Pastor Maldonado won a thrilling GP2 sprint race with a stunning pass on leader Jerome d’Ambrosio on the final lap at Spa-Francorchamps.
But Bruno Senna failed to capitalise on the absense of points leader Giorgio Pantano by crashing out of the race.
D’Ambrosio led every lap of the sprint race from pole position until the final tour. Then Maldonado, who had passed Andy Soucek for second four laps earlier, arrived on the tail of the DAMS car.
With light rain making the track surface damp and kerbs treacherous, Maldonado carried more speed through Eau Rouge to catch d’Ambrosio’s slipstream down the Kemmel straight. D’Ambrosio moved to block the inside line into Les Combes, but Maldonado charged down the outside, out-braked d’Ambrosio, and stole the lead.
It was a dramatic race filled with incidents and accidents. Senna carefully made his way through the field from 11th to seventh by lap six. Then Alberto Valerio crashed at the exit of Malmedy, bringing out the safety car – the third time a Durango car had caused a caution period at Spa this weekend.
Two incidents occured while the safety car was circulating. Alvaro Parente crashed heavily at the bus stop chicane with smoke pouring from his locked wheels – almost as if he had his throttle stuck open, or a failure on one brake. And Lucas di Grassi appeared to pass Kobayashi under yellow flags – yesterday a similar move by Giorgio Pantano contributed to his exclusion from the weekend.
The race restarted with d’Ambrosio leading from Soucek and Maldonado. Soucek rebuffed a passing attempt by Maldonado at Kemmel with a late swerve reminiscent of Michael Schumacher’s notorious block on Mika Hakkinen at the same spot eight years ago.
There was more contentious driving further down the field. Romain Grosjean took a run at Sebastien Buemi and bravely tried to pass the Super Nova driver around the outside of Blanchimont. Grosjean couldn’t make the move stick and Senna got a run on the pair of them, drawing alongside Grosjean at the outside of the Bus Stop chicane. But Senna was caught out by how early Buemi braked, hit his rival’s left-rear tyre, and crawled into the pits to retire, visibly angry at the collision.
Grosjean later slipstreamed past Buemi at Les Combes, but threw it away with a spin on the exit of Curva Paul Frere (which, until yesterday, was named Stavelot).
As light rain continued to fall on the circuit more drivers were being caught out. Soucek, after being past by Maldonado, shunted heavily at Curva Paul Frere, but without bringing the safety car out.
Maldonado cut d’Ambrosio’s lead by over a second per lap to catch him on the final circuit, and his gutsy pass brought him and Piquet Sports their first win of the year. Vitaly Petrov finished third ahead of Buemi, di Grassi and Kobayashi. Davide Valsecchi, who spent the night in hospital following his major crash yesterday, just missed out on a point with seventh.
But the status quo remains in the championship battle with Pantano 11 points ahead of Senna. It’s Pantano’s title to lose in the final two races at his home circuit, Monza, next week.