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The Bridgestone e-reporter GP2 diary - Belgium 07 Sep 2008

Bridgestone e-reporter finalist Rutger Wuyts, Belgian Grand Prix, Belgian, 7 September 2008. © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter finalist Rutger Wuyts interviews Pastor Maldonado, Belgian Grand Prix, Belgian, 7 September 2008. © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter finalist Rutger Wuyts interviews Jerome D'Ambrosio, Belgian Grand Prix, Belgian, 7 September 2008. © Bridgestone 

Bridgestone e-reporter finalist Rutger Wuyts with Giorgio Pantano, Belgian Grand Prix, 06 September 2008. © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter finalist Rutger Wuyts at the media lunch, Belgian Grand Prix, 06 September 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 Belgium, it’s 23 year-old local writer, Rutger Wuyts...

Sunday race report - Maldonado waits until the last lap
There was a major player absent from the Sunday sprint race in Spa, as the leading driver of this year’s championship, Giorgio Pantano, was excluded from the race for reckless driving and unsportsmanlike behaviour as well as overtaking under the safety car. Furthermore, due to the subsequent disqualification of Andreas Zuber, Jerome D’Ambrosio was happy to find himself on pole in the sprint race of his home Grand Prix.

Yet again, shortly before the race, small rain showers greeted our GP2 drivers, but they were not impressed and decided to all start on slicks. As the race started Andy Soucek was beside leader D’Ambrosio on the Kemmel straight. Both waited a long time to get on the brakes before Les Combes, resulting in Soucek going over the grass, but keeping second place.

At the beginning of Lap Six Mike Conway spun round on the start-finish straight, while Alberto Valerio went off, because he touched the curb between Malmedy and Rivage, prompting a safety car period. Still, Alvaro Parente managed to brake late and hit the wall at the Bus Stop.

By Lap Eight it was clear to see the men on the move were Pastor Maldonado, sixth to third, Bruno Senna, 11th to seventh and Lucas Di Grassi, 20th to eighth. Winner of the feature race Romain Grosjean was up into sixth and opened an attack on Sebastien Buemi in fifth. The struggle allowed Senna to join in on the action, resulting in contact that ended the race for the man in second place of the drivers’ championship. Grosjean dropped back later on when he hit one of the white lines at Stavelot.

With five laps to go Maldonado opened a successful attack on Soucek grabbing second, but it would get even worse for Soucek as he also hit the kerb at Stavelot and found himself out of the race with three laps to go. Maldonado gradually closed the gap on D’Ambrosio and overtook him on the Kemmel straight in the final lap to take away the victory, ahead of D’Ambrosio, Vitaly Petrov, Buemi, Di Grassi and Kamui Kobayashi.

A delighted Maldonado praised his car for its very low downforce and resulting high speed, especially on the Kemmel straight, and said he strategically waited until the last lap to try and pass D’Ambrosio. At DAMS they were very happy to take sixth and second, though the Belgian fans would have wanted to see D’Ambrosio victorious after his great race.

The drivers’ championship will probably go down between Pantano and Senna with a gap of 11 points between them. Theoretically the two other possibilities are Grosjean and Di Grassi, who was very happy with his good pace this weekend, even though, commenting on the incident with Pantano on Saturday, he said: “It showed his personality.”

Sunday diary - an exciting final day
Sunday was mainly about the GP2 sprint race and early in the morning we heard that Belgian driver Jerome D’Ambrosio would be starting on pole, because Andreas Zuber was disqualified from the Saturday race. It promised that it was again going to be a day to remember. Everything was going very well and I could almost hear the Belgian national anthem being played on the podium, but Pastor Maldonado decided he would like his own Venezuelan anthem to be played instead and passed D’Ambrosio on the final lap of the race.

