x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Valsecchi roars back for victory

Davide Valsecchi, the iSport driver, twice battled back to reclaim the lead he held from pole position, and then insisted he was "never worried" during his victory in the GP2 Asia Series' first race yesterday at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Davide Valsecchi winning the GP2 Asia race for iSport at the Yas Marina Circuit yesterday.
Davide Valsecchi winning the GP2 Asia race for iSport at the Yas Marina Circuit yesterday.

ABU DHABI // Davide Valsecchi, the iSport driver, twice battled back to reclaim the lead he held from pole position, and then insisted he was "never worried" during his victory in the GP2 Asia Series' first race yesterday at the Yas Marina Circuit. The Italian, making his debut for iSport in the Asian series after joining the team from Barwa Addax earlier this year, eventually finished a comfortable 5.6 seconds ahead of his compatriot Luca Filippi of Meritus. Super Nova's James Jakes was in third.

Valsecchi said he could not have imagined a better start to the partnership. "I feel fantastic. This is the perfect start of the season: pole, win and fastest lap time. "Had somebody told me this would happen two weeks ago, I would have thought that they were crazy," said the 22-year-old. "I knew if I was given the chance to drive a competitive car I could do good things. And with iSport, things are going extremely well. This win is a fantastic result for me and for them."

Valsecchi faced problems off the grid and was overtaken by the British rookie Sam Bird. By the time the iSport debutant had regained his lead, he had Filippi gaining on him. Valsecchi opted to make his compulsory pit stop, letting the Meritus driver take the lead and Filippi pushed hard to make the most of it. But it was not enough, and Valsecchi expertly outmanoeuvred him on the 19th lap to retake first place, and ultimately the top step on the podium.

"It wasn't the best of starts, but to be honest, I was never worried. I lost just one place," said Valsecchi. "I was quite confident that the car was quick enough to overtake at some point and it happened early enough. We got the lead after that and it was good. I managed to pull a good gap." Filippi had no complaints about either the result or the admittedly risky manoeuvre that saw him overtaken by Valsecchi, and said he was just happy to finish on the podium in his maiden race with Malaysia-based Meritus.

"I am so pleased for the team - you can't believe. To be on the podium for our first race shows how competitive we are. It is just magnificent," said Filippi. "I like everything here and did the best I could with a really good car. It is a good result for the start, and the right result for the team after so much hard work on their side in the winter and after the tests last week where we were strong.

"I have not had a fantastic start, but overtook two competitors right away in the first laps and I had a very good team strategy for the race and the right pit stop. After [Valsecchi made his pit stop] I was leading the race and thought we had a chance to win. I pulled away a little bit, but then his pace was much better. I tried to defend my position, but then he made a good move, a bit risky, but nice. It was fair from both sides. Valsecchi had more power in the end."

In the Porsche Supercup, Khalid Al Qubaisi of Abu Dhabi Race Team saw his international race debut end prematurely when his Porsche 911 GT3 Cup careered off the track. The Emirati driver said he felt bittersweet emotions after representing his country in front of a home crowd. "I was pleased with my qualifying and to be here competing is still a dream come true," he said. "My target was to significantly improve my time [from practice] and to reduce the gap between me and the fastest. I was amazed how quick the others were, however, I just wanted to focus on the finer points of my driving.

"Of course I am disappointed about retiring early, especially as I made a really strong start and actually moved up the grid. It was an unfortunate incident, however that's racing. I'm just eager to get back out and do my best." The race was won by the German Rene Rast, who beat off competition from Nick Tandy and Jeroen Bleekemolen. Meanwhile, Bahrain's Salman Al Khalifa, soaked in sweat and rosewater, became the first man to stand atop a podium at Yas Marina Circuit after winning the Chevrolet Supercars Middle East Challenge ahead of the 2008 Championship winner Fahad al Musalam and Saudi's Prince Khalid al Faisal.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae