25.04.2009: Johnny Herbert scored a dominant win in the penultimate round of the Speedcar Series on Saturday morning in Bahrain. Championship leader Gianni Morbidelli finished only fifth, but with only the Sunday morning event
Johnny Herbert scored a dominant win in the penultimate round of the Speedcar Series on Saturday morning in Bahrain. Championship leader Gianni Morbidelli finished only fifth, but with only the Sunday morning event still to come the Italian now heads Herbert by a reduced margin of just 51 points to 50. Heinz-Harald Frentzen finished second, and on 44 points he is also still in contention.
Herbert improved his title chances by taking pole position in the single session in the JMB car on Friday, although he was just 0.053s clear of Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Continental Circus entry. After his two wins in the last round in Dubai Jean Alesi took third, ahead of Tonio Liuzzi, who was handicapped by technical gremlins.
Morbidelli, who had a seven point lead going into the weekend, was fifth. The top eight was completed by Damien Pasini, Christopher Zoechling and David Terrien. Hasher Al Maktoum was the top local driver in ninth, ahead of Chris Buncombe.
Herbert had no problems holding on to his advantage at the rolling start, pulling over the outside to get a better run into Turn One. Behind him Alesi got away well and outdragged Frentzen to claim second. Liuzzi stayed in third, while Pasini made it by Morbidelli to claim fifth. Herbert knew he had to win to keep his title hopes alive, and he soon opened up a small but useful cushion on Alesi.
'I got a nice start,' said Johnny. 'Luckily I had some breathing space, because you never know what can happen there. Then it was just settling down into a nice pace. I pushed a bit more at the beginning because I had new tyres, and I used those.'
Meanwhile Liuzzi began to pressure Frentzen. However as he crossed the line at the end of the fourth lap the Alesi suffered a spectacular engine failure, and pulled over to park next to the pit wall.
Having avoided the slowing Alesi just seconds later Liuzzi took a dive down the inside of Frentzen into Turn One. The two cars rubbed paintwork as they entered the corner side-by-side, but Liuzzi locked up, and sailed straight on. He didn't lose too much time, and was soon pushing the German once again for what had now become second place.
Behind them Terrien had worked his way up to fourth from eighth, but he had a problem on lap 6, and had to pit. He later re-emerged, only to retire for good. His delay promoted Pasini, who had Zoechling and - after a cautious start - Morbidelli just behind him. Pasini then lost several places when he spun at Turn One at the start of lap 8.
Meanwhile Herbert continued his serene progress at the front. By the flag he was 10.3s ahead of Frentzen, and delighted that he had closed the gap to Morbidelli. Liuzzi followed Heinz-Harald home to claim third, while after the earlier problems for Terrien and Pasini a grateful Zoechling moved up to fourth and Morbidelli to fifth. That was just good enough to maintain the championship lead for the Italian, albeit by a single point. Al Maktoum had a good run to sixth, ahead of the recovering Pasini and Thomas Biagi. Nicholas Navarro was ninth on his series debut, ahead of Ramez Azzam.
Johnny will start the Sunday finale from eighth place, while title rivals Frentzen and Morbidelli will line up seventh and fourth. Herbert's challenge will be to catch and pass the Italian driver.
'Getting to him is the problem,' said Johnny. 'That was always going to be the key. It's a bit like last year. I had to win today. It's where I expected to be, and now it's down to who races best. Hopefully I've got the pace to get him. I did it last time we came here, and hopefully I can do it again. But it isn't going to be easy!'
The final race of the season to be held tomorrow at 9:00 am local time. Three drivers including Gianni Morbidelli in the lead, Johnny Herbert and Heinz Harald Frentzen in third stand a chance at the Speedcar Series Season 2 and 500,000 US dollars in prize money.
The Race 1 preliminary classification after 19 laps is as follows: Race 1 Classification 1 J. Herbert JMB 19 40:59.350 2 H. Frentzen Continental Circus 19 10.339 3 V. Liuzzi UP Team 19 12.545 4 C. Zoechling Continental Circus 19 20.396 5 G. Morbidelli Palm Racing 19 23.398 6 H. Al Maktoum UP Team 19 25.168 7 D. Pasini JMB 19 26.539 8 T. Biagi Palm Racing 19 34.563 9 N. Navarro Durango 19 39.483 10 R. Azzam Scuderia Giudici 19 46.854 11 M. Cioci Durango 19 61.776 12 M. Lee HPR 19 1 LAP Not Classified D. Terrien West Tec 12 DNF G. Giudici Scuderia Giudici 11 DNF C. Buncombe West Tec 9 DNF J. Alesi HPR 4 DNF Fastest Lap V. Liuzzi UP Team 2:07.791 on lap 2
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