Nancy Knapp Schilke, GP2 correspondent
DAMS continues to be one of the powerhouse teams in the GP2 Series, and that was again proved today when Davide Valsecchi laid down the fastest lap time in qualifying for the 2012 opening round in Malaysia. The layout of the Sepang circuit always for a lot of action and today’s qualifying was close. Valsecchi did his flying lap of 1:45.494 early in the session and while challenged, not one of his rivals was able to steal the coveted pole.
"First of all, I'd like to thank my engineers and mechanics who have given me such a well-prepared car. I'm very happy for them - and also for myself - but the job isn't done yet as we'll have to confirm our performance in the race. In any case, we've got off to a great start,” Valsecchi said who reminded the media that the pole is now worth two points, instead of just one.
As for the race tomorrow, the pole winner commented, “There is a lot of strong teams and good drivers so we will see tomorrow what will happen during the race. What’s certain is that we are starting in a good position to hope for a good result this weekend. We were ok this morning in free practice. We were really good in qualifying. I really hope to have a good race tomorrow. I really hope that we will have the good set up for the race and that I will make a good start. It’s not really easy here and then we will see. The temperatures are really hot here so for the driver it is quite hot so it will be key also tomorrow. I hope I can have a good result.”
I gave everything.
Luiz Razia gave it a good shot for the Arden International team with his best lap at 1:45.554. Razia had to settle for second by a margin of 0.060 seconds, and now hopes to overtake the pole winner from the standing start as they head into the first turn.
“I gave everything,” said Razia. “That’s the best we could do today. I’m glad that the car was really good. It was really close today. I think the team and myself are just really glad that we are in this position for the first race. Now the rules have changed so tomorrow there will be less downforce, different tyres and a heavy car. Let’s see! It’s only the first race and I think everybody is really looking forward to having a good race.”
Carlin’s Max Chilton clicked off a fast lap of 1:45.558 to take the third fastest time; missing the front row by just four thousandths of a second. Still it was his best qualifying run so Chilton was pleased with his efforts today.
“It’s a brilliant feeling but it’s a mixed feeling as well because I got bad traffic on the quick lap and I also met a driver on the last corner. It cost me nearly two and half tenths so it looked like we were on the way to an even better day but I can’t argue with third. It’s my best result and I’m right at the front so as long as I can get a good start tomorrow I should get some good points,” Chilton said.
Stefano Coletti had his flying lap at 1:45.577 for the Coloni team to place fourth on the grid, and he was only 0.083 seconds off the pace of the pole winner.
The third row consists of Racing Engineering’s Fabio Leimer with his best of 1:45.588, which was just 0.094 seconds from landing on the second row. Starting sixth is James Calado for the Lotus team with a 1:45.683; slightly under 1.5 tenths of a second.
Jolyon Palmer was fastest in the only practice the GP2 drivers have during each event. The iSport International driver had a best lap of 1:45.758, and will start seventh. Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde slots eighth with a 1:45.773.
Rounding out the top ten were Fabio Onidi for the Coloni with a best lap time of 1:45.810. Next to him is the defending champion Felipe Nasr with a 1:45.942 for the DAMS team.
Nasr said, “My tenth place isn't too bad but I'd have liked to do a bit better. This being said it's my first race in GP2 and I'd like to thank my team for all the help they've given me. I'll do my best to give them a good result this weekend."
The closeness of times this year matches the battles of the past seasons. Yellow flags also play havoc on the grid when one ignores them and gets caught. GP2 officials watch for one driver impeding another far more often than most series. That was the case today when Onidi was found guilty of blocking Rodolfo Gonzalez and the price is the loss of three grid positions so instead of starting ninth, he will start back in 12th in the first of the two races.
That moves Nasr up to ninth on the grid and the Addax team driver, Johnny Cecotto Jr. with a fast lap of 1:46.012.
The results of the featured race on Saturday will determine the grid for Sunday’s sprint race as the top eight will be inverted with the finisher who finishes eighth on the pole for the second race.