Grosjean holds on for victory in Istanbul
Frenchman holds off for Sam Bird for season opener win
Romain Grosjean led the field from lights to flag to claim the season opening feature race in Istanbul Park this afternoon, but had to fight for it the whole way: Sam Bird kept the Frenchman honest as the pair scrapped all race long to cross the line just 0.3 seconds apart, and more than 35 seconds ahead of nearest rival Jules Bianchi.
When the lights went out Grosjean got away well, with Dani Clos making a fast getaway to slot into P2, pushing Luca Filippi wide and with Bird slotting in behind the Spaniard, but behind them chaos reigned as Esteban Gutierrez and Kevin Mirocha tangled, compacting the rest of the field and leaving no space for Fabio Leimer, who was launched over Max Chilton into a spectacular roll and prompting a safety car period to allow the marshals to clean up the mess.
Bird made short work of Clos when the race went live 4 laps later, slicing inside the Spaniard at the end of the rear straight and was straight after the race leader, while Filippi followed suit on teammate Christian Vietoris for P5, and was soon all over the rear of Bianchi: the Frenchman knew he had to get moving and tried to squeeze by Clos but went too deep, handing the Italian a clear run through.
With pitstop strategies being developed on the spot the front pair were walking away from the rest of the field: Filippi was the only man able to run at their pace and soon returned to the top 3 when Clos ran wide at turn 10. The Italian was the first of the front runners to pit on lap 14, coming out with Johnny Cecotto between him and clear air: the Venezuelan ran wide and spun back into Filippi, putting the pair out on the spot.
Grosjean and Bird pitted together two laps later, and with the Englishman slightly delayed he cut into his rival's lead lap by lap: the pair were running 3 seconds a lap faster than most of the field, and their personal race wasn't over until the very end, with Grosjean just holding on for the win. Behind them Bianchi fought back to overtake Giedo van der Garde and Clos to be best of the rest.
The Dutchman crossed the line ten seconds behind Bianchi, while Stefano Coletti held off Luiz Razia's constant pressure for fifth place. Charles Pic sliced through a number of drivers late in the race to claim seventh, while Clos faded in the closing stages but had enough to take eighth place ahead of Marcus Ericsson. But all of the paddock was already cheering for Grosjean and Bird, who opened the 2011 season in style with an epic battle for victory.