Fabio Leimer took the GP2 series points lead by fending off charging poleman Sam Bird to win a thrilling Monza feature race.
Russian Time driver Bird lost his advantage off the startline as fellow front-row man Leimer (Racing Engineering) leapt into the lead using the medium-compound tire, which gave him a better launch than Bird’s hard rubber.
They ran divergent strategies as a result, with Leimer pitting from the lead on lap 12, despite suffering from a vibration at the rear of his car in the opening stint, switching onto four new hard tires.
On the harder tires, Bird stayed out until lap 20 to switch to four fresh mediums. However, his right-rear wheel proved tricky to attach and he was slow to rejoin, and his 36.6-second lead over Leimer was turned into a 4.1sec deficit.
“What happened in the pit stop, guys?” asked Bird rhetorically on the radio later. “That was a shame.”
Despite cutting Leimer’s lead to half a second with three laps remaining, Bird’s softer tires then seemed to wilt in the closing laps, and he could not get close enough to make a move. He finished 0.8sec behind at the finish.
Bird also reported he had “too much understeer in the first and second Lesmos. He was just unstoppable compared to us. It was a fun race, though.”
Leimer now leads the championship with 153 points, eight ahead of Bird, while former points leader Stefano Coletti is now 18 points adrift.
“I want to focus race by race, and then we’ll see what happens at the end of the season,” said Leimer.
Coletti was running fifth when he received a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pits, and would later retire with a handful of laps remaining.
Bird’s teammate Tom Dillmann finished third, over 5s in arrears, ahead of Stephane Richelmi and Julian Leal, who all ran long first stints.
James Calado suffered a terrible start but salvaged sixth position, chased home by fellow Brit Adrian Quaife-Hobbs. Caterham duo Alexander Rossi and Sergio Canamasas, along with Vittorio Ghirelli, rounded out the point scorers.
It was a disastrous race for Carlin. Jolyon Palmer was in the mix for the podium until his left-rear wheel fell off at Lesmo 1 after his pit stop, while title-contending teammate Felipe Nasr suffered a hydraulic leak that forced him out of a points-paying position.
Results - 30 laps:Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Fabio Leimer Racing Engineering 47m48.311s 2. Sam Bird Russian Time +0.806s 3. Tom Dillmann Russian Time +6.137s 4. Stephane Richelmi DAMS +9.902s 5. Julian Leal Racing Engineering +15.400s 6. James Calado ART +18.748s 7. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs Hilmer +24.007s 8. Alexander Rossi Caterham +30.276s 9. Sergio Canamasas Caterham +40.272s10. Vittorio Ghirelli Lazarus +44.906s11. Daniel de Jong MP +46.540s12. Johnny Cecotto Jr Arden +47.382s13. Jon Lancaster Hilmer +47.635s14. Rio Haryanto Addax +48.003s15. Sergio Campana Trident +50.194s16. Rene Binder Lazarus +1m02.186s17. Daniel Abt ART +1 lap18. Dani Clos MP +1 lapRetirements: Stefano Coletti Rapax 24 laps Felipe Nasr Carlin 18 laps Marcus Ericsson DAMS 16 laps Jolyon Palmer Carlin 11 laps Jake Rosenzweig Addax 4 laps Mitch Evans Arden 1 lap Simon Trummer Rapax 1 lap Nathanael Berthon Trident 0 laps