Bahrain GP2 race report
Before the season started and following positive pre-season testing, Comma-sponsored Jolyon Palmer said that his sole objective this year was to win the international GP2 championship. In the hot-house atmosphere that pervades the final stepping stone to Formula 1, it was a bold and brave ambition to declare so publicly, but he demonstrated in the opening encounters of the season in Bahrain over the weekend of April 5/6 that his talent is every bit as equal to his desire. Third place on the podium for Saturday's Feature race might not have been the ultimate reward for starting from pole position and posting the fastest race lap, but 24 year old Palmer bounced back in dominant form to take Sunday's Sprint event and head home to Horsham, West Sussex with a healthy 10 point lead in the championship bag to fuel his assault on the GP2 title.
Qualifying and Feature Race
A late qualifying run on fresh tyres catapulted Jolyon to the top of the time sheets with a lap time of 1m 38.865sec. Making up the front row, ART GP driver and McLaren protégé Stoffel Vandoorne was just two hundredths of a second slower, and the only other driver to break the 1m 39sec barrier. Jolyon's team-mate Stéphane Richelmi - driving for the French DAMS team to which Comma is also Technical Partner - sat in fourth place alongside Hilmer Motorsport's Daniel Abt on row 2, with Caterham Racing's Rio Haryanto and Stefano Coletti for Racing Engineering making up row 3. With the top eleven drivers covered by less than half a second, it was clear that the new GP2 season was going to be as competitive as ever, and that tyre management would once again play a major role in race strategy.
Jolyon described his start to the Feature race as "a big mess and a bit of finger trouble from my point of view." The result was that he dropped to seventh by the first corner, recovered to sixth by the end of the first lap and then had to bide his time when the safety car appeared. While others pitted for fresh rubber, Jolyon stayed out and was up to third place by the time he too changed tyres on lap seven. Re-joining in a net second place after a flawless pit stop, he now got down seriously to the 'day job', setting fastest lap of the race on lap 10 in pursuit of the leader Vandoorne and defending against the Colombian driver Julian Leal as the race entered its closing stages. With his tyres fading fast however, Jolyon was unable to resist Leal's pass into turn one, and he had then to concentrate on defending his podium spot against a late race challenge from Coletti. "We had a good strategy and the team did a really good pit stop, but at the end it was really tough," said a somewhat relieved Jolyon after acknowledging that it could have been a lot worse if the race had been any longer, since he may well have dropped back further. As it was, he netted 21 points for pole, fastest lap and third on the podium, which immediately installed him in second place in the championship table.
This time, Jolyon made no mistake with his third row, sixth place start. (The top eight Feature race finishers in GP2 start in reverse grid positions in the Sprint race). Displacing front row starter and race leader Simon Trummer from Switzerland at the end of the first lap, Comma's man then nursed his tyres, maintained his pace and controlled the race all the way to the chequered flag. Trummer, driving for the Rapax team and Leal for Carlin Motorsport, did all they could to change the outcome, but it was not enough and they had to settle for the minor podium spots. "We did a lot of homework on the start and on tyre degradation, and I think we nailed them both, said Jolyon after the race. "It wasn't easy, but I'm really happy with the job we have done. I was surprised yesterday that we didn't quite have the race pace, but today I think we've proved we've found a big step and hopefully now we'll be very strong for the European season."
That starts at the Barcelona circuit in Spain on the weekend of May 9/11. You can follow Jolyon's progress here throughout the season and get complete race reports and results on the official GP2 Series website www.gp2series.com
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