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The Bridgestone e-reporter GP2 diary - Germany 22 Jul 2008

Bridgestone e-reporter finalist Alan NG (right) with Jean-Paul Driot, DAMS team principal, German Grand Prix, Hockenheim, 19 July 2008. © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter finalist Alan NG (left), German Grand Prix, Hockenheim, 19 July 2008. © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter finalist Alan NG (left) interviews GP2 driver Romain Grosjean, German Grand Prix, Hockenheim, 19 July 2008. © Bridgestone GP2 driver Alvaro Parente in the Saturday press conference, German Grand Prix, Hockenheim, 19 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 Germany, it’s 28-year-old Malaysian writer, Alan NG...

Sunday race report - Chandhok wins in style in Germany
Karun Chandhok (iSport International) claimed his second GP2 victory of his career and his first for this season in great style. Despite a poor start when he lost first place to a storming Lucas di Grassi, who passed everyone from fourth. However, Karun had the top spot back by the third lap with a great overtaking move. Second place went to Andreas Zuber of Piquet Sports, which made up for his disappointment in the feature race on Saturday, and Chandhok’s team mate, the ever-impressive Bruno Senna, was third after starting from fifth place.

The final three ‘point-finishing’ places went to Romain Grosjean (ART Grand Prix), Javier Villa (Racing Engineering) and Alvaro Parente (Super Nova Racing). Fastest lap went to Kamui Kobayashi of DAMS with a best time of 1m 24.253s. He would have got the bonus point but was later penalised with a 25-second penalty for causing an avoidable accident. Therefore, the bonus point went to Sebastien Buemi (Trust Team Arden) who finished eighth with a best lap of 1m 24.317s.

The big news before the start of the race was obviously Romain Grosjean’s 25-second penalty for overtaking backmarker Marko Asmer (FMS) under yellow flags in the feature race on Saturday. Therefore, he had to concede the victory to Giorgio Pantano, the championship leader, and take second instead. This probably explained Grosjean’s lacklustre performance in race two as he was on the pace the whole weekend before the penalty.

Pantano did not have a good second race either, as he was taken out by Andy Soucek (Super Nova Racing) who spun in front of him on lap two. They had been running third and fourth then. Soucek went on to finish the race second but last, one lap behind Chandhok.

Going to Hungary in two weeks time, Pantano still leads the championship with 63 points with Bruno Senna 15 points behind and Romain Grosjean a further 14 points back. On the team championship side, things are much closer with iSport International (74) leading Racing Engineering (68). There is definitely much to play for in the coming races.

Driver quotes:
Karun Chandhok (iSport International), 1st:
“Very good obviously, first win of the year. A first and third for the team, so I’m very happy for these guys here. I knew I didn’t have a good start but I was surprised to see Lucas (di Grassi), he started fourth and he steamed past me. But I knew I had a better car than him so I just had to wait and find the opportunity. Although, I was quite surprised I could pass him so early. The rear tyre wear was a bit higher than I thought but it was still reasonably consistent, I just had to look after them properly.”

Andreas Zuber (Piquet Sports), 2nd:
“It was a great race compared to yesterday. I had a mega start and I was able to move up quite fast. I was able to overtake di Grassi and he got it back, but I took it back again. So it was a good battle and I was very happy. In the end, I tried to push Chandhok a bit more but he made no mistakes. My car is getting better and better in terms of car set-up but we still have some work to do. Today was good! Hopefully, I can be on the podium again in Hungary.”

Bruno Senna (iSport International), 3rd:
“My start was really bad today. I lost two to three positions at the start but then I focused myself on getting the positions back and fighting forward. I had to use a lot of my tyres for that. The team gave me a good car and I could fight, it was great fun today.”

Sunday diary
I’ve decided to do something different because it’s my last day as a Bridgestone e-reporter. I’m going to try to update the diary as the day goes by - so apologies if I alternate between past and present tense.

8.30am
I was greeted with a bright and sunny day on my last day of e-reporting, which was a good sign! Unfortunately, the euphoria of yesterday’s exciting GP2 race has been massively tempered by the news that Romain Grosjean had been penalised with a 25-second penalty for overtaking a back marker under a yellow flag. Having interviewed him yesterday right after the race, I can imagine the disappointment he must be feeling now. But I doubt he has had much time to dwell on it because the Sprint race is starting at 10:30am.

9:10am
Just finished a photoshoot with professional photographer Alastair of LAT. I felt like a calendar boy as I posed with some Bridgestone tyres. I got to choose which GP2 driver and car to have my picture taken with and naturally, I chose Romain Grosjean. Just wanted to take the opportunity meet him, get his reaction and offer him my best wishes for today’s race.

