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Abu Dhabi GP2 race report


Being shunted out of the contest in the final race of the year at Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina circuit wasn't the way in which Comma-sponsored Jolyon Palmer would have wished to cap the championship-winning GP2 season which he had dominated since the opening event in Bahrain. It was in fact the only occasion all year that he failed to finish a race. But in the overall analysis, it mattered little. In every other race bar one – where he finished just out of the Sprint race reckoning in Sochi, Russia – he scored championship points in every race, closing out the season with his twelfth podium after finishing second to the ART Grand Prix team's McLaren F1 reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne of Belgium in the Abu Dhabi Feature race. Driving for the Le Mans, France based DAMS team - to which Comma is also Technical Partner - Palmer's record-breaking GP2 championship points tally of 276 will serve as a convincing calling card for his well merited F1 test with the Force India team this week.

Practise and Qualifying

Vandoorne continued his recent streak of form to top the time charts in Friday's official Practise session round the 5.554 km Yas Marina circuit. Palmer's DAMS team-mate Stéphane Richelmi was in second spot, with Frenchman Arthur Pic (Campos) third, and Palmer a little off the pace claiming fourth, 0.323secs shy of Vandoorne's 1min 50.437 fastest lap. Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto (Trident) was next up, with Carlin's Felipe Nasr of Brazil – vying with Vandoorne for the runner's-up place in the championship – somewhat on the back foot in sixth place. Raffaelle Marciello of Italy (Racing Engineering) was seventh, with eighteen year old Renault 3.5 graduate Pierre Gasly of France (Caterham) next up in eighth place. Stefano Coletti of Monaco (Racing Engineering) and New Zealander Mitch Evans (Russian Time) rounded out the fastest runners, who were separated, first to tenth, by only 0.700secs.
Held under floodlights, the cooler evening Qualifying session for Sunday's Feature race was run on a significantly faster track. Vandoorne took up where he had left off in practise, nailing pole with a blazing 1min 48.088sec lap, just 0.099secs faster than Palmer's best. Richelmi and Evans annexed row two, with Nasr and Gasly both improving on their practise efforts to fill the third row. The fourth row was comprised of Pic and Coletti, with Indonesia's Rio Haryanto (Caterham) and Colombian Julian Leal (Carlin) both upping their practise performances to complete the top ten potential points-scoring places on the fifth row.

Feature Race

Aided by a perfect get-away off the grid, tyre strategy marginally favoured Vandoorne from the start. On the super soft tyres, his task was initially made easier by Palmer – on primes - losing out places on the opening lap, first to his team mate and then to both a fast starting Nasr on the soft tyre and Evans on primes. An early three car incident towards the back of the field between Rene Binder (Arden) Jon Lancaster (Hilmer Motorsport) and Marco Sorensen (MP Motorsport) triggered a 2 lap Safety Car interlude. At the re-start, Evans caught and passed Nasr just before the Brazilian and leader Vandoorne both pitted for their mandatory tyre change onto primes on lap 6 of the 31 lap contest. Richelmi and Pic were in a lap later, and it now became a question of how long those who had started on primes – now led by Palmer from Evans, Cecotto and Coletti – could eek out their tyre life before they were obliged to switch to the super softs, whose effective operating window - as suggested by the early pit visitors - was not many laps at all.
On his fresh primes, Vandoorne soon re-established himself within a race winning time frame, and when race leaders Palmer and Evans made for the pits with 9 laps still to run, he was back at the front. After nearly losing position to Evans in the pit stop, Palmer now had to bet everything on his tyres holding out for the distance, and he initially cut lumps out of Vandoorne's lead as the laps counted down. But the odds conspired against the champion, and his tyres fell off a cliff in the final laps, allowing Vandoorne to stroke away once more to a comfortable victory by over 12 seconds. The threat to Palmer from Evans never really materialised, with the New Zealander finishing third a further 7 seconds down the road, 3 seconds ahead of Nasr, fourth, and almost 10 seconds up on Richelmi, fifth. Cecotto was sixth ahead of Coletti, with Pic eighth, Haryanto ninth and Dutchman Daniel de Jong claiming tenth - and the final points - for MP Motorsport.

Sprint Race

From his 'reverse grid' front row start and first corner lead, Stefano Coletti of Monaco made flawless work of his race to claim lights-to-flag victory in Sundays 22 lap Sprint event. Palmer's race was over even before it could get properly underway when he was spun into retirement during a four car fracas also involving his DAMS team-mate Richelmi, Evans and Vandoorne on the opening lap. But with the championship's top spoils already firmly decided in Palmer's favour, the real focus on the season's final race was on the outcome of the contest for second place between Nasr and Vandoorne. Following his Feature race win, the Belgian held the advantage on points, but Nasr – with a freshly-minted contract in his pocket to drive for Sauber in Formula 1 next year – was more than keen to turn the tables, and although he couldn't depose Coletti from the race lead, he did the next best thing and finished second. By a mere 5 points- 229 to 224 - it just wasn't quite enough. Vandoorne hung in to sneak an extra point for fastest lap and finish the race fifth behind Rookie of the Year Pic, third, and Evans, forth. Cecotto, Marciello and Spain's Sergio Canamasas (Trident) took the season's final points.

Jolyon Palmer's official website is at www.jolyonpalmer.com
For detailed GP2 race reports, results and features, visit the official GP2 website at www.gp2series.com

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