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The Bridgestone e-reporter GP2 diary - Britain 08 Jul 2008

Bridgestone e-reporter finalist James Aitcheson, British Grand Prix, Silverstone, 6 July 2008. © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter finalist James Aitcheson (right) interviews iSport International's Bruno Senna about what went wrong in race one, British Grand Prix, Silverstone, 5 July 2008. © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter finalist James Aitcheson, British Grand Prix, Silverstone, 6 July 2008. © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter finalist James Aitcheson (right) interviews Trident's Mike Conway after race one, British Grand Prix, Silverstone, 5 July 2008. © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter finalist James Aitcheson is interviewed by Silverstone TV, British Grand Prix, Silverstone, 4 July 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. For Britain, it’s 22-year-old British writer, James Aitcheson...

Sunday race report - Senna masters wet conditions at Silverstone
Bruno Senna proved himself master in the wet at Silverstone, winning an eventful GP2 sprint race. The treacherous conditions resulted in a number of retirements as drivers spun off the track, with only thirteen of the twenty-six who started managing to go the full distance of 24 laps.

Senna capitalised on Andreas Zuber’s slow start, moving up into second by the first corner and quickly closing on the gearbox of Luca Filippi in first. Finding good acceleration out of Club, he took the lead going into the Abbey chicane on Lap One and rarely looked like losing it thereafter. “I have a good thing with the car in the wet,” Senna said afterwards. “The team did a good job; the car was easy to drive.”

Lucas Di Grassi and Giorgio Pantano both completed successful weekends in second and third place respectively. Close behind were Mike Conway, Vitaly Petrov and Davide Valsecchi, the rest of the points-scorers in fourth, fifth and sixth positions.

Valsecchi’s performance was particularly impressive after he started from nineteenth on the grid; likewise Conway made up for a disappointing feature race yesterday after coming through from fourteenth. “I’m really happy with my result,” the Briton said. “At least we’ve got some points out of this weekend.”

One of several caught out by the conditions was Karun Chandhok, who spun out on the first lap. “I came to Club and I couldn’t really see where the white line on the outside was,” he explained. “I just got too far wide, got a wheel on it, and next I know I’m backwards.”

Jerome d’Ambrosio was another who struggled, finishing a lap behind in twelfth, but remaining pragmatic. “It’s very difficult but it’s the same for everyone so there’s no excuse,” he said. “It’s part of racing.”

Though for the drivers it may have been a challenging race, it nevertheless produced excellent entertainment for the sell-out Silverstone crowd.

Silverstone Diary - Sunday
With the GP2 sprint race beginning at 9.30am on Sunday, it was an early start for the whole paddock, and so although the Formula One Grand Prix was not due to take place until the afternoon, I nevertheless had a busy morning in store at Silverstone.

True to the forecasts, the rain was falling when I arrived at the circuit, but that did nothing to dampen the atmosphere. Indeed the wet conditions were partly responsible for the eventful GP2 feature race, in which victory was taken by Bruno Senna - a good consolation after only managing sixth place on Saturday. After the race I collected some post-race comments from the drivers, including a jubilant Senna as well as British driver Mike Conway, satisfied with fourth today.

As the GP2 weekend wound down and the teams started to pack up, I met with Ian Gordon, motorsport correspondent for the News of the World, and squeezed in a phone interview with GWR FM Bath, all before heading across to the Bridgestone F1 motorhome to interview Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestone’s Director of Motorsport Tyre Development. Tyres have been a particular issue with the GP2 drivers at Silverstone - firstly with the high degradation which many of them suffered in the feature race, and then on Sunday in the wet conditions - and so I was able to obtain his perspective on their performance over the weekend.

No less exciting than the GP2 race was the British Grand Prix itself. I watched the final laps from Copse, where the fans were gathered in their hundreds to cheer McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton as he recorded a home victory. Returning then to an all but empty GP2 paddock, all that was left to do was to write up the rest of my reports and reflect on what has been a brilliant weekend.

Saturday race report - Pantano takes victory after Silverstone thriller
Giorgio Pantano was the eventual victor at Silverstone today in an enthralling GP2 feature race - arguably the best of the season so far, with exciting battles throughout. Pantano, who also picked up the bonus point for fastest lap, led home Lucas Di Grassi and Karun Chandhok in second and third respectively.

Initially it was polesitter Senna who led the pack, until an excursion off-road at Stowe on Lap 4 saw him lose several places and put him out of contention for the win. “The car was really hard to drive with the first set of tyres,” he said afterwards. “We went for a more aggressive set-up and unfortunately paid the price for it.” He eventually finished in sixth.

Senna’s mistake handed the lead to Lucas Di Grassi, who led for most of the race. However, Pantano’s pace on his second set of tyres was scintillating, and with only five laps remaining he snatched the lead. By taking the chequered flag he notched up a record eighth GP2 win, and his third of the season.

