The Bridgestone e-reporter GP2 diary - Italy 14 Sep 2008
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 Italy, its 23 year-old British writer, Tom Drew...
Sunday race report - Valsecchi completes Italian celebration
A solid drive from first on the grid saw Davide Valsecchi win his first ever GP2 race today in front of his home crowd in the Sunday sprint at Monza. Valsecchi was slow to react to the start of the race and was quickly overtaken by Roldan Rodriguez, but the Italian regained the place in a neat manoeuvre on the eighth lap and finished nine seconds clear of Rodriguez, who himself finished in a career-best second position.
Romain Grosjean completed the podium but for the second consecutive race the real attention shifted further back on the circuit to the battle between Lucas di Grassi and Bruno Senna for second in the championship.
After his excellent win in Saturdays feature race Di Grassi moved to within one point of Sennas season tally, but the Campos driver started two rows behind Senna on the grid.
An excellent first lap from Di Grassi saw him move to one place behind Senna during the second lap and the pressure clearly affected the iSport driver and a momentary lapse of concentration led to him spinning off the track at the second chicane. Senna recovered his car masterfully, but the following lap at the same chicane he spun again after being touched by di Grassi and dropped back to tenth, with Di Grassi five places ahead of him.
However, the drama took one final twist when Di Grassi was handed a drive-through penalty for causing Sennas second spin, leaving him in 16th and 18 seconds behind Senna, an insurmountable gap.
Davide Valsecchi said: It was great to win here in front of my home crowd and it is a fantastic way to finish the season. The race was interesting because I have never led from the start before and obviously I got off to a bad start, but I was happy to recover that and take the win.
Roldan Rodriguez said: Im obviously very happy. We have been improving all the time and it is good for the team to get a podium finish at the end and for me to finish with my best ever result, so its been a great day.
Bruno Senna said: It was a good race, full of incidents, but I am happy to have finished second in the championship, I feel I deserve it after the season I have had.
Sunday diary - arrivederci Monza
The fields surrounding the circuit at Monza look more like those of a Sunday at Glastonbury than what one might expect of a Sunday in northern Italy. The rain continued throughout the morning, promising to liven up what already promised to be an exciting day of races.
Coming from Britain, the rain capital of the world (well, it certainly seems that way) Ive seen many innovative methods for coping with persistent precipitation, but none can compare to the tifosi method I saw being put into practice today. Two men in the typical Ferrari uniform were each carrying Michael Schumacher above their heads to protect them from the midday downpour - I should point that this wasnt the real Schumey, but a life-sized cardboard cut-out, but still, good improvisation boys!
As I write this the Grand Prix is taking place around me and Lewis Hamilton is proving to the world why he has won so many accolades in his two seasons in Formula One racing. It is often said that a great driver drives well in the wet and if that is true then Lewis Hamilton is a modern great.
Watching him scythe through groups of drivers at ease this afternoon has instilled in me a patriotism that long summers of underachieving British sporting teams had long since evaporated. He wont win the race, but it is still a great drive - rule Britannia.
Sadly, any chance I might have had of interviewing the FIA President have passed, but I saw him doing the grid walk today and he received a predictably warm welcome, so there may be a chance in the future.
I need to run out now to catch the last lap of the Grand Prix so from Monza its arrivederci!
Saturday race report - Di Grassi wins as Pantano takes the glory
Lucas di Grassi took the chequered flag in yesterdays GP2 feature race, but the real champagne celebration was for the driver who finished tenth - Giorgio Pantano, the new GP2 Series champion.
Pantano started the race on pole and the Italian had revealed that he was desperate to win in front of his home crowd, but a pit-lane exit violation meant the Racing Engineering driver had to serve a drive-through penalty, demoting him to tenth.
Starting from second on the grid, Di Grassi drove brilliantly in extremely treacherous conditions and after Pantanos penalty he managed to fend off the advances of Pastor Maldonado who finished seven tenths of a second behind di Grassi.
But despite the action at the front of the grid, the crowds focus was on the red and blue car of Bruno Senna in fifth. The iSport driver was the only man who could deny Pantano his homecoming championship glory and toward the end of the race Senna was pushing hard to do just that.
I had to take risks, Senna reasoned after the race, I was back in fifth and I knew I needed to finish in the points regardless of Giorgios position so I had to give it everything I had.
Sennas exuberance on the throttle made for an interesting race for the Brazilian, who spent his final laps yo-yoing between fourth and fifth place. With only two laps remaining Senna stole fourth place from Grosjean but as the wet track was rapidly drying he was immediately relegated back to fifth after miscalculating the braking distance at the Retifilio chicane which he drove through.
Senna finished the race with four points, but even a Herculean effort in the closing laps would not have been enough to secure the podium finish that would have kept his title dream alive, as he finished more than ten seconds behind third placed Buemi.