12:40pm
Within the past three hours, I have had an interview with the Bridgestone GP2 support team, which to my surprise just consists of eight chaps (6 mechanics and 2 engineers for 26 drivers. That’s amazing). I have also covered the sprint race (last one for the weekend) and interviewed the top three drivers (Karun Chandhok, Andreas Zuber and Bruno Senna). In between all this, I was able to catch up with Jazeman Jaafar, a fellow Malaysian who is now racing in Formula BMW. How great is that!

2:50pm
I’ve finished my last article of the weekend (there are a few feature articles to do next week) while watching the Formula One race from the Bridgestone truck. There’s only one word to describe my feelings now - satisfied - I have enjoyed myself to the maximum. I have played hard but also had to work hard and it’s just a nice feeling to be able to relax and soak up the atmosphere. We are leaving for the train station soon. After this, it’s back to a mundane lifestyle again, but this was good while it lasted.

Saturday race report - rain prompts topsy-turvy result
The rain that was supposed to arrive during Formula One qualifying came late and turned the GP2 feature race literally upside down. ART Grand Prix's Romain Grosjean ensured that the continuity of the 'pole-sitters never finish first curse’ by snatching victory from Racing Engineering's Giorgio Pantano as rain fell heavily, albeit for a while, just six to seven laps before the finish. Alvaro Parente stayed out of trouble and quietly took third for Super Nova Racing and was followed by Bruno Senna (iSport International), Lucas di Grassi (Barwa International Campos), Pastor Maldonado (Piquet Sports), Andy Soucek (Super Nova Racing) and Karun Chandok (iSport International).

However, the drama did not end there as post-race investigations showed that Grosjean overtook backmarker Marko Asmer under yellow flags three laps before the finish and he was given a 25-second penalty. Therefore, Pantano was declared the winner late in the evening with Grosjean second (again).

With clear skies and a track that offered plenty of grip, it all started so well for Pantano, who led Grosjean from the grid as the five lights went off. That wasn’t the case for Andreas Zuber (Piquet Sports), who started third but fell straight to 16th, thanks to a slow start. Sebastien Buemi (Trust Team Arden), Di Grassi and Senna took full advantage and each gained a position.

As the top pair continued to stream ahead, Buemi was having a non-eventful race, as Senna hounded Di Grassi all the way before finally overtaking as Di Grassi made a mistake on Lap 29.

Then the rain came and things just changed within seconds. Buemi crashed out as Senna immediately pitted for wet tyres. Chandok and Di Grassi did the same. Unfortunately, the rain did not fall hard enough and as it stopped, parts of the track began to dry while other parts remained wet.

This ensured a nail-biting finish as plenty of drivers crashed out on the final lap. The major losers were Javier Villa (Racing Engineering), who crashed out from a certain third position and Andreas Zuber who had fought his way up to fifth only to lose it all again. Pantano has now extended his lead over Senna from 11 to 19 points (63 versus 44). The fastest lap he achieved (1m 24.454s) also meant that he has the car to fight for a win tomorrow.

It will be another topsy-turvy day on Sunday as the top eight positions are reversed for the sprint race. Nothing is guaranteed, but one thing is for sure, it’s going to be another cracker.

Driver quotes:
Romain Grosjean, ART Grand Prix, before the 25-second penalty
“It was a crazy race. In the beginning, I was quicker than Giorgio with very little (tyre) degradation. Then Giorgio was faster. After the pit stops, it was all the same again. Then came the rain. I thought I was dead because he has so much experience in GP2. It was very, very tricky but I could keep the car on the track. The rain came stronger and stronger. But I know the (racing) line here because I’ve raced here in Formula Three before. And Giorgio was in front, I could see where he was making mistakes and brake earlier and things like this. And then, at the Mercedes Tribune, I was side by side with him and then I overtook him on the inside. And the last part was keeping the car on the track, it was so tricky. It was the best race I’ve won so far.”

Giogio Pantano, Racing Engineering, before Grosjean’s penalty
“The beginning was good. The car was working really well, no problem, nothing. We were just managing the race. And then the last five laps, it started raining. It was too risky to push the car any more because the tactics were different from Grosjean. I just wanted to keep second place. In the last five laps, some sectors were really wet and some sectors were dry. This is racing however. You were leading for 35 laps no problem, but then, with the weather and everything, in the end I was just thinking about the championship.”

Alvaro Parente, Super Nova Racing, 3rd
“We had a difficult time at the first part of the race, especially in the start. I touched with some people and lost three to four positions. We recovered in the pit stop and after the pit stop we were lying eighth. And then the rain came, we decided to stay out. In the first wet lap, I made the call to stay out. Then it was the team and we decided to just stay out. Last few laps, one sector was wet and the rest was dry - the sector that was wet was hard to drive.”

