg was hired by the Williams team for the 2006 F1 campaign. The 2006 GP2 winner Lewis Hamilton made the progression into F1 with McLaren, and the 2007 Champion Timo Glock returned to F1 with a drive at Toyota for 2008.
Pantano must now be looking ahead to the rest of the season and the hope of following all the previous series champions into the premier league.