The destination of the 2009/2010 GP2 Asia title has been decided during the opening race of the weekend in Bahrain, with iSport International's Davide Valsecchi taking the Drivers honours while the team have taken another big step towards claiming the teams Championship.
Having qualified second on the grid, behind Frenchman Jules Bianchi, Valsecchi wanted a clean start to the race and got one, passing the slow starting Bianchi off the line. However, the second row starters of Javier Villa and Luca Filippi made even better starts and took the lead and second under braking for the first corner. Valsecchi's team mate Oliver Turvey had moved up and was fourth and able to back up Valsecchi during the opening stint.
The pit stops were the deciding factor in this race – the 8th lap saw Javier Villa pit first, and gambled by changing only the tyres on the left of the car and then 3 laps later, Filippi pitted, and when he returned to the track, Javier Villa had passed him, and the iSport driver was in the lead, before his pit stop.
However, Valsecchi had lost his rear gunner when Turvey pitted, and a sticky wheel nut left him down the field. Turvey summed up his race and explained what happened during his pit stop to drop him so far back: “I had a good start; I was up to fourth and right up behind Davide. We had the pit stop; I think it was the right time to make the pit stop as I had a bit of a problem with the rear tyres. Obviously we lost a lot of time in the pit stop; because it was so early in the race it cost a lot of positions. I think we lost about seven seconds. After that the pace was good, my pace at the end of the race was fairly good. We were pretty good today I think we could have possibly had a good shot at being on the podium (if not for the problem in the pit stop) We'll try and clinch the team championship tomorrow and score some points”.
A lap after Filippi had pitted, Valsecchi made his routine pit stop, which all went to plan and returned to the track behind Villa and Filippi.
Further back in the pack, pole man Bianchi and Turvey were both on a charge back up the field, and aiming for the final point scoring position on 8th, and pole for Saturday's sprint race, Bianchi trying to recover after his disastrous start while Turvey was recovering after his pit stop mishap.
With 10 laps to go, Davide had turned up the pace and was soon lapping quicker than the 2 drivers ahead of him, and with 2.2 seconds covering the top 3, Davide could sense a win, and knew he could do it, after his Abu Dhabi win.
He made his first move to take second away from Filippi on lap 26, but ran wide after carrying too much speed into the corner. Undeterred, Davide showed the will and determination that made him the Championship leader by carrying on pressurising Filippi and out braked the MalaysiaQi-Meritus.com driver into the opening corner before charging after the Arden International car of Javier Villa, who was starting to struggle with his tyres.
This left him a sitting duck for Valsecchi, who made his first move to pass at the slow, 50mph hairpin, but a slight mistake exiting the hairpin to hand the lead back to Spaniard Villa, but 4 laps from the end, Valsecchi retook the lead under braking for the opening corner, with Villa putting up no defence.
After that, Valsecchi put his foot down, his head down and took his third win of the series and his fifth podium in 5 races. Behind him, the podium positions were being disputed all the way to the flag, with Villa slipping back to third on the penultimate lap and then only just held off the charging DPR Car of Ricci, and thus denying the chance of an all Italian podium. Ricci had been 10 seconds behind the top 3 at one stage, and at the line was just under 2 tenths of a second off third.
Pole for the sprint race went to the returning Adrian Zaugg, who qualified down in 18th place but drove a masterful race to secure a point and pole for tomorrow.
After the race, the delighted Champion commented on the race: “Everything was perfect. I was really nervous about this race because I felt a lot of pressure to clinch the
Championship this weekend so I was a little bit worried. So today after the start we had the best car of the paddock and the best driver of the paddock. It was really good to win, really good for the team. We are in incredible form at the moment, the car is perfect for me and I am perfect for the car. Tomorrow I will try to win the race but today we did a really good job. The Championship is won now which feels fantastic”.
Third place finisher, Javier Villa, said this about his race performance: “That was an enjoyable race. I made a good start to move into second and was very close to Luca Filippi. Jules Bianchi was slow away from pole and perhaps, if I hadn't had to drive around him, I could have taken the lead straight away.
“I think the team's strategy was correct, in the circumstances, and the car was definitely very quick – my fastest lap confirms that much. I felt very comfortable, but my long second stint eventually took its toll and during the final 15 laps I could feel the rear tyres going off. The last few laps were very tough, but that's a consequence of the gamble we took with our early tyre stop.
“It is disappointing that things worked out like that, but our next race supports the Bahrain Grand Prix. There will be lots of F1 rubber on the track and I believe our car will work even better in those conditions.”
After the 5th round of the 2009/2010 GP2 Asia Series, Davide Valsecchi has 45 points, 29 points ahead of his nearest challengers, team mate Oliver Turvey and Luca Filippi, both on 16 points, while in the Teams Championship, iSport International are the favourites to add the teams title to the drivers title.
The sprint race will start at 1.10pm local time, and is live on British Eurosport 2, with the coverage starting at 10am.