The battle was close throughout the race. In the final laps Chandhok, Senna and Sebastien Buemi all closed in on third-place Grosjean, who was struggling with deteriorating tyres. Chandhok in particular drove a stunning race, making up for a disappointing qualifying in tenth by passing several drivers on the track, including Grosjean only two laps from the end. “I think I passed five or six cars today, and it wasn’t people dropping out,” Chandhok said. “We were genuinely quick.”

The British fans at Silverstone were denied a home winner today after Mike Conway stalled on the grid and had to fight his way from the back of the field, and the most he could salvage from the race was 14th place. But after such a close and exciting race, there will have been little cause for disappointment.

Silverstone Diary - Saturday
My second day at Silverstone took off just as the Formula One cars took to the track for second practice this morning, when I visited the Bridgestone stand in the F1 village. There four GP2 Series drivers - Mike Conway, Giorgio Pantano, Marco Asmer and Lucas Di Grassi - were busy signing autographs for the fans. I was able to sneak a few comments from them about their chances for the feature race later in the day. Later, and with the sun beating down, I took the opportunity to soak up some of the atmosphere at Copse corner.

An interview with Bob Bull for BBC Three Counties Radio in the Bridgestone F1 motorhome was followed by a media lunch with Sebastien Buemi - racing this season in GP2 with Trust Team Arden, as well as filling the role of Red Bull Racing’s F1 reserve driver. Also present were journalists from France and Switzerland - Buemi’s home country - who talked about their own experience following motorsport, and how they first started out.

F1 qualifying was getting underway this afternoon when I interviewed Alfonso de Orleans Borbon, Team President at Racing Engineering - currently second in the GP2 team standings - to ask him what makes for a winning outfit in the series. Immediately after that I spoke to Alexa Quintin, the GP2 Press Officer, about her race day schedule and the Series’ ever-growing reputation as the premier feeder category for Formula One.

At last we came to the main event of the day: the GP2 feature race, a gripping contest won in the end by Giorgio Pantano. After the race I grabbed quotes from a number of the drivers before heading over to hear the top three give their reflections in the press conference - a fitting way to round off the day.

Qualifying report - Senna takes pole by a whisker
The sun shone today on an intense qualifying, in which Bruno Senna and the iSport International team were able to secure a second successive pole position. Though it was achieved in less dramatic fashion than at Magny-Cours, it was nonetheless a convincing performance: his time of 1m 26.912s was set in the 15th minute, just halfway through the session.

Though his lap was unsurpassed, the session was remarkably close - ‘too close for comfort’, according to Senna himself - with the top 11 cars coming within one second of the polesitter’s time. With main rival and championship leader Giorgio Pantano having qualified only in fifth, Senna has a strong chance this weekend of closing the deficit, which currently stands at seven points.

Andreas Zuber, who won the feature race from pole here last year for the iSport team, qualified third this year in the Piquet Sports car, just two-tenths of a second behind Senna. “I had traffic in the first sector,” he said, reflecting on the session, “and I lost about four tenths, so could have had pole position, but I’m happy with third place.” Even so, he stands a good chance of achieving a second Silverstone victory tomorrow.

Karun Chandhok, Senna’s team mate, was disappointed only to achieve tenth and echoed Zuber’s complaints regarding traffic. “Starting P10 is not ideal,” he said. “The car was good enough for pole, as Bruno showed…but I think we were quick enough to be P4, P5. I caught Soucek on my best lap, which cost me a little bit more than three tenths.”

Hopes of a home win in Silverstone rest this year with Trident’s Mike Conway, after compatriot Ben Hanley was replaced in the Durango team before the event by Davide Valsecchi. Conway stopped the clock at 1m 27.754s, a bit more than eight-tenths off the polesitter’s pace, putting him in a promising eighth place on the grid.

Friday diary
My first day at Silverstone kicked off with a meeting with Bridgestone’s Malcolm von Berg, who gave me an introduction to the logistics of tyre supply and distribution at every GP2 Series event. This was followed by an insightful discussion with Will Buxton, editor of ‘virtual’ motorsport magazine GPWeek. Will spoke to me about his own journey to become a motorsports writer, offering useful advice on breaking into the profession as well as for reporting on the rest of the weekend.

Just before midday the GP2 cars took to the circuit for first practice, after which I was able to snatch a few comments from Bruno Senna and Mark Blundell - ITV television F1 analyst and manager of Trident driver Mike Conway - both of whom were upbeat regarding the rest of the weekend.

Next up was a media lunch in the Bridgestone F1 motorhome with Barwa International Campos and Renault F1 test driver Lucas Di Grassi, who used his first-hand experience to talk to me about the differences in handling and performance between the GP2 and the Formula One cars. Later on I was also able to interview GP2 Technical Director Didier Perrin about the performance of the GP2/08 car in the first few races of its debut season, and some of the drivers’ reactions to it.

An impromptu interview with Silverstone TV was the prelude to a close GP2 qualifying session in which Senna took pole. I caught up with several of the drivers in the paddock afterwards - including the two winners from the last round, Giorgio Pantano and Sebastien Buemi - to hear their reactions and gauge their confidence for the feature race tomorrow. By then the day was almost over, and all that remained was to retire to the Honda F1 motorhome for refreshments.

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