Series Top Dogs Share Jerez Spoils
Jerez de la Frontera, November 7th -- Heikki Kovalainen, the last-ever World Series by Nissan champion, just missed out on a double win double win at Jerez in Spain this afternoon.The Finn took a dominant win in this morning's sprint race, but a silly mistake denied him a win in the pit-stop race. Kovalainen's morning joy turned to extreme bitterness after the second race when he lost the lead to a penalty for crossing the white line as he exited the pits.
But the early race went fantastically for the Pons Racing man. Kovalainen was never likely to lose after he fitted "joker" tyres for this race. Under normal circumstances drivers have to start with their qualifying tyres, but twice in the season they are to use brand-new "jokers." Several drivers have a joker card left to play this weekend and Kovalainen was one of them.
He didn't pull away at an enormous rate as some joker users have done this year, but Monteiro was never a threat. The Carlin Motorsport driver came home just over two seconds back. Monteiro's team-mate Olivier Pla also wore jokers from fifth on the grid, and moved up to third at the start. But then he was unable to make much impression on the Portuguese when he had the advantage early on, and gradually dropped back.
Jean-Cristophe Ravier watched and waited behind the Carlin duo but endured a dull race. Narain Karthikeyan was never a threat to him -- the Indian had mostly to worry about the joker-shod Tristan Gommendy behind him. Drive of the morning was Enrique Bernoldi's who overtook three cars to move up to seventh and take fastest lap.
The second fell to Monteiro, but only after race leader Heikki Kovalainen was penalized with a drive-through penalty. The Finn was gutted after he was given the punishment for crossing the white line as he exited the pits from his stop. Two others, Milos Pavlovic and Damien Pasini, made the same mistake.
Kovalainen had led the full race distance until the late penalty notification. As in the first race, he had been kept honest by Monteiro without exactly having his mirrors full of the Carlin car. He had kept his two-second lead after both men had stopped and was looking all set to make it a double.
So Monteiro took a grateful win, eight seconds in front of Juan Cruz Alvarez who flew throughout the race on a set of new "joker" tyres. Alvarez started eleventh, made two spots at the start, passed Sergio Hernandez (Saulnier Racing) and made up another three places through the pitstops. His cause was also helped by the retirement of Enrique Bernoldi (GD Racing) and a mid-race spin for Narain Karthikeyan (RC Motorsport), who had been running third at the time.
Adrian Valles was the last man on the podium, so brought a bit of joy back to the Pons Racing garage. The Spanish driver was delighted to have done so well because he had been forced to start on very old tyres.
"It's a shame to lose out because of my mistake this afternoon," said Kovalainen. "I really wanted to end the year on a high. But it has been a great season. This is my first international championship win and obviously it's very important for my career.
"We got some luck today," added Monteiro. "But I guess that was payback for our penalty at the first race of the year! The team has done a great job this year and we are all really happy."
Although Kovalainen was already champion before this weekend, the battle for second in the championship raged throughout. Monteiro needed just a solid first-race result to secure second, but Bernoldi lost third to Jean-Cristophe Ravier in the final standings. Despite very strong race pace (he had fastest lap in both races) his qualifying form compromised his whole weekend.
The World Series by Nissan becomes the World Series by Renault next season after seven successful seasons under the Nissan banner. The new season gets started in May 2005.