Kovalainen Storms to First GP2 Win

Heikki Kovalainen ran a flawless race to win the first ever GP2 race over fellow Renault Driver Development member Jose Maria Lopez and Scott Speed in Imola

Kovalainen Storms to First GP2 Win

Kovalainen, whose teammate Nicolas Lapierre earned pole position before retiring with an engine problem ahead of the race, was impressively fast throughout the 37-lap race, starting in fourth place and taking advantage of pitstops and the retirement of Super Nova's Giorgio Pantano to take the top step on the podium.

Pantano led the field - except Nelson Piquet and Clivio Piccione, both of who stalled on the grid and fell to the back of the pack - away behind a safety car before running four fastest laps in a row to pull out a lead over Lopez and BCN's Ernesto Viso, with Kovalainen pushing past Speed after running side by side for three corners to reclaim fourth from the fast starting American.

Kovalainen jinked by Viso on lap four, with the Venezuelan running slightly slower than his competitors, a fact shown two laps later when Speed and Adam Carroll, already battling hard together, were running all over Viso's rear wing within a lap.

The battle for seventh was hotting up as Juan Cruz Alvarez was fighting hard to get by Olivier Pla, who crumbled under the pressure and understeered luridly at the back of the track, running off and losing a position on his return.

He regained the position on lap eight after a mistake by Alvarez, and Carroll, who had already made his first compulsory stop, took advantage and followed the Frenchman through.

Back at the front Kovalainen was piling on the pressure to second-placed Lopez, who was falling away from a fast charging Pantano. Speed was also trying to get by Viso, but the American ran wide at the Piratella corner and undid all of his good work.

Pantano was in on lap thirteen, the first of the leaders to do so and holding a 6.5 second lead, and almost hit BCN team boss Enrique Scalabroni, who was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He lost no time from the incident, however, and was quickly back on track. Kovalainen was in on the next lap, giving up on trying to drive by Lopez and choosing instead to stop and use the clear air in front of him to build a lead.

Lopez ran strongly in front, but Pantano was able to push strongly behind him but ahead of a fast charging Kovalainen, the first three pulling away from their pursuers for the middle stint of the race as Viso started a series of stops with a clear problem and Speed held up behind a late stopping Ferdinando Montardini.

Back in tenth place Alvarez was struggling with brakes, finally putting him off track and out of the race on lap 24 before limping away from the car.

Kovalainen was putting on the pressure, running within a second of Pantano but unable to run close enough to make a move on the Italian. Gianmaria Bruni and Nico Rosberg were having their own battle for sixth place, running as close as possible but with Bruni keeping his nose in front until Rosberg made his second stop.

Monfardini and Speed stopped together on lap 26, but the former was left behind when he stalled in his pit, handing the position to Speed on a plate.

With Lopez finally into the pits on lap 29 Pantano was back in front again, with Lopez slotting back in front of Kovalainen and Speed again.

Pantano made his second stop just four laps later, with Lopez following him in, but Pantano's car was clearly slow and Lopez stormed by him out of the pits and heading towards Tamburello - the Italian's race was over shortly after as he limped to a stop just a few turns later.

With everyone having made their two stops Kovalainen had made the best use of strategy, leading the race by seven seconds and cruising over the remaining four laps.

Lopez knew he had no reply and held station in second position, well ahead of Speed and Bruni, who ran lonely races in the closing section to bring home some solid points to launch their championship ambitions.

CLASSIFIED:

Pos  Driver      Team                      Time
 1.  Kovalainen  Arden International       1h 02:15.934
 2.  Lopez       DAMS                      +      6.802
 3.  Speed       iSport International      +     17.742
 4.  Bruni       Coloni Motorsport         +     18.438
 5.  Carroll     Super Nova International  +     21.571
 6.  Jani        Racing Engineering        +     43.007
 7.  Premat      ART Grand Prix            +     46.919
 8.  Rosberg     ART Grand Prix            +     48.672
 9.  Pla         DPR                       +     56.079
10.  Viso        BCN Competicion           +   1:21.028
11.  Hernandez   Campos Racing             +   1:30.550
12.  Lauda       Coloni Motorsport         +   1 Lap
13.  Pantano     Super Nova International  +   2 Laps
14.  Piquet Jr.  Hitech Piquet Sports      +   2 Laps
15.  Piccione    Durango                   +   2 Laps
16.  Artam       iSport International      +   3 Laps
17.  Fauzy       DAMS                      +   4 Laps

NOT CLASSIFIED:

Driver      Team                   On Lap
Garcia      Racing Engineering      31
Monfardini  Durango                 31
Alvarez     Campos Racing           24
Sharp       DPR                     12
Yoshimoto   BCN Competicion         12
Negrao      Hitech Piquet Sports     5
Lapierre    Arden International    DNS

Fastest Lap: Viso, BCN Competicion, 1:35.257 (lap 35)

Championship Standings, Round 1:

Drivers' Championship     Constructors' Championship
 1.  Kovalainen    10     1.  Arden International      12
 2.  Lopez          8     2.  DAMS                      8
 3.  Speed          6     3.  iSport International      6
 4.  Bruni          5     4.  Coloni Motorsport         5
 5.  Carroll        4     5.  Super Nova International  4
 6.  Jani           3     6.  Racing Engineering        3
 7.  Premat         2     7.  ART Grand Prix            3
 8.  Viso           2     8.  BCN Competicion           2
 9.  Lapierre       2
10.  Rosberg        1
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