Sam Bird sets the pace in Imola
iSport International's driver goes quickest in Practice Session this morning
The final round of the 2011 GP2 Asia Series opened this morning at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola with two practice sessions, giving drivers more track time to learn the new layout. It was Sam Bird at iSport International who set the best laptime of the two sessions in 1:28.312, two tenths faster than Giedo van der Garde at Barwa Addax Team.
In the first thirty minute practice session, van der Garde proved that he means business this weekend by setting the quickest laptime of a 1:29.095 and leaving his rivals to chase after him. The start of the session saw Lotus ART's and Series' leader Jules Bianchi set the early pace, with teammate and GP3 Series Champion Esteban Gutierrez in tow. But as the clock ticked down, rookie Andrea Caldarelli at Ocean Racing was the first driver to break the 1:30 barrier, improving Bianchi's time by six tenths.
Whilst the young Italian was topping the session, van der Garde made his way up the timing sheet, first edging Bianchi out of P2, before taking control of the session. His best laptime was never beaten and a last minute effort from Carlin's Mikhail Aleshin, Rapax's Fabio Leimer and Arden's Jolyon Palmer was simply not enough. The session was marked by two minor incidents: in the first half iSport's Marcus Ericsson stopped at Turn 5, while Romain Grosjean at Dams stopped at Turn 6 in the second half. The session was under yellow flags during both incidents. The two racers missed the second session along with GP2 returnee Luca Filippi at Scuderia Coloni due to mechanical gremlins.
At the restart, Bird who had previously ended the first practice in last position was quick to recover. He went top ten minutes into the session and became the first driver to break the 1:29 barrier. He was soon followed by Dani Clos, Van der Garde, Leimer, Nathanael Berthon, Michael Herck and Max Chilton, but Bird's best laptime of 1:28.312 was to stay unbeaten throughout the remainder of the session. In the dying minutes, Gutierrez lost control of his car at Turn 6 and damaged his front wing.