Nancy Knapp Schilke, GP2 correspondent
DAMS’ Italian driver notches third consecutive victory on Sakhir circuit
Davide Valsecchi did not let pole winner Giedo van der Garde pocket the win in today’s Feature race on the Bahrain International Circuit as he took over the lead prior to the mandatory pitstops. The Italian racer for the DAMS team is now three for three at the Sakhir circuit, and he added to his points lead with the victory in the late afternoon. Fabio Leimer landed his first podium finish in the GP2 Series by finishing second, just ahead of van der Garde.
“Van der Garde was much better than me, but I could maintain his pace at the beginning, but after three or four laps I took a bit of confidence and I could close the gap. I overtook just before the pitstop. I knew I could still be quick on the second part of the race. We had a good pitstop. We had an early stop because we were not far enough to the others. I was afraid that I was too early, but since everyone did the same, we were both in the same conditions to finish the race. We could maintain the pace and the gap with Leimer,” Valsecchi said.
It was an action-packed day for the GP2 drivers as they squeezed in the morning free practice before qualifying and after a short break, the contest for the first race of this weekend began. Van der Garde started from pole position with the points leader alongside. When the lights went out, the two rivals made the charge into the first turn on the 5.412 km circuit with Leimer right on their tail. The Dutchman won the first battle to take the lead followed closely by Valsecchi and Racing Engineering’s Leimer.
Behind the top three, a charging Marcus Ericsson slipped into fourth with a stellar start from ninth on the grid. Following the iSport driver was Arden’s Luiz Razia and Carlin’s Rio Haryanto.
While van der Garde was pulling away from the eventual winner, he started to wear out his tires and ended up losing the gap he built and by lap eight, Valsecchi took over the lead. From that point on, the Italian was unstoppable, and kept the top spot after the pitstops. Unfortunately for the Dutch racer, Leimer was also able to catch him to take over second, and before van der Garde was able to pit for new tires, Razia and Carlin’s Max Chilton were able to fly past him, after they managed to move ahead of Ericsson who also was struggling with his tires.
After the stop for new tires, the Swiss driver started to lay down hot laps to catch Valsecchi who simply turned fast laps in order to keep Leimer from challenging for the victory. Van der Garde moved back into third, and the top trio kept their positions for the rest of the race with no further threat to one another.
“Finally! I’m really happy because we deserved it in Malaysia and here last week but in the Feature race we did a small mistake with the strategy and at the end we were losing too much time and today finally everything was working well. I’m really happy,” smiled Leimer.
Van der Garde expressed his disappointment by commenting, “I’m not happy. It’s obvious that when you start first and you finish third it feels like losing and I do not like to lose. But, I have to be happy however because this is a good result still for the team, the best this season. I knew it was going to be hard on the tyres but so fast? I did not think it would happen like that. By lap 8, Valsecchi overtook me. I tried to hold him, but it was impossible. Same thing for Leimer. I had no tyre left. All you can do is survive.”
Razia and Chilton were in their own world fighting for fourth while at the same time Ericsson slipped further down the order – he ended eighth which landed the Swede the pole for tomorrow’s Sprint race. Razia took fourth followed by Chilton. Haryanto placed sixth.
DAMS’ rookie Felipe Nasr did not have a great beginning but the Brazilian made up ground in the final laps to end 7th in a show stopper move when he passed both Esteban Gutierrez and Fabrizio Crestani in one single move.
Starting 20th on the grid was Johnny Cecotto for the Addax team who managed to move into seventh; in part due to an early pitstop but in the final laps, he lost ground and ended 10th after Nasr, Ericsson, and Rapax’s Tom Dillmann who moved past the Venezuelan also.
Ericsson and Nasr will start on the front row in tomorrow’s Sprint race; and due to the inverted grid for the top eight positions, Valsecchi will again have to contend with the drivers ahead of him for the standing start but he proved last Sunday, he is capable of getting around his competitors so he might leave Bahrain with four wins in four races!
However, the stewards handed out penalties after today’s race and Nasr has now lost his front row start due to ignoring the marshals who were waving yellow flags! The Brazilian was not alone in having 20 seconds added to his finish time; Gonzalez also received the same penalty for the same infraction. Nasr will now start from 11th on the grid. Mexico’s Gonzalez will start in 18th. Crestani, who did not finish the race today, received a five grid penalty for ignoring the yellow flags. Dillmann ended up moving into the top eight inverted pole slot for Sunday's race.