The result takes the fight for second place in the championship down to the last race, with Senna one point ahead of Di Grassi on 64 points.
Lucas di Grassi said: It was one of the hardest races of my life today: the conditions were really difficult and changing, going from really, really wet to totally dry in one race is something amazing.
I was a bit of a shame when Giorgio went off for the penalty but he was very close to us, but even in the dry we have a faster car than him
Giorgio Pantano said: Im very happy to win here in front of my home fans, it should have come earlier, but it is a wonderful thing to be champion in Italy. Im a little bit worried about the race today, but taking the championship was what we wanted to do and it is what we have done.
Saturday diary - getting to know the tifosi
Its day two of my Monza adventure and the rain clouds are back again causing a somewhat muted anticipation of todays GP2 feature race. However, the prospect of attending a signing session with GP2s top four drivers (Giorgio Pantano, Bruno Senna, Lucas di Grassi and Romain Grosjean) soon lifted my spirits.
I was running slightly late and had to make a last-minute dash for the drivers Mercedes shuttle to the signing tent, which meant when I got there I wasnt afforded the luxury of a seat. You can sit on Brunos lap Di Grassi joked. I thanked Lucas for his helpful suggestion but after only one interview with Senna I didnt feel I knew him well enough to treat him to a backseat lap dance.
My signing session experience presented me with my first chance to see the tifosi in action, and, yes, they really are as fanatical as everyone says. One man in his mid thirties was dressed in the full Ferrari ensemble, with an Italian flag cleverly employed as a kind of sarong, a cap which he had glued front and rear spoilers to (die-cast model, thankfully not the real thing) and a Ferrari tattoo on his arm - well, they do say Milan is the fashion capital of the world!
The story of the day from Monza was Sebastian Vettels amazing performance during a Formula One qualifying session which saw Lewis Hamilton finish 15th. The Toro Rosso driver took provisional pole in great style in front of his teams loyal supporters and his infectious elation was evident from the minute he climbed out of his car; I counted 18 fist pumps in 30 seconds, which if maintained over three hours would total 6480 pumps, smashing the fist-pump ratio (FPR) of the Nadal/Murray semi-final at the US Open last week (and probably resulting in a hairline carpal fracture).
Qualifying report - rain dampens Sennas championship bid
Bruno Senna branded yesterdays vital GP2 qualification a lottery after torrential rain in Monza poured cold water on his championship dream.
The iSport International driver is 13 points behind the series leader Giorgio Pantano going into Saturdays race, but the Italian is on pole with Lucas di Grassi partnering him on the front row, Sebastien Buemi in third and Senna languishing behind in 12th place.
After his drive, a disconsolate Senna lamented the weather which dramatically changed from driving rain during the mornings free practice to idyllic sunshine for qualification.
He said: The rain today hindered my preparation a lot. It becomes a lottery when you dont get a run on dry tyres, and different teams have different solutions and I think we just didnt get it right.
Despite his setback Senna promised GP2 fans an exciting race today as he vowed to fight Pantano for the championship and, failing that, beat Di Grassi, who can steal second place from the Brazilian with two good drives this weekend.
Senna said: Its going to be a lot of hard work playing catch-up to the front two, theyre both going for the win, but Ive had some good results at Monza so Im going to push them all the way.
Pantano was characteristically composed after his excellent qualification, but admitted that he had a few butterflies before climbing into his cockpit.
He said: Before the qualifying I was a bit nervous, because I didnt cope very well with the wet weather this morning, but once that went away it was perfect. Unfortunately we dont know if tomorrow will be wet or dry, its very unpredictable, but its good that weve got the best start possible and I have a good feel for the track so I hope I can win."
Friday diary - upstaged by a nine-year-old journalist
Welcome to Monza reads a sign outside the tree-lined entrance to the Italian circuit. The formal introduction is superfluous - this is Monza, home to the Tifosi and a Mecca for Formula One fans worldwide; this is my first visit to the city and yet I feel Ive known it all my life.
My motorsport journalism career got off to a great start on Thursday and, almost out of nowhere, I managed to grab interviews with Formula One stars Heikki Kovalainen and Mark Webber during a GP2 press event. But my elation was soon tempered when the following day I was upstaged by a much more adept nine-year-old: Sena Sakaguchi, the current Japanese Junior Kart Class champion, nailed the all-important post-qualification interview with his hero Bruno Senna - pesky kid!
Friday saw two very different sides to Monza, with torrential rain in the morning finishing in gorgeous sunshine until dusk. The mornings downpour was so extreme that not only did it bring the first F1 practice session to an abrupt end, it also flooded GP2 hospitality, which meant I got the unique privilege of seeing some very distinguished journalists desperately grabbing their laptops and fleeing for higher ground - a levelling experience.
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