By David C. Schilke
Charles Pic started from pole and besides an early challenge from Josef Kral into the iconic Ste Devote turn, the Addax Team driver was never under threat. After Kral’s attempt to steal the show off the start line fizzled, Pic controlled today’s Sprint race in Monaco through two restarts. Kral settled for second and was kept bust with third placed Romain Grosjean filling his mirrors.
Pic was exuberant in earning his second race of the year, “Starting the weekend was tough but we made a good race one, finished eighth and so that means starting from pole in the second race, and we won today, so it's very good! We reacted quite well, very positively, and now we have one month to work very hard and find some new things for Valencia to be stronger and fight for the wins there.”
Off the line Pic had a good launch but was no match for Kral who nailed the start perfectly. The pair went side-by-side but Pic had the better line and his rival had to back off. Behind the two, Grosjean took third while Max Chilton faltered from the front row. The rest were bottle necked when Stefano Coletti stalled. Alvaro Parente took things three wide to stay in touch with the top of the field, but would later serve a stop and go penalty for jumping the start, his chance of earning more points were over.
The first safety car was brought out by Kevin Mirocha, who ended up badly damaged from the starting chaos. Pic handled the restart perfectly and Kral had little chance to answer. The pattern would be repeated a few laps after when Marcus Ericsson found the wall in the swimming pool complex. Try as he may, Kral couldn’t find a way past Pic.
“Yesterday's race was just holding in place and I finished P6 and I thought okay, I can go for this one, and I finished P2 which is really like a dream!” smiled Kral. “I had a brilliant start from third and I nearly got P1: it was really close! I was just pushing Charles hard for most of the race, the car was brilliant, and in the end Romain was catching me up but he wasn't a problem so I could just concentrate on my laps, and we finished the race as we started. I'm just so happy to finish second here.”
DAMS driver Grosjean kept his nose clean for the race to pressure Kral in the closing laps, but passing at Monaco can be more difficult than buying one of the luxury condos found in Monte Carlo on the cheap. However, third is enough for the GP2 Asia Series Champion to tie Sam Bird for the title lead.
Bird finished 13th, due in part from getting a five spot penalty for the sprint grid after he made contact with his teammate Ericsson in yesterday’s feature race. The iSport driver finished out of the points this weekend and while tied for the championship, Bird has yet to win a race this season.
A fight over fourth place was the best show on the circuit today. Carlin’s Chilton held the position desperately but was hounded by Davide Valsecchi and Luca Filippi in the closing laps. First Valsecchi tried to pass the Carlin driver but made a mistake under braking that allowed Filippi past in fifth.
It was then Filippi’s turn to pressure Chilton. Coming out of the tunnel the Super Nova driver made his move and cut Chilton off into the chicane. Now in clear air Filippi sailed off with fourth while Valsecchi lined up to make a second attempt on Chilton. The Team AirAsia driver made it stick with one lap to go to take fifth. Fabio Leimer tried to improve on Chilton as well, but wasn’t able to get past before the checkered flag was waved, leaving Chilton with a single point in sixth.
There are now four weeks to go before the next GP2 event to be held in Valencia, Spain. Although it is another street course, this one has a decidedly more recent history. However, like Monaco, it is a very difficult place to pass and the field can bottleneck quickly.
The points fight heading into the fourth round of the season is intense with five drivers separated by a mere two points. Grosjean is scored on top for having a win under his belt; Bird is second albeit tied to the Frenchman. Pic boosted into third after winning today, while Valsecchi and Giedo van der Garde split 4th and 5th. It’s not yet halfway into the season, but unless one of these five can break take maximum points away from a weekend the 2011 Championship will go down to the wire.