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The Bridgestone e-reporter GP2 diary - Spain 30 Apr 2008

Bridgestone e-reporter finalist Gavin Grace (left) gets an insight into the preparation of GP2 tyres, Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, 25 April 2008. © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter finalist Gavin Grace (right) interviews GP2 driver Bruno Senna, Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, 25 April 2008. © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter finalist Gavin Grace (left) gets some tips from Daily Telegraph Formula One correspondent Kevin Garside, Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, 26 April 2008. © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter finalist Gavin Grace (right) interviews GP2 technical director Didier Perrin, Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, 26 April 2008. © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter finalist Gavin Grace (left) attends a media lunch with GP2 driver Javier Villa (second from left), Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, 26 April 2008. © Bridgestone

Since its inception in 2004, the GP2 Series has established itself as a serious breeding ground for Formula One talent - with the likes of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton as evidence. And official tyre suppliers to the series, Bridgestone, are helping to do the same for motorsport journalism, with their e-reporter competition.

The nine 2008 finalists will each get to report from one European round of the series, and will be supplying Formula1.com with details of the GP2 action, plus a diary reflecting their experience as a first-time paddock correspondent. First up in Barcelona was 22-year-old Gavin Grace from Ireland…

Qualifying report - Maldonado the master in Barcelona
Pastor Maldonado secured the first pole position of the 2008 GP2 Series in a scrappy qualifying session on Friday. The Piquet Sports driver picked up two points for his efforts, giving him an early lead in the championship table ahead of Saturday’s race. Maldonado’s lap time of 1:27.547 gave him the pole by just 0.158 seconds ahead of Álvaro Parente. Maldonado’s Piquet Sports team mate Andreas Zuber qualified in third.

Parente could have snatched pole but for a mistake in the final sector on his fastest lap. Despite this, Super Nova Racing boss David Sears was delighted that his man was the highest placed rookie and predicted that Parente will be a ‘revelation’ in 2008.

The session had to be halted for nine minutes after Sebastien Buemi of Trust Team Arden spun and smashed into the wall on the exit of the fast Campsa corner. Bruno Senna also had his session cut short. The Brazilian blamed a gearbox problem for his spin at the Renault corner. Nonetheless, the winner of the main race here at the Circuit du Catalunya in 2007 will start fourth tomorrow and is confident that he will have a good result. GP2 Asia Series Champion Romain Grosjean will line up in 12th after his Renault engine expired towards the end of the session.

But the day belonged to Maldonado. Speaking afterwards, the Venezuelan hailed his Piquet Sports team, paying tribute to their hard work during the pre-season testing programme. “In the beginning we had to learn the new car but now we understand it well,” he said. “Last year was very difficult but this is a great start to this year. I am very confident for tomorrow.”

Friday diary:
Sun and blue skies greeted us this morning, a perfect dawn for the beginning of the new 2008 incarnation of GP2. Then again, what else would one expect from beautiful Barcelona?

We entered the GP2 paddock shortly after arriving at Circuit du Catalunya, and it was already a hive of activity. Just like school on the first day of term, all around us people were embracing returning friends.

Roberto Chinchero of Italian sports newspaper Gazetta Dello Sport was kind enough to give me some pointers on the weekend ahead, and his tales of watching Formula Junior at Monza showed that a lot of work has to be done by any journalist who wishes to cover Formula One racing.

Mark from Bridgestone was kind enough to give me an insight into the preparation of the tyres and even let me fit one onto a rim. It was taken off shortly afterwards though, so the entire GP2 field can breathe a sigh of relief!

We then got to eat lunch with GP2 Asia Series champion Romain Grosjean in the Bridgestone motorhome, who was more interested in watching the Formula One practice on TV than in his spaghetti. Not that I blame him…

We watched the GP2 qualifying session before the highlight of the day, a guided tour of the Williams team’s pit garage, giving me a great behind the scenes look at the logistical side of Formula One racing.

