DAMS rookie Christian Vietoris managed to stop a Davide Valsecchi juggernaut on the first weekend of the new GP2 Asia season as the drivers took to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit for their inaugural meeting.
iSport’s Valsecchi, who is one of several participants to have also competed in the main series this year, looked to be unstoppable as he topped the practice and qualifying sessions then took a feature race win.
But he couldn’t quite defeat the reversed grid for the sprint race, ending up in second place but claiming 19 points out of a maximum total of 20 during the weekend.
Elsewhere on the grid no less than five British drivers took to the track for what was mostly their first taste of the series.
James Jakes, who returns to Super Nova after competing for the team last year, had a particularly strong weekend and scored a feature race podium to open his account in the driver standings.
Sam Bird, debuting for ART, and Oliver Turvey, who is Valsecchi’s team-mate at iSport, also both enjoyed a solid weekend.
Practice: Valsecchi tops first session of year
Valsecchi kicked off the 2009/10 GP2 Asia season with the fastest lap in the Yas Marina practice session after recording a time of 1:53.689.
Valsecci was 1.4 seconds clear of ART rookie Marcus Ericsson, with DPR’s Michael Herck a little more than a tenth of a second behind him. Ericsson’s team-mate Bird was the highest-placed Brit in sixth with Jakes eighth.
The other three British contenders were towards the bottom of the field with Barwa’s Max Chilton in 17th, Valsecchi’s team-mate Oliver Turvey in 18th and Scuderia Coloni’s Will Bratt in 23rd.
Qualifying: Valsecchi takes season’s first pole
Valsecci was able to translate his good form in practice into a maiden pole position with a timesheet-topping lap of 1:51.964 – his fourth of the session.
The Italian took the lead on his first flying lap then successively fought off Coloni’s Roldan Rodriguez, Meritus’ Diego Nunes and Ocean’s Fabio Leimer to hold onto the position. A promising challenge by Filippi was felled by a gearbox failure.
Bird qualified a stunning second in his first GP2 event with Leitmer eventually third and Filippi fourth. Jakes lined up seventh with Turvey 18th, Chilton 21st and Bratt 23rd in a field of 24 cars.
Race one: Valsecchi wins the battle for the lead
Valsecci and iSport took a somewhat foreseeable victory in the feature race after dominating the weekend to this point. Despite losing the lead twice the Italian eventually secured the race with a a 5.4-second gap to second-placed Filippi.
Bird took the lead in the first corner but Valsecchi swiftly re-passed him as Filippi and Jakes fought for third place. With Jakes winning through Bird appeared next in their sights and was passed by both to drop to fourth. Meanwhile Jakes lost out to Filippi who, having secured second, set his sights on hunting down Valsecchi.
Jakes was the first into the pits, followed by Valsecchi one lap later. Filippi pitted from the lead on lap 12 just as a safety car was deployed and managed to stay ahead of Valsecchi at the restart, with Jakes running in third ahead of Bird.
Valsecchi retook the lead on lap 19 in a thrilling side-by-side manoeuvre then put in consecutive quickest lap times to drive his victory home. A brief second safety car period in the very last stages of the race did little to affect its outcome.
Filippi kept Jakes in check for second but the Yorkshireman enjoyed his first podium since the 2008/09 series’ fifth round in Malaysia earlier this year.
Speaking after the race, he said: “I always knew we would be quick in the race. With my start, I could go up to the front really quick. Qualifying has been the area where we struggled a little bit. We haven’t managed to get fully on with the tyres and to get the best possible use out and I knew in the race we would be pretty strong.”
Bird was forced to retire in the penultimate lap following a brake problem but his bad fortune promoted Turvey to eighth place and the reversed grid pole position for the sprint race. Bratt finished 12th and Chilton 16th.
Race two: Vietoris stalls Valsecchi’s charge
Vietoris led from lights to flag in the sprint race after a perfect getaway from third on the grid. Valsecchi charged from eighth to second but was unable to catch Vietoris and make a clean sweep of the weekend.
Polesitter Turvey had a slow start that saw him fall to fourth place with Vietoris, Super Nova’s Josef Kral and Ocean’s Alexander Rossi passing him into the first corner. Turvey’s front-row partner Johnny Cecotto of Trident had an even poorer start, falling to seventh behind Filippi and Valsecchi.
The Italian set his sights on teammate Turvey and quickly overtook him for fourth place. The safety car was deployed when Bratt collided with Fabio Leimer and the field backed up behind it. At the restart, Vietoris easily stayed in control while Valsecchi climbed to third, taking second on the final lap.
Kral took third and Turvey fourth. Jakes was 10th, and Chilton 17th. Bird had an eventful race, gaining places through overtakes, losing them through spins, and setting the fastest lap on his way to an eventual 18th. Bratt’s incident meant he was not classified.
- Davide Valsecchi, iSport: 19 points
- Christian Vietoris, DAMS: 9 points
- Luca Filippi, Meritus: 8 points
- Josef Král, Super Nova: 8 points
- Alexander Rossi, Ocean: 7 points
- James Jakes, Super Nova: 6 points
- Oliver Turvey, iSport: 4 points
- Johnny Cecotto, Trident: 3 points
- Edoardo Piscopo, DAMS: 0 points
- Michael Herck, DPR: 0 points
- Roldán Rodríguez, Coloni: 0 points
- Marcus Ericsson, ART: 0 points
- Luiz Razia, Barwa Addax: 0 points
- Will Bratt, Coloni: 0 points
- Diego Nunes, Meritus: 0 points
- Rodolfo González, Arden: 0 points
- Charles Pic, Arden: 0 points
- Daniel Zampieri, Piquet: 0 points
- Max Chilton, Barwa Addax: 0 points
- Fabio Leimer, Ocean: 0 points
- Sam Bird, ART: 0 points
- Vladimir Arabadzhiev, Piquet: 0 points
- Plamen Kralev, Trident: 0 points
- Giacomo Ricci, DPR: 0 points