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The Bridgestone e-reporter GP2 diary - Belgium 30 Aug 2009

Bridgestone e-reporter Mieke Vercammen interviewing GP2 driver Nico Hulkenberg, Belgian Grand Prix, 28 August 2009 © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter Mieke Vercammen at Eau Rouge, Belgian Grand Prix, 28 August 2009 © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter Mieke Vercammen with a Lewis Hamilton painting, Belgian Grand Prix, 28 August 2009 © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter Mieke Vercammen in the Formula One paddock, Belgian Grand Prix, 28 August 2009 © Bridgestone Bridgestone e-reporter Mieke Vercammen interviewing Davide Valsecchi, Belgian Grand Prix, 27 August 2009 © Bridgestone

Since its inception in 2005, 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.

Eight of the 2009 finalists will each get to report from one 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 Spa, it’s Belgian Mieke Vercammen...

Sunday race report - Dutchman triumphs in Belgium
Giedo van der Garde won yet another dry but eventful race in Spa - with another safety-car period to spice up proceedings. Van der Garde grabbed the lead at the start and controlled the rest of the race. “It was quite easy as the car was better than yesterday,” he said. “I had a good start and a good restart so that’s just the way to do it.”

Roldan Rodriguez and Diego Nunes both secured spots on the podium, but the star of the race was Sergio Perez, who made up 18 places and scored another point by setting the fastest lap. “I’m very happy with the result and the fastest lap,” he said. “We had a great pace, but in the end I’m disappointed that we couldn’t overtake Nunes - even though I tried everything.”

The start wasn’t as clean as yesterday’s with a crash involving title leader Nico Hulkenberg, local hero Jerome D’Ambrosio and Fat Burner’s Dani Clos. Hulkenberg explained: “Clos just braked too late and drove into me. Still, with Petrov only scoring one point, the championship is looking good as I have a 27-point gap now.”

Another victim of the start was Luca Filippi: “The clutch was really sharp and as the lights went out, the car just stalled. Unfortunately, the marshal made a mistake and didn’t even push me back into the pit lane, from where I could have still joined in the race.”

At Les Combes, clearly one of the challenging corners, Maldonado took Kobayashi out as he tried to overtake the Japanese driver. The safety car came out to prevent the drivers from crashing into Maldonado’s car, which was stuck on the track.

After the clean restart, Di Grassi and Mortara collided when Di Grassi was too optimistic taking the inside of a corner, ruining his slim chance of winning the championship this year.

Saturday diary - being on the list…
After some late-night writing, I went to bed around 1am - only to wake up at 5.45am thanks to a loud noise. It turns out it was the hotel phone. I picked it up the second time and heard a man say: “Dear Miss Vercammen, good morning, this is your wake-up call.” Turns out someone had put Peter and me on the wake-up call list. Very funny…

Today even more people were heading to Spa, so we got stuck in a traffic jam and arrived at the track at about 10 am. It was very interesting to see racing from a non-driver point of view as I interviewed Frederic Vasseur, team principal of ART. Afterwards, Peter, Debbie and I visited the F1 paddock again and had lunch at the Bridgestone hospitality, where we were joined by South African journalist Dieter Rencken and Belgian journalist Kris Perdu. It was very interesting to talk to them and they had some nice stories to share with me.

At 4.15 pm the first GP2 race started so we hid away in the Bridgestone truck to concentrate on the racing action. Following the chaotic race I interviewed some lucky and unlucky drivers and went to see the press conference. Having arrived back at the hotel, the day ended as it had started: with a problem! I couldn’t enter my hotel room anymore, because apparently the magnetic card had been to close to my mobile phone and my purse.

As this is my last diary entry, I’d like to say a big thanks to Bridgestone for giving me this chance and to Tony, Debbie and Peter for welcoming me so nicely. This weekend was an amazing and unique experience for me that I’ll never forget. Thanks!

Saturday race report - dry but exciting, part two
At a dry and sunny Spa, Portugal’s Alvaro Parente won an eventful feature race that finished behind the safety car. The Ocean Racing driver was very happy to finish in the position he started, adding: “I feel amazing, the car was just incredible.”

Nico Hulkenberg maintained his second place all race and Lucas Di Grassi made it up onto the podium, having started from fifth position after he received a three-place grid penalty for blocking Karun Chandhok during qualifying.

The start went well for all the frontrunners and Parente maintained his lead. But after this clean getaway, there was a lot of close racing to be seen. Alberto Valerio crashed out after being hit by another car while championship frontrunner Vitaly Petrov suffered an engine failure. “I had a problem from the start,” said Petrov. “Now tomorrow will be difficult.”

During the pitstops, Chandhok spun at Raidillon and took Rigon with him. Later on in the race, Filippi took Valsecchi out after a similar spin at the very same corner, bringing out the safety car. With just two laps left Coletti had a heavy crash at Eau Rouge, causing a second safety-car period that lasted till the flag. Of 23 drivers who started, only 11 made the finish.

