The less fashionable end of the GP2 grid came away from the opening weekend of the season with much to celebrate after Arden, Ocean, DPR and Rapax kept the expected front-runners well away from the podium.
Charles Pic won the opening race for Arden, ahead of Giacomo Ricci of DPR and Dani Clos of Racing Engineering, while the honours in the sprint race went to Ocean’s Fabio Leimer who beat Rapax team-mates Luiz Razia and Pastor Maldonado.
By contrast, GP2 Asia team champions iSport could only manage a pair of fifth places courtesy of Oliver Turvey – driver champion Davide Valsecchi took only a 10th and an 11th.
And ART Grand Prix, the defending main series team champions, suffered a torrid weekend with pre-season driver favourite Jules Bianchi crashing out on the first corner of the feature race after qualifying on pole. He went on to finish 12th in the sprint.
His team-mate Sam Bird did better – forced to pit for a new nose at the start of the first race as a result of the incident between Bianchi and Christian Vietoris, he battled back through the field to take ninth and earned a bonus point for fastest lap.
Having missed pole in the semi-reversed grid second race by a place, he started ninth. Again he gained positions, this time finishing fourth.
He said: “I am obviously disappointed to only walk away from Barcelona with four points, given the pace we had here. The race one incident really cost me but these things are part of racing, so you just have to accept them and get on with it.
“But the main thing is that we have shown that we are working very constructively as a team to produce a highly competitive package. The car was really strong car this weekend and I want to say a big thanks to everyone at ART GP for all the support and hard work.”
Turvey said of his feature race performance: “I didn’t have the best start, I stalled a little bit off the line. It was quite a big mess into turn one, I saw two guys crash in front of me and managed to avoid them and actually pick up a few positions in the process.”
And, talking about the sprint race, he added: “I had a much better start to the race, then the first few laps the car was quite strong, I was holding good pace. I was expected the others to drop off later in the race so I was thinking we were looking strong for the podium.
“Then we just seemed to lack pace from about lap five onwards. There was no particular problems with the car, no balance issues, just lacking performance. ”
Max Chilton could not match the success of his Ocean Racing Technology colleague Leimer, finishing 18th and 16th. He said: “I am very satisfied with my performance, but of course you can’t have a good result without a good starting position, so that affected the entire weekend. The car is very good and continues to evolve.”
As it happened:
Bird set the fastest time by almost half a second, recording a 1min 28.511 to finish the session ahead of Pic and Perez. Bianchi was fourth despite an early mishap, hitting Perez on the warm-up lap. All the fastest times were set in the opening half of the session, with the second spent working on set-up for qualifying.
Bianchi took over from Bird as flag-carrier for ART, setting the fastest time in qualifying and earning the first points of the championship in the process. They, Perez, Vietoris and Pic fought out a close opening half to the session, Bianchi’s 1min 27.727 taking the honours. In the generally slower second half, Turvey inserted himself into the running before a spin by Bianchi in the closing stages brought the day to an early end with the Frenchman ahead of Perez, Bird, Vietoris, Turvey and Pic.
The excellent form of the ART drivers in practice and qualifying did not extent to the start of race one, both Bianchi and Bird failing to get away sharply while Perez and Vietoris attacked – and collided in front of them.
Perez escaped with the lead, but Bianchi and Vietoris were eliminated on the spot and Bird was forced to pit, sinking him to the back of the field while Pic, Ricci, Maldonado, Clos and Turvey set off up the road in pursuit.
A sticking right rear tyre in his pitstop cost Perez the win, dropping him to fourth, and giving the win to Pic while Maldonado faded.
Bird’s recovery raised eyebrows, blasting through the field to ninth but running out of laps while homing in on Leimer in the eighth place that decided pole for race two.
A delay to clear up oil from Perez’ sick car, spread liberally around the circuit during the warm-up lap, could not prevent Leimer leading from lights to flag to take victory.
Rapax team-mates Razia and Maldonado fought through the whole race over which podium places they would occupy, while behind them Pic, Clos and Turvey fell victim one-by-one to Bird’s charge from ninth.
An excursion into the gravel prevented him hunting down the top three and he settled for fourth, ahead of Turvey who successfully defending his position despite an uncompetitive car.