Bruno Senna, iSport International, 4th
“We had good weather predictions, from Williams (F1 team). It did rain but then it fizzled out, so it didn’t work out for me. Unfortunately I paid the price for it. But then again, you never know, maybe with the dry tyres, I would have had problems later on and spun off and go out of the race. It’s just one of those things.”

Saturday diary - interviews, interviews and more interviews!
Having the hindsight of Friday, we arrived at the circuit on Saturday morning not too early. As the next event was only supposed to take place at 10.00, I was able to take a fine walk along the Formula One paddock and did a bit of F1 celebrity-spotting. Sure enough, I saw Rubens Barichello, Peter Sauber and a fine young chap called Sebastian Vettel.

After that, it was down to serious work as I did three interviews in a row. First up was Didier Perrin, the GP2 technical director. I was able to get plenty of information on the GP2 car’s technical details, things which only geeks are interested in. These include the electronic components in the GP2 car and potential problems in setting up the GP2 car properly.

After that informative session, it was off to talk to Sebastien Buemi, of Trust Team Arden, who is something of a hot property now amongst the F1 teams because of his stellar performance in the past few races. There were plenty of rumours flying around the paddock that Toro Rosso and BMW Sauber are looking into the availability of Sebastien for a race seat next season. Next, it was time to meet Jean-Paul Driot, who co-founded the DAMS racing team with Rene Arnoux way back in 1988. Jean-Paul is clearly a man who has a deep passion for motorsport as he has been in the business for 20 years, going through the usual ups and downs.

The best part of the day had to be covering the GP2 feature race in the afternoon. An initially uneventful race was turned upside down as rain fell for a few minutes, just six to seven laps before the finish. The absolute mayhem that transpired after that ensured a nail-biting finish. I was able to interview the top four drivers after the race. I’m also learning to be tactful when approaching them, as some of them are obviously a bit frustrated after the race when the result did not go their way and they just need some space to calm down before speaking to the journalists.

I’ll be lying if I say I’m not exhausted but it’s really been worth the effort as another memorable day goes by.

Qualifying report - Pantano’s perfect lap
Under cloudy but dry conditions, qualifying started at 15:55pm sharp with all 26 GP2 cars streaming out of the pits to make lap times. In this session, the timing of the hot lap was everything, as track conditions varied based on the availability of sunshine, which only came out during the early part of the session.

Timing his hot lap to perfection, Racing Engineering’s Giorgio Pantano once again came out on top with an unbeatable lap time of 1m 21.650s. Less than 0.3s behind was Romain Grosjean for ART Grand Prix, who set a time of 1m 21.977s. Pantano and Grosjean were the only two drivers that dipped under the 1m 22s mark.

Further down the grid in third was Andreas Zuber of Piquet Sports, who was just 0.070s slower than Grosjean. He was followed by Sebastien Buemi (Trust Team Arden), Lucas di Grassi (Barwa International Campos), with Bruno Senna (iSport International) rounding out the top six.

Driver quotes:
Giorgio Pantano, Racing Engineering, 1st
“It’s good when you get pole, you’re 0.3s from second. It was a perfect lap. The car was working really well. I have to say thank you to the team. When the sun was shining in the beginning, it was good. But then the clouds began to come out again. The tyres seemed very different with different temperatures. But anyway, we’re safe with consistency with good grip all the time. We will be able to pit very late with slow tyre (wear) rate, unlike Silverstone. We’re ready for a wet race, or a dry race.”

Romain Grosjean, ART Grand Prix, 2nd
“The track was good at the beginning with sunshine and the rubber from the Formula One cars. That was the difference. I know the track and the car is getting better. We still have a little bit of work to do. Now we know that there’s one point that we have to work on. We will see the qualifying data. We only have 30 minutes during practice, so we didn’t do any long runs, but today we know a bit more cause we used the tyres during Silverstone. So we should be able to choose our strategy.”

Andreas Zuber, Piquet Sports, 3rd
“It was not bad. We struggled a little bit with the car, because it’s very difficult to drive at the moment. But I had a quite clean lap. First and second set of tyres, I could improve a little bit. But 0.4s to Pantano is a little too much. We need to find that. I know we struggle with race set-up a little bit, but I hope we can find that.”

Sebastien Buemi, Trust Team Arden, 4th
“I had a really good day, at free practice too. We could improve the lap time and the car. So, quite happy with everything. Hopefully we can keep up with the rest.”

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