Championship leader SOJ went into the race with a chance to secure the GP2 WDC this weekend if he could outscore Ploddy by a big enough margin, with most commentators predicting the McLaren Missile would hold the title by the Japanese or Korean Grand Prix. It was hard to fault the logic, but it remained to be seen what effect the return of rival Mercedes' NightFire to the grid and the arrival of his pacey new team mate Oz , along with the surprise announcement from STR during the week that rookie driver Amril had departed the team and been replaced by none other than Season 1 runner up millen. The former STR favourite was pleased to be back in action - "Will be great to be racing again, I have missed it".
|7||11||nobody813||Red Bull||+1 lap||26||01:39.458||12||6|
|8||7||Effing Sea||Lotus||+1 lap||26||01:39.366||9||4|
Singapore is known for being a tough track (as a fun fact, it was the location for the first two safety cars in Atomic motorsport history) and the monsoon that greeted the field this week for qualifying made it all the more difficult, particularly with the forecast for the race offering a one in three chance of rain.
Oz had the better of the early running, turning in a handy 1:54.047, with SOJ and Ploddy the closest contenders both over a second away. The conditions were certainly treacherous, and the session saw many drivers clock up a front wing repair bill including RBR's Fredzfrong, who suffered terminal damage; he remained upbeat despite the setbacks quipping "Why do you think I'm with Red Bull? They give me wings..." . Despite the incredibly tight pit exit, the session was completed without a single pit lane infringement, which fans of the series will note is something of an amazing outcome.
SOJ struck back late in the session to get within a tenth of Oz, only to have the Mercedes driver drop into the 1:53s to reassert his dominance in the wet. SOJ would start from P2, with NightFire and millen making up the second row - the returning driver showed impressive speed, only 6 hundredths slower than the Mercedes. Ploddy would take P5, not quite quick enough to catch the lead group, yet still to pacey for the midfielders, who were clumped together as usual only a second covering P6 to P9.
The race itself started dry, and the threat of rain saw the field split on the best strategy to take into the first stint, with a dry race expected to require two stops. The Mercedes started on options whilst the championship leader SOJ opted for the primes - "I started on Primes as this gave me a big window of when the rain might come and for me to stop". The race got of to a clean start with little change to the running order until Lotus' Ploddy was hit with a very questionable penalty after contact with Williams' rogue eclipse. NightFire managed to get passed SOJ on lap 2 to make it a Mercedes 1-2 and then took his team mate on lap 3 for the lead. It wasn't long before the fuel laden cars began clipping walls and damaging wings.
There was an interesting early battle between rogue eclipse and Sauber's PessimistPrime, but alas we were deprived of watching the battle become a three-way including McLaren's Toggsie as rogue went straight on at "Rogue's Ruin" and lost his front wing on lap 6 (the corner was named after the sophomore driver totalled his STR in last season's race). "It's just so frustrating really, I get myself into good positions and then give it all away" said a disappointed rogue after the race. Positions changed lower down the order as drivers took turns making errors and damaging wings. Then on lap 12, RBR's Nobody was forced to retire with damage, and the whole race started to change as the rain began.
The conditions were treacherous and it was about lap 15 that would have been the optimum time to change to inters; those that didn't paid the price and this was highlighted in particular by one incident in which PessimistPrime and rogue eclipse passed Sora, who had spun just near the "Nobody Bridge" and both lost rear traction in something of a synchronised spin, causing all three cars to contact. The stewards handed out another harsh penalty, this time to Prime for causing a collision.
Changes at the front saw the McLaren Missile retake the race lead from NightFire and Oz, with his team mate Toggsie performing admirably in P4. Meanwhile, current championship runner up and proven wet weather performer Ploddy had begun quietly making his way back up through the field. Lap 18 brought the dual retirement of remaining RBR driver Fredzfrog and Sauber's Sora as both struggled to make headway in the changeable conditions.
On lap 23 the rain finally stopped and the track began to dry out amazingly quickly, again providing drivers with difficult tyre choices. As the leaders came in to switch tyres, SOJ was hit with a pit lane penalty and subsequently lost the lead to NightFire. He would go on to take his third win of the season in what will undoubtedly go down as one of the most difficult races thus far in GP2 history. SOJ and Oz rounded out the podium.
The Mercedes victory was not enough to deny the Englishman his first WDC, a well deserved title after the class performances he has turned in over the season. With a lead of 190 with just 180 points left on the table, the McLaren Missile sealed the Championship with 6 races still remaining. Even in celebration, the champion remained the consummate professional - "Unbelievable to have won the championship, I've had an amazing debut season and met some great guys, but the job is only half done - we still need to make sure the Lotus boys and the Mercedes drivers don't get their hands on the constructor's title. So we will keep pushing until the last lap in Brazil".
Attention now turns to the WCC and the question of whether the McLaren combination can hold off a hard charging Mercedes outfit and the ever consistent Lotus team. Join us next week from Suzuka for Round 15 of the Atomic GP2 Championship to find out.