After interviewing Jerome and seeing that he was happy with his second place after Valencia, I couldn’t really be anything else but happy for him, because surely Maldonado deserved the win, since he had been very fast all weekend. Besides analysing the sprint race and interviewing the drivers after the event, I also had the opportunity to have a photo shoot at the Trident Team pit crew and furthermore was free to work on my reports and experience being in the middle of a genuine Formula One race, when at two o’clock the big guys went at it.

Just before the Formula One race ended, I had to wake up again as we had to leave the circuit, but I’ll never forget the great experience that Bridgestone have given me. Seeing a bit of the glamour, as well as the hard work, that is put into this great sport and being able to walk freely amongst those very friendly and talented GP2 drivers, really made this weekend all the better.

There’s nothing left to say, but to warn students out there that you would be a fool not to enter the Bridgestone e-reporter contest next year! Thanks again everyone who helped to make this possible.

Saturday race report - no points for title contenders
Struck by a qualifying deja-vu, we saw another short rain shower just five minutes before the race started. The track didn’t get that wet, but it was enough to force the drivers to start on wet tyres and put a dangerous, slippery layer on the asphalt. For safety reasons the race started behind the safety car. The real start would come just two laps later when the safety car went in and then the real spectacle could begin.

Straight away we saw a lot of fights going on and even some passes behind the top three: Bruno Senna, Alvaro Parente and Romain Grosjean. The first incident happened when Iaconelli spun out and got stuck in Malmedy right in front of Sakon Yamamoto, forcing the Japanese driver to go on a little off-road trip.

As the track was drying Andreas Zuber was the first to pit for slicks on Lap Six. Leader Senna, Giorgio Pantano and almost half of the rest of the field followed his example on the next lap. In the pits iSport let Senna leave his box too early, almost causing a collision with birthday boy Alberto Valerio. By Lap Eight everyone was on slicks.

Everybody’s heart stopped when we saw Davide Valsecchi go off hard into the wall of tyres at Stavelot on Lap 10, causing a safety car period. Pantano had managed to move into second place behind Senna, but after the safety car he dropped down to tenth. Senna, meanwhile, got a drive-through penalty for the incident in the pits and dropped down to 23rd.

At the end of Lap 20, Parente, who said afterwards that he struggled with a lack of front wing to be competitive in the second sector, made a mistake to allow Grosjean to put pressure on him and make him brake on a wet section of track. This meant that Grosjean could get by in La Source to go into first and the Frenchman managed to stay there until the end. At the end of the race a very happy Grosjean was thankful the team had kept the dry set-up on the car, which allowed him this pass.

In an ultimate attempt to gain points, Pantano, who was then still 10th, went straight through into Lucas Di Grassi at La Source to reward none of the top drivers with any points. After the race Pantano was disqualified for his manoeuvres and decided not to start the sprint race to avoid a penalty in Monza. Zuber, who came over the line in third was disqualified later on as well, due to illegal modifications to his car nose.

So this spectacular race ended up giving points to Grosjean, Parente, Pastor Maldonado, Vitaly Petrov, Sebastien Buemi, Andy Soucek, Mike Conway and home driver Jerome D’Ambrosio.

Saturday diary - another day to remember
More chilly weather for the second day at Spa-Francorchamps as I was just warming up to this journalistic experience. In the morning, Bridgestone had set up a signing session for the racing fans of the GP2 Series. On the way down from the GP2 paddock to the Bridgestone stand between the circuit shops I had a few Dutch words with Chinese-Dutch GP2-driver Ho-Pin Tung about the Francorchamps circuit and his thoughts for the race. We met up with Jerome D’Ambrosio and Karun Chandhok and were happy to see fans really eager to meet and see the three drivers, who were announced as future Formula One hopefuls.

Back at the GP2 paddock I didn’t have any luck in finding any other drivers to talk to. It’s a pity, because I really wanted to see Alberto Valerio of the Durango team, since it was his birthday on Saturday and on Friday he managed to improve his best qualifying in GP2 so far.