That was the end of a long but thrilling day, bar a spot of ‘relaxing’ late-night karting, parts of which were as competitive as anything we will see all weekend. And that was just day one! Roll on the weekend.

Saturday race report - perfect start for Parente
Alvaro Parente made the dream start to his GP2 career with a win in the opening race of the season in Barcelona. The Super Nova Racing driver led from lights to flag, and picked up the fastest lap bonus point in a dominant display.

Parente was given a gift by polesitter Pastor Maldonado. He stalled his Piquet Sports car at the start, giving Alvaro a clear run to the first corner. Parente took the lead ahead of Andreas Zuber and Bruno Senna. The safety car had to be brought out on Lap 2 after a pair of collisions at Turn 1 - Christian Bakkerud made contact with Ben Hanley and Ho-Pin Tung and Roldan Rodriguez also had a coming together.

The teams took advantage of the safety-car period to make their compulsory pit stops. Good work by the iSport International crew allowed Senna to leapfrog Zuber, but Parente held on to the lead. Giorgio Pantano of the Barwa International Campos Team was in fourth.

Parente held off Senna on the restart and then had to deal with a mirror-load of the Brazilian for the rest of the race. Zuber followed in third, unable to attack the leaders due to flat spots caused by locking his front tyres on the opening lap.

While there was to be no more overtaking at the front, great battles ensued throughout the field. Adrian Valles made an excellent overtaking move on Vitaly Petrov, but the Spaniard’s tyres began to wear, dropping him to 17th from a high of fifth. Romain Grosjean made up seven spots on his qualifying position in his ART Grand Prix car. The GP2 Asia Series champion showed raw speed throughout the race and finished fifth ahead of Petrov. Sebastien Buemi came home seventh, a great effort from 20th, and Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi picked up the final point by finishing eighth.

Parente, of course, leads the championship table tonight. He paid tribute to his Super Nova Racing Team, hailing the improvement of the car. He also said that he “was under a lot of pressure from Senna, but managed to get to the end without making any mistakes.” There was one low for the team, however. Christian Bakkerud will miss Sunday’s sprint race. He was forced to retire due to a recurrence of last season’s back injury.

Saturday diary:
Being in the GP2 paddock at the Spanish Grand Prix is, for me, a surreal experience. It’s a long way from Galway to Barcelona, though it was nice to be greeted with a text message from a mate back home when I awoke this morning. ‘Gavin, fancy going to a match later on?’ he asked. ‘Sorry’ I replied, ‘I’m meeting other friends today, including Romain, Pastor, Bruno and Andreas.’ He didn’t get it…

Earlier this morning, Kevin Garside of the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph (and also one of the Bridgestone e-reporter judges) took time out for a chat about life as a journalist. I was also lucky enough to see what it’s like to broadcast Formula One racing as the Radio Monte Carlo crew (including F1 legend Patrick Tambay) invited me to their booth. Patrick is here to support his son in the Formula BMW support races and reckons I should do the same. Who am I to disagree with an F1 race winner? Go Adrian!

Then it was time to go to work. I ate lunch with Javier Villa and Roldan Rodriguez before interviewing Adrian Campos and GP2 Technical Director Didier Perrin. It was great to talk with these true racing fanatics, and anyone who doubts the seriousness of GP2 should spend time in their company.

They should also watch a tape of today’s race. It was a thrilling affair as Alvaro Parente held off Bruno Senna in a race-long battle. It truly was a great way to start the season - for over 30 laps they fought tooth and nail, always staying within a second of each other.

After some post-race interviews, there was just enough time to watch the GP2 stars of tomorrow race in Formula BMW. This one was also close but, like Alvaro, one driver led from start to finish. Who was he? Well… let’s just say that Patrick’s kid is pretty special.

Sunday race report - Grosjean blunder hands Kobayashi sprint win
Continuing a weekend of rookie domination in GP2, Sunday’s sprint race was won by Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi. It was a race that looked to be all but over with six laps remaining, but turned out to give the 130,000 crowd a thrilling ending.

