Stefano Coletti took his sixth career GP2 Series victory in changeable conditions in a thrilling second race at Hockenheim on Sunday. Starting from 5th place on the grid courtesy of his 4th place finish in race one, the Monegasque was one of the few who chose to start on slick dry tyres, despite the track being wet. A late safety car meant for a tight finish as Coletti had to fend off fellow slick starter Felipe Nasr and ART’s Stoffel Vandoorne to the flag.
While sunshine and soaring temperatures graced the Hockenheim circuit for Saturday’s first race, the clouds and heavy rain were the order of the day for race two. On pole due to his eighth place finish on Saturday was Nathanael Berthon (Venezuela GP Lazarus); the top eight reversed making the grid order.
Off the line, Berthon made as good as start as one can make off a wet grid, and took an easy lead into the first corner. The top four was unchanged but Coletti and Nasr were quickly falling behind the wet tyre runners. Race one winner Mitch Evans made a fantastic start and moved past Jolyon Palmer; Palmer ran wide at turn two and dropped down the field. The safety car was called before the end of the first lap as Trident’s Johnny Cecotto and DAMS’ Stéphane Richelmi collided. Richelmi’s car then caught fire and was the first retirement of the race. Cecotto continued but would have a nightmare race from then on; spinning countless times and struggling with the conditions.
After the safety car came in, Evans got past race leader Berthon who was struggling with grip levels. The New Zealander however never looked like he was going to repeat his impressive form on Sunday as the man he beat the previous day Vandoorne was closing hand over fist. The Belgian in the ART got past after several laps of pressure to become the third different leader. As Vandoorne began to extend his lead, Evans was slipping further down the field; MP Motorsport’s Marco Sørensen the next to steam past the erstwhile leader.
Around this time, the track was beginning to dry out considerably, although off line it remained treacherous. The leaders seemed to be more conservative than others about choosing the right moment to pit and rightly so. Down the field, there was more desperation. With a championship at stake, surprisingly it was Palmer who took the gamble first and he pitted on lap 10 for slick tyres after seeing Coletti set the fastest lap of the race, beating leader Vandoorne. The rest of the field then followed in except those out front. Coletti emerged in 6th place, evenly poised for an attack on the frontrunners.
Vandoorne and Sørensen needed something to stem the inevitable tide of the slick shod cars eating into their ever decreasing forty five second lead. And it happened. Vandoorne’s team-mate Takuya Izawa spun his car and beached it in the gravel, bringing out the second safety car. This gave the two leaders the ideal opportunity to pit under safety car conditions and rejoin in the plum seat for victory.
But as fate would have it, the rain started once more, just as everyone had moved onto dry rubber. As the safety car pulled in it was Coletti who looked the more dangerous. Vandoorne took the lead but lost it almost immediately in the slippery conditions at the second hairpin; the Belgian running wide after out-braking himself. Sørensen was now in the lead but Coletti would be passed Vandoorne by the entry to the Mercedes Arena and chasing the lead. Nasr also managed to get past Vandoorne two laps later and Sørensen fell to Coletti, Nasr and Vandoorne later on.
As the race entered its closing stages, Coletti had a comfortable, albeit small gap to the second and third placed cars of Nasr and Vandoorne; but the chasing pair were reducing the lead lap after lap. The race became a timed event and time was running out for them. Coletti responded with a new fastest lap of the race and despite the efforts of Nasr, the Monegasque was able to hold on. Further back, Sørensen was all alone in 4th, a position he would keep till the flag. Behind the Dane, there was a ferocious fight for the final points positions.
Palmer was fighting back through the field after failing to adapt to the changing conditions on his dry tyres. He held 7th place for much of the closing stages and after forcing Alexander Rossi (driving for Campos this weekend) into a small mistake at the hairpin, he was able to move up another spot. Up ahead, Jon Lancaster was just about able to cling onto his 5th position at the flag despite coming under extreme pressure from Palmer and Rossi behind.
At the front it was Coletti who took the win from Nasr and Vandoorne; the latter capturing his second podium of the weekend. Sørensen continued his excellent GP2 form – moving over from a frustrating Formula Renault 3.5 campaign – with 4th. Lancaster, Palmer, Rossi and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs rounded out the top eight.
Palmer still leads the championship thanks to his race one podium by 41 points over Nasr, with Cecotto still in 3rd despite his difficult race. Hockenheim winners Coletti and Evans move up to 4th and 5th respectively with Vandoorne in 6th.
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