Pastor Maldonado was satisfied with fourth position despite expecting more from the closing laps: “Di Grassi was lucky at the end with the safety car but I’m optimistic for tomorrow,” he said. The car’s good and I’m good.” Fifth-placed Diego Nunes was happy too: “I had some understeer but we’ll fix that for tomorrow’s race.”

Both Barwa Addax cars failed to reach the finish, meaning ART Grand Prix and Nico Hulkenberg are another step closer to winning both championships.

Friday diary - feeling at home in the F1 paddock
This morning it seemed that everyone was heading to Spa, so we only arrived at the track after driving and queuing for an hour and a half. In the Bridgestone truck I prepared my upcoming interviews while watching the F1 practice on television. The unstable Spa weather had also arrived and so we saw some cars struggling with the wet conditions. Shortly before the end of the session, guide Peter and I decided to face the rain and enjoy the sight of the F1 cars taking Eau Rouge in the wet.

Meanwhile, a very nice present was waiting for us in the bus. Amazingly, Debbie got us two F1 paddock passes and arranged lunch at the exclusive F1 Paddock Club. Before that we took part in an interview session with Hirohide Hamashima, director of Bridgestone Motorsport Tyre Development and Nico Rosberg, the Williams F1 driver. At the end, I was even brave enough to ask Nico a question about GP2.

After an interesting presentation on the Bridgestone F1 tyres we headed to the Paddock Club, where we got lost, because Peter wouldn’t stop taking pictures of me with a Lewis Hamilton painting. Having finally rejoined the other Bridgestone guests we had lunch and discovered ice cream heaven. Later we quickly walked through the F1 pit lane and went driver spotting before Peter had to drag me out of the paddock to go back to work in the Bridgestone truck.

I chased some drivers after the GP2 qualifying session and carried out my interview with Nico Hulkenberg following the press conference. I have to say these GP2 drivers are all extremely friendly and civilized boys, so it’s really nice talking to them. Finally Peter and I enjoyed our dinner with a former e-reporter finalist before another exhausting drive home.

Qualifying report - dry but exciting
A delighted Alvaro Parente finished at the top of the times after an exciting and very close qualifying. The Ocean Racing driver flew round the Belgian track in 1m 54.970s and left Lucas Di Grassi only 0.080s behind.

The Brazilian is theoretically still a championship challenger although he was forced to admit: “The title is far away but I’ll try to score as many wins as possible and see how it goes.”

Championship leader Nico Hulkenberg grabbed third while Brazilian Diego Nunes earned his best ever qualifying result in fourth. Local hero Jerome D’Ambrosio qualified in 15th place and wasn’t at all happy, adding: “It just didn’t work.”

Although it didn’t rain during qualifying there was one red flag when Davide Rigon spun and got stuck in the grass. The Italian still managed to make it up to 14th place and he was quite satisfied. “I had problems at the beginning of the session but it was okay afterwards,” he said. “I still hope it’s going to rain tomorrow because the car was better in the wet.”

When the session was about to restart, plenty of busy pit-lane action turned up the heat. The off-track action continued with a spin by Panciatici, Parente running very wide and Rodriguez flying off-road. Meanwhile a lot of drivers blamed their colleagues for blocking them. Sixth-placed Karun Chandhok was one who saw his best lap ruined: “To make the top six is always good but Lucas Di Grassi held me up on his out lap when I was on my last set of new tyres.”

Three cars will be missing from tomorrow’s race. Andreas Zuber and Luiz Razia didn’t take part in qualifying because their team, Party Poker Racing.com SC, had both cars impounded while DPR driver Franck Perera’s time of 2m 24.927s missed out due to the 107% rule.

Thursday diary - a small car and a big day
I don't know whether it was because I was nervous ahead of the e-reporter weekend - or just very silly - but I managed to mess up my whole travelling schedule by taking the wrong bus from home on Thursday morning. Luckily I discovered my mistake after 15 minutes so I jumped on another bus and arrived at Dusseldorf station to find there were still trains that would take me to Cologne in time.

Safely in Liege I finally met my chaperone Peter - and his tiny car. Even though my suitcase didn't fit in the boot, the car brought us to the circuit safely. Peter and I also deserve credit for that - he should have been a DJ or racing driver, and I was great at navigating: "The sign says Spa, I'd follow it, it can't be too wrong." After what felt like an age in the sauna-like car, a media shuttle (I feel so lazy!) took us to the GP2 paddock.

Bridgestone's Debbie had scheduled an interview with Davide Valsecchi for 5.30pm. It was only 4pm so Peter and I decided to 'quickly' walk round the track. This took us a bit longer than a standard racing car but it was interesting to see the famous corners in real life. Our lap time of just over an hour wasn't bad and we made it back in time for Davide. I couldn't have wished for a better first interviewee. The Italian Barwa Addax driver is a very nice guy and gave me all the answers I needed.

After this little success we left for our hotel because it's a long ride and we were hungry too, since I hadn't eaten since 7.30am. Instead of going to bed straight after dinner, I was brave and kept writing until midnight. It was an exhausting day but I enjoyed every moment!

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