We had wanted Sam Bird to win the opening GP2 race of the season, if only for the vast punning potential a victory in Turkey would present. But alas, he took a strong second place finish at the Istanbul circuit in Saturday’s first run.
As it was pre-season title favourite Romain Grosjean kicked off his campaign in style, winning from pole in the feature race. The DAMS driver enjoyed a good launch from the front of the grid and never looked back, surrendering his lead only briefly during the pitstop phase.
But Grosjean did not simply cruise to victory, with iSport’s Bird keeping him honest throughout, losing his second place gridslot early on but quickly displaying his trademark charging form to retake the position. As the race entered its closing laps the British driver had closed significantly, harrying the Frenchman’s gearbox, and Grosjean was forced to take defensive action through the final few corners as he won by just 0.3 seconds. The pair were in a class of their own, eventually finishing well over half a minute clear of the final rostrum finisher.
This was Jules Bianchi, who completed the podium after a sometimes scrappy drive, but one which allowed the Frenchman to display his overtaking prowess aboard the ART machine. Giedo van der Garde was fourth, with Stefano Coletti taking a brilliant fifth position for Trident. Luiz Razia, Charles Pic and Dani Close rounded out the points scorers.
The race had begun with the customary huge first lap crash, as Fabio Leimer ramped off the back of Max Chilton before rolling across the circuit upside down and flipping again as his car found the run-off area. The young Swiss was unhurt in the incident.
So with Grosjean, Bird and Bianchi on the podium the top three was comprised of the drivers viewed as the best bets for the title – a perfect way to start what could be a fantastic season for the series.
Sunday’s reverse grid sprint race saw Racing Engineering’s Clos on the pole, the Spaniard holding P1 for the early laps. Further back race one winner Grosjean and Bianchi had clashed on the opening tour, ending any hope of points for either.
But it was Stefano Coletti – perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the weekend – who was on form, the Monegasque driver assuming the lead on lap six as Clos struggled badly with his car. Meanwhile Bird was fighting a great battle with Luiz Razia, the Brazilian displaying some great defensive driving to keep the Brit behind him. Sam finally got the job done eight laps in, promoting him to fifth.
Clos was continuing to drop positions, Addax team-mates van der Garde passing him for second and then Pic for third, whilst Bird was setting fastest laps in P5. Sam Also made it past Clos, who had become a sitting duck.
Bird’s next target was Pic, who like Razia posed a difficult challenge thanks to some textbook defensive driving. Then, with five laps to go, the safety car was deployed following a big pit straight shunt between Davide Rigon and Julian Leal. The former took a very big impact and needed medical attention, keeping the safety car on-track until the penultimate lap – the race would end with a one lap dash to the flag.
Bird’s assault was almost ruined when team-mate Marcus Ericsson needlessly clouted him before racing had even resumed, but the Brit had incredible pace and managed to fight his way past Pic for the final podium spot late in the lap. Meanwhile Coletti was able to cruise to a fantastic win ahead of van der Garde. Fairuz Fuazy and Josef Kral took the final points with fifth and sixth respectively.
As such Bird and Grosjean share the points lead, both having scored 13 points across the weekend. There’s still a long way to go, but a championship battle between these two would be quite something to behold – and rather popular at the Sett.