Sebastien Bourdais won the Superleague opener at Monza and charged from the back of the reverse grid to take third in the next race, securing the €100,000 prize for the weekend’s top driver for the second time in two appearances.
The former F1 and Champ Car driver joined the football-themed series at the previous outing in Estoril, representing the Spanish club Sevilla and winning the ‘dash for the cash’ shoot-out between the top six cars.
Scheduling constraints at Monza meant there was no third ‘money’ race and the prizes were awarded based on who performed best across the two point-scoring races.
The Frenchman’s victory was all the more remarkable because he was driving for a scratch team, Reid Motorsports, formed in a week to run the Sevilla and Galatasaray cars after Ultimate Signature pulled out of Superleague. The squad is run by former Ultimate Formula 3 team-manager Anthony Reid using workshop space borrowed from Ray Mallock’s World Touring Car team.
Bourdais and Esteban Guerrieri of Greek club Olympiacos were comfortably the two dominant drivers of the weekend, qualifying on the front row for the first race and finishing 1-2 in it. This put them on the back row for the second race, but they fought through to take third and fourth.
Ahead of them in race two was Tottenham’s Craig Dolby, who followed up his fifth place in the first race with the runner-up spot in the second, despite starting 14th in the 18 car field.
The Melton Mowbray driver was the third-best scorer overall behind Bourdais and Guerrieri, allowing him to close the gap on championship leaders Liverpool with two races to go. But Reds’ driver Adrian Valles was fourth in the first race and fifth in the second, minimising the damage.
He leads Dolby by 49 points, with 100 up for grabs in the final races – although Superleague awards points down to last place, which means Valles is guaranteed 10 just by starting both races. Max Wissel of FC Basel, in third before the weekend, suffered a disappointing outing, with a ninth place and a mechanical retirement while running strongly, and was overtaken in the standings by Guerrieri.
Dolby went into the weekend with a single point advantage over Wissel, but the Swiss club saw its title hopes vanish after becoming one of the biggest victims of widespread mechanical problems with the series car and also getting caught up in shambolic pitlane scenes during race two.
The narrow and overcrowded Monza pitlane could not handle the sheer quantity of the bulky 750-horsepower, V-12 powered Superleague cars, with pitboxes so closely packed together that exiting drivers were forced into swerves, wheelspins and erratic manoeuvring to avoid rival crews as they worked on neighbouring cars.
Wissel attempted to pull away from his stop in the second race, only to find AC Milan’s Giorgio Pantano halted in the main pitlane, unable to get into his own pitbox. Wissel took evasive action and appeared to stall behind the GP2 champion’s car, prompting rival mechanics to run out to push him clear.
One sudden wheelspin later and he was on his way, leaving bodies tumbling across the pitlane into the path of other cars and prompting an episode of violent finger-pointing in the FC Basel garage as a rival crewman gave vent to his complaints.
Wissel’s race was already compromised, but it ended a few laps later as his car failed and he was forced to retire. An even unluckier victim of the unreliable series car was Corinthians’ Antonio Pizzonia, who was on course for a podium in each race when he twice lost power and slipped back down the field, finishing 10th and 9th.
Britain’s Jonathan Kennard also had cause to curse on his return to the series, subbing for Enrique Bernoldi in the Flamengo car. Mechanical problems prevented him from setting a lap in qualifying – Dolby norrowly escaped the same fate, managing only a single flying lap – and he fared little better in race one.
This at least gave him a front row start for the second race, but it ended almost immediately for him when Pantano came close to jumping the rolling start from the second row and went wheel-to-wheel with him into the first corner. They clashed and Kennard was sent spinning off.
Pantano, who had a miserable weekend, then proved to be a moving roadblock that allowed polesitter Pedro Petiz of Sporting Lisbon to build what would turn out to be a race-winning lead.
Rangers’ John Martin saw his weekend start badly, with a lack of running time in practice leading to a poor qualifying result. He went on to finish 11th and 12th in the two races and lies ninth in the standings.
Tottenham’s Dolby still holds out hope of the championship, although his task now is similar to that faced last year by Valles during his unsuccessful attempt to chase down Davide Rigon’s Beijing Guoan car.
He said: “The first few laps were unbelievable and very aggressive, as I knew I had to be. I needed to catch Max in the championship which meant finishing ahead. We caught up and passed before his problem so I did what I’d set out to do.
“After the issues in qualifying, I thought it would be difficult, but we never gave up. We came fifth in the first race with an engine problem which we fixed and came through from the back of the grid, passing all the people who had problems in the pit stops before they got there.
“I showed a few people that I am not going to back down and if my car is on the inside I will stay on the inside. A few people tried to push me on to the grass but I went wheel-to-wheel with them. For Jarama, the championship is still wide open so I will definitely be giving it large.”
The final races of the season will be held at Jarama in Spain on November 8th.