DAMS’ Jolyon Palmer put one hand on the GP2 Series championship trophy at the weekend by winning Sunday’s Sprint Race in Monza. The Brit fought back from a difficult qualifying session on Friday – where he was sent to the back of the grid for failing to provide a fuel sample – to extend his championship lead over Carlin’s Felipe Nasr to 46 points with just four rounds remaining. Nasr endured a difficult weekend, managing only a seventh place in both races and only two points. In form driver Stoffel Vandoorne won Saturday’s Feature Race but could only manage 14th on Sunday after stalling on the grid.
Starting from his second consecutive feature race pole position, Vandoorne led off the line from Campos star Arthur Pic in a frenetic start, which saw Racing Engineering’s Rafaelle Marciello nearly stall from fourth on the grid and Rappax’s Simon Trummer not get away at all.
Lap two saw Stefano Coletti swerve into the path of Daniel de Jong and Kimya Sato causing the Japanese driver to briefly launch into the air. With suspension damage hr retired on the spot, and the ensuing bunching caused Arden’s Rene Binder car to tag the ART of Takuya Izawa. Coletti’s team-mate Marciello had nowhere to go and pathetically beached his car at around 30mph.
Palmer made a great start and, feeling confident, made substantial progress early on. His march forward started with a beautiful pass on Rio Haryanto for 11th. His progress continued with a pass on Coletti exiting the second chicane and would eventually finish the race in eighth; losing just two points to Nasr. It also ensured the Briton pole position for the spring race.
Out at the front, there was nothing between Vandoorne and Pic; the Frenchman and brother of Lotus F1 reserve driver Charles closed to within a second before the pit stops. But try as he might, he could not get close enough to make a move. As Vandoorne moved onto the hard tyre with eighteen laps to go, ART orchestrated a perfect pit stop to make sure the Belgian came back out ahead of Pic.
The lead battle would remain closer than ever and the young Frenchman closed a three second gap to all but nothing; but Vandoorne pipped Pic at the line by just over 0.6 seconds in an epic duel over 30 laps.
Nasr finished sixth, with a better result potentially in reach. He made the most of team-mate Leal clipping Daniel Abt at Lesmo two, forcing the German into the tyres, to salvage three points. At the finish, Vandoorne beat Pic with Mitch Evans finishing a lonely third. Behind were Stéphane Richelmi, Andre Negrao, Nasr, Marco Sorensen and Palmer completing the remaining point finishers.
Race one winner Stoffel Vandoorne: “I think Arthur pushed really hard after that and closed the gap down to me, so I upped my game and pushed really hard in the end”
After salvaging eighth place in the feature race, Palmer miraculously started from pole on Sunday. Lighting up his rear wheels, he led off the line from Sorensen while Nasr made a horrible start from P3. The Brazilian dropped all the way down to ninth and would struggle to fight his back up the field; eventually finishing outside the points in seventh. At least his wasn’t as bad as Race one winner Stoffel Vandoorne’s; the Belgian, starting from eighth courtesy of his victory, stalled on the grid. Finally managing to get the car off the line, he would recover to 14th.
Sorensen tried to make the most of his decent start and attempted to go around the outside of Palmer at the second chicane. He locked up after running out of space and carried straight through; coming back on in third behind Richelmi.
Carnage soon followed at the end of the second lap; Nasr, trying to make his way back up the order, was caught up in a charge towards Ascari with Johnny Cecotto, and briefly Jon Lancaster. Cecotto ran slightly wide and Nasr took the place. But further back, Sergio Canamasas completely missed the chicane and rejoined – at speed – on the exit hitting Adrian Quaife-Hobbs, damaging the Brit’s front wing and handing Canamasas a puncture. The ensuing bunched pack had virtually nowhere to go and Caterham’s Pierre Gasly was tipped into a high speed spin on the straight by Russian Time’s Artem Markelov. Elsewhere up at Parabolica, Cecotto attempted to dive up the inside of Nathanaël Berthon but contact was made sending both spinning off. Cue a safety car.
Perhaps the key to Palmer’s victory was his sublime break on the restart, pulling away from team-mate Richelmi by some five or six car lengths at least. Behind, Coletti was making an impressive surge through the pack; the Monegasque made a superb restart, first slipstreaming down the outside of Evans on the main straight before out-braking Negrao on entry to the Retifillio.
Thereafter it was a battle to the end between Palmer and Coletti. Coletti, driving like a man possessed, closed to within a second of the DAMS driver but could not get any closer than that. Further back, Richelmi was comfortable enough in front of Sorensen and it would end that way come the finish. Evans looked the more likely make progress as he closed on Negrao. Looking around the outside of the first chicane the Kiwi tried to get fifth from the Brazilian, but his car was not far enough alongside the Arden driver and suffered broken suspension as a result of contact. Evans would retire soon after, promoting Lancaster to sixth. Nasr was gifted seventh in the closing laps as Pic bumped over the kerbs at the second chicane. Yet, five points from two races was hardly what the Carlin driver was after.
Palmer led Coletti over the line by just over a second as Richelmi claimed third ahead of Sorensen. Negrao and Nasr finished fifth after Lancaster was penalised after passing Pic off track. Pic himself would then collect seventh ahead of Quaife-Hobbs. Palmer goes into the remaining four rounds of the Championship now 42 points clear of Nasr making the Brazilian’s task that ever more difficult.
Race two winner Jolyon Palmer: “The race yesterday went nearly perfectly, really: the car was good, the strategy was good, and then today starting from the front it was a bit easier, and we just had to control the pace”