At 11.30 I did my Bridgestone e-reporter driver interview with Belgian driver D’Ambrosio from the DAMS team, which I had been looking forward to the entire weekend. Later on, there was a media lunch scheduled in the F1 Bridgestone motorhome with Belgian newspaper journalists from ‘Het Nieuwsblad’ and ‘Le Soir’. It was pleasant to see them look really interested in who I was and what a Bridgestone e-reporter really stands for and they said that they would be willing to give me some feedback if I wrote them a report.

After lunch I went straight down to the iSport trailer to get more information for my driver profile of Karun Chandhok. After watching a bit of the F1 qualifying it was time for my first analytical view of a GP2 race, followed by some driver interviews after the race and the GP2 press conference. To conclude my day I had a chat with the managing and technical director of DAMS, Eric Boullier, as well as David Beck, who represents the commercial department for GP2 of Dallara Automobil.

Qualifying report - wet track disrupts qualifying hopes
It was as if the clouds knew something important was about to happen when just five minutes before the start of GP2 qualifying a heavy, but short, rain shower transformed the Spa-Francorchamps race circuit into a wet track. It was not long before we saw the first mistakes in these unpredictable conditions and after 10 minutes of qualifying we shockingly saw Lucas di Grassi going off track with just an out lap time of 2m 30.459s on the board. Because he didn’t pass the 107 percent rule, he was granted last place on the grid, but the Brazilian won’t be too happy to see his chances for the championship title heavily reduced.

Meanwhile, after finishing first in practice, Pastor Maldonado was again on top with Bruno Senna a close second when Maldonado himself went off the track with 15 minutes left on the clock and qualifying was stopped for five minutes.

At the restart of the session an epic battle began between Senna and Giorgio Pantano, now respectively first and second on the drying track. Sakon Yamamoto and Kamui Kobayashi went off, as well as Luca Filippi and Alberto Valerio. And there was a bit of a fright for Filippi when he saw Roldan Rodriguez go wide in his direction, but luckily he managed to avoid the danger.

Most drivers managed to improve their times on the drying track, although a lot struggled to get a clear lap without yellow flags. The ultimate lap would be decisive as Karun Chandhok took first with a time of 2m 15.489s. Because he had a pending 10-place penalty from the incident in Valencia, Senna (2m 15.550s) will be on pole along with the bonus of the much needed two points for the championship.

At the press conference Parente said: “I think I have the car to be able to win it,” while Senna said about the championship: “The pressure is on Giorgio!” and Chandhok concluded: “It’s a mega circuit, where every driver finds it a pleasure to drive.”

Friday diary - adapting to the dazzling Formula-circus
At the start of the day I heard U2 on Belgian radio singing It’s a Beautiful Day and I was absolutely sure that it was going to be. Arriving at the track, we sorted out the schedule to make sure I wasn’t going to miss any of the GP2 action or lose track of my journalistic duties. I also received a truckload of information about the big part Bridgestone plays in the GP2 Series.

The GP2 practice was a nice way for me to finally see the GP2 cars in action and work on my skills to distinguish the drivers, seeing that in Belgium they don’t broadcast the GP2 races in full. Soon after practice we went to have lunch at the Bridgestone Formula One motorhome, where we were honoured with the presence of Belgium's hope for the future, Jerome D’Ambrosio. He looked very at ease and after his 10th place in practice he had realistic hopes for qualifying in the top six, which we all wished he would achieve. Sadly, though, a wet qualifying denied him his hopes with an unfortunate 21st place.

Remaining in the Formula One paddock I was invited to a tour of the overwhelming McLaren motorhome before heading back to the GP2 paddock to see the very entertaining qualifying session. Then we attended the press conference, after which I was able to stand among the greats as I interviewed the top-three qualifiers.

Having never been as lucky as to be present during a race weekend, your wildest dreams can’t even come close to knowing how it feels to be right in the centre of it all. At first I found it very hard to go up and talk to whoever I wanted, but gradually you adapt to the situation and realise you’re just trying to give those people a voice to be heard.

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