Schilke, GP2 correspondent
Tom Dillmann inherited the pole position for Saturday’s GP2 Series Sprint race after post-Feature race penalties were handed down, and the Rapax rookie did not hesitate taking the lead despite the pressure from Marcus Ericsson as the duo was heading toward Turn 1 when the lights went out to signal the start on the Bahrain International Circuit.
In the final laps, the Frenchman had to fend off Luiz Razia to earn his first GP2 win by a mere tenth of a second. Arden’s Razia ended second followed by Davide Valsecchi, who had his own battles to overcome in order to reach the podium.
“At the beginning I had a really good pace. The car felt great so I was pushing and I had quite a good gap, but in the last seven laps I started to struggle with the rear tyres. And I saw Razia getting closer and the last three laps he was in my gearbox. I had quite a lot of pressure but I kept cool and at the end, I won. It’s great,” smiled Dillmann.
Ericsson slotted second in his iSport single-seater, and before he knew what happened behind him, his mirrors were filled with the Arden car piloted by Razia. The Brazilian had moved from fifth on the grid to third in a flash. Turn 1, of course, saw early contact as the field took off from the standing start. Mexican racer Esteban Gutierrez had a brilliant great start for the Lotus team but he ended up tapping the Caterham car of Giedo van der Garde, sending the Dutchman off the track temporary.
It did not take long for Razia to sail past Ericsson, and to add more heartache for the Swede, Rio Haryanto took over third for the Carlin team, and then Valsecchi saw his chance to move into fourth but the Italian had to wait a bit when Gutierrez made his attack on the points leader in the first turn.
While the rest of the competitors were in their own heated battles, Dillmann had built a lead of 5.5 seconds over Razia. The Brazilian picked up the pace and went into chase mode to close the gap to the leader. Before long, Razia narrowed the gap to just two seconds with three laps remaining. However the rookie was holding steady and ignoring the pressure made by the Arden driver. It ended up being Razia who made a tiny error, but on the final lap he was breathing down on the Frenchman, looking for a way to take the victory.
Razia commented, “At the start, I was squeezed on the first corner which was the trickiest part of the race. Then I overtook Ericsson. My car was not performing really when in the middle of the race. But then in the end I think Dillmann lost a bit of pace because of the rear tyres and we had a little bit left and we caught him. But I think it was too late. I really tried on the last three laps, but I also had tyre degradation and I was not able to overtake him. He did a good job and made no mistake.”
After losing his front row position due to a 20 second penalty for ignoring yellow flags in yesterday’s race, DAMS rookie Felipe Nasr also had a great start to gain positions on the opening lap and became one of the challengers for a podium finish. However, it was Gutierrez charging to the front and once past Ericsson, he set his sights on Haryanto. Once the Mexican overtook the Indonesian, it appeared he would land third but then came Valsecchi followed by his young teammate Nasr. The Italian then set his sights on Gutierrez, and after twice having the door shut by the Mexican, Valsecchi was able to make the third attempt to finish third.
After four races in two weekends in Sakhir, Dillmann was the only driver to stop the DAMS’ hot-shoe Italian from earning the sweep. Valsecchi leaves Bahrain with three victories and a nice points lead over Razia (107 to 83).
“I had to fight. I was in the pack. So it was good fun!” Valsecchi said. “When I got third, they were nine seconds in front of me and because my rear tyres were not so good then, I had to be careful. Dillmann and Razia were really fast and I think Dillmann especially deserved the victory.”
Gutierrez placed fourth and the battle for fifth was intense as Nasr looked for a way past Haryanto. The DAMS rookie made the final move on the final lap for fifth place followed by Haryanto and Ericsson. Racing Engineering’s Leimer finished eighth for the final points awarded in the Sprint race.
The standings before the series takes on their first race in Europe show Valsecchi on top followed by Razia and Gutiérrez. Now that they have completed their stand-alone event, the GP2 Series will next race in Barcelona.