Nancy Knapp Schilke
Vietoris slams fastest time in rainy Belgium for GP2 Series pole
The GP2 Series championship is coming down to the wire this weekend at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium for the penultimate round of the 2011 season. Spa is known for the weather being very changeable and the morning practice was a good indication for the drivers to become aware that anything can go wrong, and it did for the championship points leader Romain Grosjean. After setting the fastest time in the free practice, the Frenchman failed to set a top laptime in the afternoon qualifying, relegating him to eighth on the starting grid for the Feature race tomorrow.
This was fun from the first minute on.
Instead it was Christian Vietoris for Racing Engineering who dominated in qualifying to grab the pole position with his flying lap of 2:18.345. Second belonged to Luca Filippi with his best lap of 2:19.779 in his Scuderia Coloni car; 1.434 seconds off the pace of Vietoris. Charles Pic was third best at 2:20.056 for the Barwa Addax Team.
“This was fun from the first minute on. We were so much faster than anyone else. In the wet there is really very little we can still improve. I had several good laps but wasn't expecting pole with such a big time gap. Maybe we can win tomorrow's race,” said an enthusiastic Vietoris.
In the morning practice, which was held between the two Formula One practices, the track was just slightly damp in the beginning and all the drivers opted for the slick tires. The forecast for the rain to increase came true as the drivers dived into the pits to take on the wet tires. Grosjean laid down an earlier fast lap that stood as the conditions worsened.
By qualifying, the weather remained the same and visibility was hampered but still the GP2 drivers did not waste time as they started the battle for the pole as soon as the green flag was shown. One of the first to set a top time was Vietoris. With standing water causing the spray to hinder those following another competitor, all the drivers were searching for a clear track to lay down flying laps.
The German sitting on top did not take any chances but at the same time, he kept looking for a faster time, especially as the track was starting to dry out on the racing line. Vietoris was not alone as his rivals were challenging him for the coveted pole; amongst them were Pic, Lotus ART’s Jules Bianchi, Filippi, Super Nova Racing’s Adam Carroll, Scuderia Coloni’s Michael Herck, and iSport International’s Marcus Ericsson. Before long, however, it was just Vietoris and Filippi who broke the 2 minutes and 20 second barrier as they chased for the pole position.
In the post qualifying press conference, Vietoris commented, “We are very fast in wet conditions especially. And we show during the whole session as soon as the first stint that we were already faster than everybody else and then we improved in the second one on the second set of tyres. I’m pretty comfortable in wet conditions. We are working in the right direction and everything looks good.”
Starting on the front row, Filippi improved his time as the session continued and looked at the end ready to take the pole. He explained, “Today we had a good chance to take it (pole) again, but there was a yellow flag in my last lap and I had to lift it. I don’t know if I would have been able to take pole, but for sure I was improving and I decided to stay safe and slow down. It is very good anyway because starting from the first row tomorrow gives us a good chance to go for the win."
Added the Italian, “I’m happy because now it is the third consecutive first row in three races with Coloni so it is great. It’s a bit of a shame that we could not get pole position once however.”
Pic slots on the second row and weather depending could pull out the early lead when the lights go out. He held the top spot briefly and he explained what happened on his final lap when it was noticed that he slowed down. “We had like two good laps to do. I made the first one and I moved to P1. I decided to slow down for one lap and when I was preparing to push for my second fastest flying lap I had a problem with the engine. First I was thinking that it was the engine, but maybe it was not this. I don’t know yet.
“But anyway, P3 is a good place to start tomorrow,” added the Frenchman. “Now we have to be focused on tomorrow and see how the weather will be because we are not sure on this also. We have to work and prepare a good solution for both situations.”
Starting fourth will be Bianchi with a 2:20.211 followed by Herck whose best lap was a 2:20.748. Also on the third row is Ericsson at a 2:20.858. Carroll’s best at 2:21.491 places him on the fourth row with the points leader.
Grosjean’s best was a 2:21.715 but still the Frenchman had an edge over the only racer who could stop his drive to take the 2011 title this weekend. Giedo van der Garde did not fare well in qualifying either and with is best lap of 2:21.956, he slots 11th for Saturday’s race. Now the Dutchman will have to push his Addax team car to the limits tomorrow to finish ahead of Grosjean to keep his title hopes alive.
Davde Valsecchi was found to have set his best sector time under the yellow flag brought out by Charles Pic. The Team AirAsia was therefore found handed a ten spot penalty from the GP2 Series officials and will start from last on the grid.
On Saturday morning, GP2 Series announced that Charles Pic has been excluded from the qualifying results. Please see: Pic excluded