Russia GP2 race report
A fourth Feature Race win to add to his victories in Bahrain, Monaco and Italy earlier in the season ensured that Comma-sponsored Jolyon Palmer wrapped up the 2014 GP2 championship early and in style at the Sochi Autodrom in Russia on Saturday, October 11th. With one round still to go in the series at Abu Dhabi in November, 23 year old Palmer from Horsham, East Sussex, has already scored 256 points, a new championship record amassed during a year in which his dominance - and that of his DAMS team to which Comma is also Technical Partner - was never seriously challenged. Carrying a 51 points lead over the Carlin team into the final event, DAMS now have the teams title almost assured within their grasp.
Palmer - who has been sponsored by Comma ever since the start of his single-seater racing career at the age of 16 - becomes only the second British driver after Lewis Hamilton ever to win the prestigious GP2 series, which is seen as the final stepping stone to Formula 1. Other former GP2 champions currently competing in Formula 1 include Nico Rosberg, Nico Hülkenberg, Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean
"It wasn't going to be easy to win the championship this weekend", said Palmer as the realisation of his achievement began to sink in. "I can't thank the DAMS team enough, they've done an incredible job all year, we've been fighting for pretty much every Feature Race win and every pole with almost no mistakes. It feels amazing to be champion. The pressure is off us now, and with another round at Abu Dhabi, we can go out, enjoy it and have some fun!"
Practise & Qualifying
Situated in the 2014 Winter Olympic Park, the Sochi Autodrome – a new addition to the GP2 calendar - was a complete unknown to the teams in terms of tyre wear and performance. Nevertheless, it was Palmer who immediately laid down the gauntlet, dominating Friday's official practice session with a lap in 1min 46.083sec, over half a second quicker than Campos Racing's Arthur Pic of France and André Negrão of Brazil for Arden International. ART Grand Prix's McLaren F1 test driver Stoffel Vandoorne of Belgium was fourth quickest, ahead of New Zealander Mitch Evans for Russian Time and Kimiya Sato of Japan for Campos. Trident's Johnny Cecotto of Venezuela and Nathanael Berthon of France (Lazarus) headed Carlin's Felipe Nasr of Brazil and rookie Tio Ellinas of Cyprus replacing the injured Adrian Quaiffe-Hobbs for Rapax rounded out the top ten.
The afternoon's qualifying session dealt Palmer a cruel hand. Seemingly on course for a comfortable pole position on his last flying lap, his progress was impeded in the final two corners by another car and he wound up fourth, losing almost three tenths of a second to pole winner Vandoorne and the other front row starter, Pic, who had identically matched Vandoorne's time. ART Grand Prix's Takuya Izawa of Japan emerged as if from nowhere to claim third place alongside Palmer, with Raffaele Marciello of Italy (Russian Time) and Evans on the third row. Sato and Stefano Coletti of Monaco (Racing Engineering) occupied row four, with fellow Brazilian's Negrão and Nasr completing the front five rows in the potential points scoring positions for Saturday's 28 lap race.
Izawa made a brilliant start off the grid to claim an immediate lead before Vandoorne quickly took it back, while Palmer disposed of both Pic and Izawa to go in chase of the leader. From the third row, Evans was on a charge and up to fourth before the safety car appeared on lap 8. This played to the advantage of Palmer and Evans, who pitted to change from the soft tyres on which they had started, while Vandoorne – also on soft rubber – stayed out after his team made the call too late for him to pit. In that moment, the Belgian was really out of the equation for the race win, and the die was also cast for the championship when Nasr was slapped with a drive-through penalty for exceeding the track limits. For some reason, he chose to take this during the safety car period – wrong! – and had to do it all over again when the race resumed. By then, Palmer was sitting in a handy seventh place which quickly became third behind Vandoorne and Artem Markelov (Russian Time), both of whom had still to pit. Evans also made rapid progress, and when the leaders finally pitted, it was left to the Kiwi to trade fastest laps with Palmer as the two raced well out of sight of the rest of the field to come home separated by just 1.26 seconds. Marciello finished a further 15 seconds behind the take the final podium position, with Pic fourth, a disconsolate Vandoorne fifth and Negrão sixth. Spain's Sergio Canamasas (Trident) was seventh, narrowly ahead of Nasr's Carlin team-mate Julian Leal of Colombia who secured the reverse grid pole for the Sprint Race by finishing eighth. Topping out the final points-scoring positions were Denmark's Marco Sørensen for MP Motorsport and Nathanael Berthon, ninth and tenth.
Marco Sørensen has been the 2014 GP2 season's most eye-catching rookie performer. The Lotus F1 team protégé has looked destined for big things after joining the series five events into the championship at Silverstone in July, and he duly delivered his – and MP Motorsport's - first GP2 win in Sunday's Sprint Race at Sochi. Replacing Julian Leal on pole position after the Colombian was penalised for colliding with him in the Feature Race, the 24 year old Dane led the 21 lap race from lights to flag, impressively holding off Stoffel Vandoorne and Felipe Nasr, two other drivers with F1 team connections (Vandoorne with McLaren and Nasr with Williams) who joined him on the podium. Feature Race runner up Mitch Evans added to his points tally in fourth place, with Pic and Negrão fifth and sixth. Sato and Coletti finished seventh and eighth in a race where the points scorers all finished within ten seconds of the winner. Starting seventh, Comma's newly crowned GP2 champion, Jolyon Palmer was unceremoniously dumped right to the back of the field following too close an encounter with Negrão and Marciello soon after the start. Unburdened by having to worry any more about tyre strategy or the championship, he enjoyed himself for the rest of the race by ripping through the field to finish tenth.
"Looking through the list of previous GP2 Champions, they're all unbelievable drivers," said Jolyon. "To be on that list is something which can't be taken away from me: it's an incredible feeling."
You can follow Jolyon's final GP2 race of the season here and get complete race reports and results on the official GP2 Series website www.gp2series.com
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