By Nancy Knapp Schilke
- Grosjean takes 1st pole of new season
- Tight battle in cold Turkey for pole
- Bird and Filippi end 2nd and 3rd in qualifying
After the morning rain in Turkey, the GP2 drivers took to the Istanbul Park circuit for the first qualifying round in the 2011 GP2 main series. It was a close finish for the first Pole position of the new season but in the end the GP2 Asia Series Champion Romain Grosjean took the top honors with the fastest lap at 1:34.398.
The track was dry but the temperatures were very low, making cold conditions during the qualifying session but the contest was a hot battle between the competitors. Besides Grosjean turning fast times, Fabio Leimer (Rapax), Jules Bianchi (ART) and Dani Clos (Racing Engineering) were among the first to trade off the provisional pole position with Grosjean. Yet it was the DAMS driver who laid down a hot lap before one of the four red flags forced the drivers into the pits while the track was cleaned up.
Tomorrow the aim for sure will be to win the race.
"It was a good day! We had a bit of rain this morning to put more suspense into the qualifying session [laughs] but the team is doing a very good job, we have a good base set up, and we could make it work here for the qualy," said Grosjean. "This session was quite difficult because we had a lot of yellow flags and slow cars in between the laps, but it was a good session, even if I couldn't improve with the second set!"
Toward the final 20 minutes however, the top contenders changed with L. Filippi and Sam Bird racing toward the top spot. Filippi came close with a 1:34.709 in his Super Nova Racing car but he was beat out in the end by iSport International's Bird, who had a 1:34.483. While both came close, they could not steal the pole out of the hands of Grosjean.
Bird will start on the front row, missing the best time by .085 seconds. "It wasn't an easy session by any means," said Bird who added his thoughts on what to expect in the first race, "There are a lot of factors that will come into it, and I've just got to do my job the best I can, get a good start, and who knows? We'll have to wait and see, but he's going to be in for a hard race, and I'm sure I am as well."
Filippi slots third, off the front row by just three-tenths of a second. He said "... finally I had a clear lap and I was able to push 100%. I was fastest in the second sector, and this gives me also a good feeling for the race: I think the car is fast and we are fast in sector two, so this means maybe we have a good balance, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow. For me it's great to be sitting here now because we didn't even know if I was coming to race here, so I was really motivated: I needed to prove to my team that they made a good choice, and now we have a start and can go from here to make something more."
Bianchi ended on the second row in fourth with his best lap of 1:34.784 followed closely in time by Clos and Team AirAsia's Luiz Razia.
There is however one driver who will have to sit out the rest of the weekend. Carlin driver Mikhail Aleshin took a hard hit during qualifying into Turn 12 when his car did not stop. The team is investigating what went wrong. Aleshin was injured, sustaining a fractured metacarpal in his left hand.
“I braked in my normal place in corner 12, but the car didn’t stop. The team are investigating now what the problem may have been. Obviously I am very disappointed not to be able to race this weekend and sorry that I couldn’t score any points for the team,” he said.
Knowing the competition in GP2 is always tight, Grosjean commented on tomorrow's race: "Tomorrow the aim for sure will be to win the race: we have to work on our race set up but hopefully it will go quite well, we can tune it a little bit with the data we have from qualy, and try to go for the win."
The drivers will have their shot at taking the first win of 2011 tomorrow in front of the Formula One teams and fans. Sunday will see them on track again for the second race.
A post qualifying penalty was handed to Air Asia's Davide Valsecchi who spun on track and before the red flag, he tried to get turned around but ended up rolling his car downhill while cars were streaming past so he was handed a ten place grid penalty for driving in the opposite direction.