In just his third race in the championship Robin Frijns scored his first GP2 win, with an early pitstop propelling him to victory in the Feature Race in Barcelona.
The Dutchman had qualified a very creditable eighth in his Hilmer Motorsport car but his challenge for the victory owed as much to his solid starting spot as it did the decision to make him mandatory pitstop at the earliest opportunity, swapping the soft compound tyres for the harder Pirellis to take him to the end of the race.
Frijns pitted from sixth place, having made up two spots when Fabio Leimer and James Calado clashed on the run to the opening corner. As the remainder of the front runners made their won stops in the following laps Frijns moved back up the order, battling past Sam Bird to as the Briton emerged from the pits after his own stop a lap after Frijns’.
Bird and leader Marcus Ericsson had pitted together, with the DAMS driver keeping the lead, now with Frijns his nearest contender. However, the poleman would be caught out trying to pass Kevin Giovesi, one of the half dozen drivers to elect for a different strategy. An Ericsson stutter behind the backmarker allowed Frijns into the lead, and then Jolyon Palmer and Sam Bird to swarm over him. The pair tried to go either side of Ericsson through the first element of the chicane, Palmer made it safely through on the inside but Bird clipped Ericsson, damaging the front-right corner of the #1 corner and putting an end to the Swede’s race.
The incident had allowed Frijns a lead over Palmer – another driver reaping the benefits of an early stop – Bird and Stefano Coletti. Though it took until the final laps for Frijns to pull out any decisive advantage over the chasing battle Palmer’s primary concern was keeping Bird behind him, Bird equally concerned by points leader Coletti behind him. It took until the final laps for the battle for the podium places to explode into life.
After running third early on Felipe Nasr had lost out through the pitstops, but remained patient before pushing forward in the final dozen laps to move forward, passing Alexander Rossi for fifth before quickly catching the trio battling for second.
With the same –slightly untidy – outbraking move at turn five he passed Coletti and Bird on successive laps and then passed Carlin teammate Palmer exiting turn two – though he was lucky not to damage both cars as his front wing caught the right rear of Palmer’s car. Palmer’s loss of momentum gave Bird the chance he had waiting for much of the race. Bird ranged up around the outside of the right-hander at turn four only for Palmer to ease him wide onto the grass and gravel prompting Bird into a spin that would take him back across the track and into retirement.
The incident allowed Frijns’ Hilmer teammate Jon Lancaster to find a way past Coletti and onto the back of Palmer and though he was unable to find a way past on track he was promoted onto the podium behind Nasr by a 20 second penalty for Palmer for pushing Bird off.
Coletti held onto third, with Tom Dillmann salvaging some points for RUSSIAN TIME after Bird’s exit. Dillmann had been another to choose a different strategy, taking his pitstop at half distance completely both stints on the harder tyres available having survived relatively unscathed from an accident that put both Nathanael Berthon and Sergio Canamasas out of the race, the former luck not to roll after he launched over the rear of Canamasas and Dillmann.
Dillmann’s stop initially put him down in 12th, but with fresher tyres he should have had only forward progress ahead of him.
His first set-back was being pushed off by Stephane Richelmi who had fallen back having started the race on the front row alongside Ericsson. The DAMS driver pushed Dillmann off as he looked around the outside of turn four – a fore-shadowing of the incident that would put Bird out of the race. After recovering – and eventually passing Richelmi in a straight-forward move at turn one – he caught Coletti, Lancaster and Palmer in the final laps, and passed both Coletti’s Rapax entry and Lancaster by simply powering around the outside of turn three. However, pushing for a three-peat on the final lap to take third from Palmer he understeered wide, dropping him back to what would become fifth.
Alexander Rossi took sixth, ending the race keeping later stopper Kevin Ceccon at bay with Johnny Cecotto seventh having led the way for most of the race before stopping with ten laps to go. Rio Haryanto and the punished Palmer completed the top ten.