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GP Week : Issue 33
GP2 Asia: Rodriguez stuns Kobayas ROLDAN Rodriguez has stunned the GP2 Asia field in the opening weekend of its 2008/09 season by leaving the first round of the season with the championship lead. The Spaniard had run well in testing after returning to Piquet GP, the rebranded Piquet Sports team with whom he made his GP2 Main Series debut in 2007, but by far the stand out driver of the pre-season run had been Dams driver Kamui Kobayashi. The Japanese Toyota F1 tester had been, on average, half a second clear of his rivals in testing, and after a dominant practice session at the Shanghai International Circuit looked all set to take pole position. But along came Rodriguez, and out of the blue the Spaniard stole Kobayashi’s thunder, sneaking pole and the first two points of the season with a last lap flyer. Kobayashi was still considered the fastest man on track, however, and in Race 1 showed why. With Rodriguez holding station in first place for the opening lap of the contest, Kobayashi out-braked his rival into the tight turn 14 at the end of the first tour and pulled out a steady, but never dominant, margin of a few seconds. The usual GP2 Safety Cars made their arrival and with much of the field having already made their stops, the leaders came in before the Safety Car had picked them up, allowing them back out on track in the positions in which they had pitted. 30 Kobayashi held the lead from Rodriguez until just a handful of laps from home, and after maintaining position from Rodriguez on two safety car restarts threw it all away within relative sight of the flag, falling off at the first corner and gifting the lead to his rival. Rodriguez took the win from Kobayashi, with Sakon Yamamoto a delighted third for his best-ever finish for ART. Javier Villa took fourth on his debut for Super Nova while Vitaly Petrov took fifth for Campos. Earl Bamber was a stunning sixth for Meritus after a cracking debut, with Chris Van der Drift also impressing in seventh on his debut ahead of Davide Valsecchi. Valsecchi it was who led from pole on Sunday, and the Italian, who had taken the final win of the 2008 GP2 Main Series in Monza, pulled out a measured and impressive victory. His main rival for the win was the aforementioned rookie sensation Bamber, who belied his tender 18 years with yet another masterful race. Third went to Villa with Van der Drift fourth, d’Ambrosio fifth and Rodriguez sixth as Kobayashi retired. The results leave Rodriguez with 13 points and the lead of the championship ahead of Villa on 10, Kobayashi on nine and the brilliant Bamber fourth on eight. The second round of the championship isn’t for a few months yet, so there will be much time for Kobayashi to mull over his China result and for Rodriguez’s many rivals to ponder their moves.