Marciello Takes First Win in Spa Cracker

There was a refreshing sense of nostalgia at Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday. While they may not be battling for Formula One wins this season, Ferrari and McLaren fought tooth and nail for GP2 honours through junior drivers Raffaele Marciello (Racing Engineering) and Stoffel Vandoorne (ART). Marciello emerged the victor for the first time in his GP2 career after a typically chaotic and classic Spa encounter.

The usual Ardennes micro-climate reappeared shortly after Formula One qualifying and as had been the case previously, the rain came down in abundance. But such is Spa that it covered most, but not the entire track; leaving tyre choice somewhat of a gamble. While most opted for the conservative choice of wet rubber, MP Motorsport’s Daniel de Jong and DAMS’ Stéphane Richelmi would start on dry tyres.

From a popular home pole position, Stoffel Vandoorne led off the line, while championship leader Jolyon Palmer suffered too much wheelspin and dropped from his starting P2 to eighth by the end of lap one. The race would be stopped though just two laps in, as the rain intensified and cars started to aquaplane in a straight line. The rain also accounted for Conor Daly’s early exit from the Paul Frère corner on the opening lap as well. Cue a restart.

After a ten minute delay, the race was restarted – albeit behind the safety car. Vandoorne backed the pack up substantially before the bus stop chicane. This was all to no avail though as the Belgian out-braked himself slightly into La Source; allowing now second placed runner Johnny Cecotto to take the lead. A bizarre turn of events followed however: Cecotto after having taken the lead ran off track at Les Combes; the Venezuelan bumped over the sleeping policemen before rejoining in front of Vandoorne. Despite gaining no advantage to Vandoorne – in fact, he lost almost all of his one second lead by going off – his team was instructed to let Vandoorne back into the lead for doing so.

Vandoorne was now back in the lead, and would hold it for the majority of the race. Marciello was looming behind though after also getting past Cecotto. The Italian, who is on a rich vein of form of late, cut into the Belgian’s lead gradually and as the pair approached their compulsory pit stops, the lead was down to under four seconds.

It was a lead that ebbed and flowed and the pair traded fastest laps. Pit stops were coming up but the circuit was drying out quickly in the dying stages. Stefano Coletti – team-mate of Marciello – had already pitted for slicks but struggled to get them up to temperature and spun off after touching the painted line at Les Combes. Vandoorne was the first to pit and, not convinced the track was dry enough, fitted more wet tyres to his car. Marciello responded to previous Vandoorne fastest laps by setting the quickest time himself, in consecutive tours; pushing his car to the limit as demonstrated by a spectacular drift through Blanchiment. The Racing Engineering driver pitted two laps later and opted for wets as well. Despite some rapid times, he was not able to leapfrog Vandoorne and the Belgian retook the lead with a mere six laps to the finish.

But Marciello looked the stronger after the pit stops, and on fresher tyres proceeded to take large chunks of time out of Vandoorne. Sometimes two seconds a lap faster, the Italian closed rapidly and after an unsuccessful first attempt to pass on the run down to Les Combes, he finally got into the lead by out-braking the Belgian on entry to the tricky Rivage corner. Pulling away almost as quickly as he closed, Marciello would scamper away to his first ever victory in GP2; taking the win from Vandoorne by two seconds.

Action was never far away and it invariably involved Sergio Canamasas of Trident. The Spaniard seemingly involved in most incidents and driving standards penalties this season was surprisingly keeping his nose clean in this race. A great three-way fight for 9th place involved Rio Haryanto, Daniel Abt and Canamasas. Going into Les Combes, they just about managed to sort themselves out before the exit but they did somehow. Canamasas tried to fight back against Haryanto and living up to his unwanted reputation spun the Indonesian round at Fagnes.

Without doubt, the star of the race – other than the two at the front – was Russian Time’s Artem Markelov. The Moscow teenager had moved up the field after starting from the pitlane at the initial start and was fighting for a potential points scoring finish – his first in the series. In the drying conditions, he was magical; he produced a wonder move on Tom Dilmann, first starting on the outside of the exit of Les Combes and finishing around the outside of Rivage. He harried Canamasas into La Source before switching back to the inside to complete the move before Eau Rouge. He was now closing on championship leader Jolyon Palmer.

Palmer was having a difficult race. Starting from the outside of the front row, he got a poor getaway at the initial start. Taking the restart in 8th, he remained there for much of the race, frustrated in traffic and with a lack of pace. He did work his way up to 5th near the end, thanks to a collision between Simon Trummer and Nathanaël Berthon, but lost out to Mitch Evans – who himself had his fair share of issues (his car defaulting to safe mode due to overly cool temperatures while running second in first start). Markelov closed in the dying laps but Palmer held on to 6th at the flag; teeing himself up nicely for a shot a sprint race glory on Sunday.

But as it was throughout the race, only two drivers were ever in it. Marciello took the flag from homeboy Stoffel Vandoorne for his maiden victory in the series. Cecotto finished a distant third, some 35 seconds in arrears. The Venezuelan was bemused about the earlier call to relinquish the lead, but philosophical about his victory chances: “I never gained a position cutting the chicane. I still gave the position and at that point these two guys were just on another planet”. Championship contender Felipe Nasr finished fourth ahead of Evans, Palmer and Markelov, while Hilmer’s Daniel Abt took the final points position and pole position for Sunday’s sprint race.

Images: http://www.gpupdate.net
Results: http://www.gp2series.com

Results: GP2 Series Feature Race – Spa-Francorchamps (25 laps)

1. Raffaele Marciello

Racing Engineering

 

2. Stoffel Vandoorne

ART Grand Prix

2.088

3. Johnny Cecotto

Trident

35.375

4. Felipe Nasr

Carlin

39.831

5. Mitch Evans

RT RUSSIAN TIME

50.526

6. Jolyon Palmer

DAMS

60.123

7. Artem Markelov

RT RUSSIAN TIME

61.166

8. Daniel Abt

Hilmer Motorsport

61.776

9. Andre Negrão

Arden International

62.872

10. Daniel De Jong

MP Motorsport

65.435

11. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs

Rapax

71.224

12. Tom Dillmann

EQ8 Caterham Racing

76.681

13. Julian Leal

Carlin

77.071

14. Marco Sørensen

MP Motorsport

78.325

15. Arthur Pic

Campos Racing

78.578

16. Takuya Izawa

ART Grand Prix

79.110

17. Kimya Sato

Campos Racing

81.789

18. Simon Trummer

Rapax

82.766

19. Jon Lancaster

Hilmer Motorsport

92.099

20. Sergio Canamasas

Trident

93.957

21. Stéphane Richelmi

DAMS

94.528

22. Nathanaël Berthon

Venezuela GP Lazarus

110.554

23. Rio Haryanto

EQ8 Caterham Racing

DNF

24. Stefano Coletti

Racing Engineering

DNF

25. Rene Binder

Arden International

DNF

26. Conor Daly

Venezuela GP Lazarus

DNF

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