FOR ROMAIN Grosjean it was the perfect weekend, for India's Karun Chandhok a memorable Republic Day.
Chandhok, driving for iSport International, claimed his first podium of the season with a third-place finish in the Sprint race of the GP2 Asia Series at the Dubai Autodrome on Saturday. The 24-year-old finished six seconds behind ART Grand Prix's Grosjean, who completed a rare feat: winning from an eighth-place start in what was his first-ever round of the championship.
Malaysian GP2 veteran and former Spyker F1 test driver Fairuz Fauzy slotted into second, making it two Asian drivers on the podium of the inaugural Asia series weekend. India's other driver in the series, 18-year-old Armaan Ebrahim, retired from the race with five laps to go with a broken exhaust.
"It's a great result, given that I was unwell and had a slow start; but a little disappointing as I was hoping for a win this weekend," said Chandhok after the race.
Chandhok moved up a place into seventh in Friday's Race 1 classification after Arden driver Sebastian Buemi was disqualified since his car's height failed to conform to specifications. The upgrade meant Chandhok notched an extra point from Friday's race, but also had to start from the more slippery second spot on the grid for Saturday's race with the top-eight finishers in Race 1 starting in reverse order for Race 2.
The Indian had a poor start, with clutch trouble seeing him drop into seventh on an eventful opening lap that saw five cars spin out across the track. However he soon recovered, slotting into fourth spot behind the safety car that was brought out for five laps while the resultant debris was cleared. A gearbox failure ended third-placed man Luca Filipi's race, helping Chandhok move up another place.
By then, the safety car was off and Grosjean, test driver for the Renault F1 team in 2008, began picking his way through the field. The Frenchman used the slipstream to pass Chandhok on the inside on the eighth lap, went past Hiroki Yoshimoto who was caught behind a back marker on the 15th and took on leader Fauzy, again on the inside, for the lead that he only extended till the end.
Chandhok pulled off a brave overtaking manoeuvre on Yoshimoto himself, after sitting behind the 27-year-old Japanese for a while. Quicker than his rival by around 0.6 seconds, Chandhok took Yoshimoto on the outside of a hairpin to move into third, which he maintained till the end. The same lap saw Chandhok's teammate Bruno Senna enter the pits for a long halt to address a rear-tyre puncture that eventually saw him finish last.
Grosjean ended up with the fastest lap of the race as well, giving him first place in the championship standings and 19 points from the weekend - just one short of a possible 20. Chandhok is tied third in the championship with six points.
It was the tyres that was making the difference between Grosjean of team ART --- the unit that has formerly taken F1 drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to their GP2 titles --- and team iSport, according to Chandhok.
"Somehow we are needing 2-3 laps to get the temperature going in our tyres, while ART are on the pace within a lap. We've got a bit of work to do but I'm optimistic for the next race," he said.
The next round of the GP2 Asia Series will be held in Sentul Indonesia on February 16-17.
Race 2 (28 laps): 1. Romain Grosjean (ART Grand Prix) 43:32.991s; 2. Fairuz Fauzy (Super Nova Racing) +3.778; 3. Karun Chandhok (iSport International) +5.974.
Drivers' standings (after two races): 1. Grosjean (19 points), 2. Bruno Senna (9) and 3. Karun, Fauzy, Andy Soucek & Yoshimoto (6 each).