Kobayashi started from pole and led the opening two laps before a beautiful pass at Turn 1 gave the lead to Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman, driving for ART Grand Prix, gained a five-second lead and it seemed the GP2 Asia Series champion was cruising towards a maiden main series win.

However, this was not to be the case. On lap 20, DPR’s Giacomo Ricci spun on the exit of the final chicane and his car stopped on track. This meant that the safety car had to be called upon and the field were once again bunched together. Race on!

The action started before the green flag. Leader Grosjean overshot the chicane, allowing second-placed Kobayashi to pressure him into Turn 1. Grosjean pushed the DAMS driver wide and held him off. However, race control deemed his blocking to be overly aggressive and forced Grosjean to take a drive-through penalty which would ultimately relegate him to 13th.

Behind Kobayashi there was more action. The Piquet Sports team mates touched as Pastor Maldonado misjudged an overtaking move on Andreas Zuber - not the first coming together for the pair. Maldonado was forced to retire and Zuber dropped out of the points, never to return. This moved Davide Valsecchi into fifth place, behind Bruno Senna in fourth. Javier Villa was sixth, pleasing the home crowd. Sebastien Buemi and Giorgio Pantano tried to catch Kobayashi but could not, and finished second and third respectively.

The Japanese driver crossed the line first, when 10 minutes earlier it seemed he had no chance of winning. Speaking after the race, he had sympathy for Grosjean. “Last year we were (Formula 3 Euroseries) team mates and he did this to me often without penalty. But today in front of the FIA and F1… I guess it’s too much. Today was good but we need to improve, particularly in qualifying.”

Next up for Kamui is a scuba-diving holiday in the Maldives, where he can reflect on a successful debut weekend. So is GP2 predictable? Not a chance.

Sunday diary:
Motorsport is often regarded as glamorous, but this weekend has given me a new respect for all involved in this great event. On Sunday, we arrived at the track at 7:45 and already the cars were being prepared for the race, just as they were at the same time on Friday and Saturday and no doubt late both evenings too. Chefs were making breakfast in the hospitality centre and marshals were on the roads directing traffic. And I thought I was tired! As fans, we owe each of these people a huge debt of gratitude.

This morning’s GP2 sprint race was a cracker. For a long time, it looked like Romain Grosjean had everything sewn up, but his mistake after the safety-car period gave the huge crowd here a thrilling conclusion. There are two certainties to come out of the race though. Romain is a remarkable driver who we will see for a long time to come and, though I’m told it’s rarely seen, Kamui Kobayashi’s smile is infectious.

Then there was the small matter of the Formula One Grand Prix this afternoon. Due to the nature of the sport, it must be watched on TV to get a full appreciation of everything that is going on, but to see these cars up close and personal is nonetheless a truly amazing experience. The speed, the screech of the engines, and the anticipation at the start are spine tingling and a joy to behold for any fan of motorsport. Victory went to Kimi Raikkonen and the seemingly unstoppable Ferrari team. I get the impression that we will be seeing the red car at the front a lot in ‘08. For a fellow Finn though, it wasn’t such a good day. Heikki’s crash was frightening to see and it’s a tribute to the safety of the monocoques used in Formula One that he escaped with relatively minor injuries. The sport has come a long way in the last 15 years,

You can also see this in the F1 paddock. As I walked through it Sunday evening, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the scale of this operation and the thousands of man hours that go into entertaining us for a couple of hours, 18 times a year. It also hit me how truly lucky I was to be there, mingling amongst some of the most famous athletes in the world. All I can say is a big thank you to everyone involved in the e-reporter competition. To my fellow finalists who I met on Thursday, to all the drivers, team officials, journalists and everyone who was kind enough to give me a moment of their time and in particular a big thank you Bridgestone, to GP2 and to Debbie, Bert, Gert and Alexa whose help and kindness made this an amazing weekend. I hope my fellow finalists get to have as much fun as I did and I hope that anyone who reads this will be inspired to enter in 2009. I know I’m glad I did.

For more on the Bridgestone e-reporter competition, click here.