The Italian dream


Matthieu Piccon entered the GP2/GP3 Summer Competition, but never thought he could win...But eventually did and joined us in Monza for the final round of the 2011 Season. He shares his experience

It all started with an email: “Congratulations! You just won.” When you read this kind of subject, what do you usually think? “Argh, it’s a spam of one of those companies that want to sell you some incredible stuff again!” Well, at least, that’s the way I first considered that email. But when I saw that the sending address was ending in “gp2series.com”, I started to think that this email was, after all, worth reading…

That is how I learned that I had won the Summer Competition organized by the GP2 Series organization. The winning prize was a trip to Monza for the grand finale of the GP2/GP3 Series 2011 season with full access passes and accommodations offerede by the organization. It happened to take place at the same time as a race called “F1 Italian Grand-Prix”… For a petrolhead like me, this is something you just don’t want to miss. Of course, I replied to the invitation quickly and the next thing I knew I was with my beloved one at Charles-de-Gaulle airport on a flight to Milano.

Alexa, the media and communications manager of the GP2 Series, gave us very useful directions to reach the circuit and the accreditation center to collect our passes. One of the most useful advices she gave us was to take a GPS but also to be very patient because the Italian traffic can drive someone crazy! Indeed, despite having left Milano at 7:30am for a one-hour planned trip, we were able to reach the “Support Event Paddock” at only 10am. Our winning prize included a parking pass, which enabled us to park our rented car next to the F1 personnel parking. But more than the Ferraris, Maseratis, Mercedes and other luxury cars parked there, it was the huge crowd of tifosi that gave us the first real indication that we were close to the action.

Alexa then explained us how the week-end was going unfold: we had full access to the GP2/GP3 paddock but also to the pitlane and starting grids of both races of each Series. The pitlane is the same one used by the Formula One teams. The only difference is that the feeder series teams have to bring all their equipment in front of the F1 pits and then bring them back to their paddock when the race is over! Quads are then of much need to bring tires, spare parts, etc…

One of the greatest things about the GP2/GP3 paddock is that all the teams and drivers know each other very well and have a profound respect of each other. It is like a big family, even though competition is never far away. Every lunch and dinner take place under a gigantic awning, where everyone is able to seat wherever they find a spot. Everyone mingle and that is how we were able to chat with the mechanics of GP2 Series champion Romain Grosjean. Most members of this great community are also interested in F1 and are then gathering around the TV screen to watch the qualifying session on Staurday. How surprising, Sebastian Vettel grabbed another pole on the “Pista Magica” that day…

The end of the F1 qualy meant that the GP2 action was about to start for us: the feature race is always scheduled next. Alexa showed us the most practical way to reach the pitlane. There, we walked along the pitwall where team managers and engineers watch the race. You have to be very careful when walking in the pitlane because cars are driving just few inches away from you and you definitely don’t want to be hit by these carbon front wings which would cut you like a knife in butter! We then waited for the cars to reach the starting grid before walking among them when they stopped. We were able to take amazing pictures of the drivers sitting in their roaring cars, concentrating before the formation lap.

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The GP3 race, which was scheduled just after the GP2 race, was of high interest as the champion was still to be decided between the two Lotus ART drivers Valtteri Bottas and James Calado. The French team was then assured to score their second double championship win in a row. But before watching these young guns fight for the race and the title, we were able to watch in the pitlane the top ten F1 cars being pushed back from the “parc fermé” to their pits. It was quite amazing to see the difference between these cars compared to those in GP2/GP3: in the feeder series, all cars and engines are the same in order to make sure that what will make the difference is the driver. No KERS, DRS, F-duct, blown exhaust, double diffuser or one of these technical items that appeared and disappeared quickly these last years. These races are all about the driver and that’s it!
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After Valterri Bottas secured his title thanks to another win, we were able to stand right beneath the famous Monza podium and cheer with Lotus ART mechanics and management. It was just the beginning of celebrations for the Finn and his mechanics: in true ART style, they attached VB and his chief engineer to a trolley and strolled them across the paddock whilst Queen’s “We are the champions” played loudly on speakers! It was a very nice way to entertain our dinner, where we were already enjoying the great and freshly-made food. After so many emotions, it was time for us to drive back to our hotel in order to be fit for the next morning: the second GP3 race was scheduled at 8:50am!

That meant that it was better to reach the circuit around 8am. It is not exactly the kind of timing we are used to on a Sunday morning. But the great breakfast served at our hotel helped us get up and run. We learned that the hotel booked by GP2 organization was the same used by a double world champion, named Fernando! This says it all in regards of the quality of the hotel! It goes without saying that we had a wonderful night.

We enjoyed every bit of the Sunday, with the second GP2 and GP3 races. We were able to enjoy the same privileged access than the previous day. It was feeling so good to see the people who had bought their pitwalk passes leave the pitlane while we were able to stay and go on the starting grids! Watching a race, alone, at the end of a pitlane is a unique experience that we’ll never forget.

We watched the F1 race partly from the GP2 paddock and when it was over, we let all the tifosi exit the circuit and took a nap in our car because we also had to be fit for the evening: we were invited to the GP2/GP3 award ceremony, where all the mechanics and the drivers gathered in order to celebrate the end of the season. During the ceremony, we could see that drivers are normal people in their 20s who know how to have fun and are willing to share their passion with everyone. But they remain competitors as demonstrated by the Pirelli challenge: on a big simulator, one of them had to drive around a track while his teammate had to change a wheel. We realised that changing a wheel is not as easy as it looks on TV! Some drivers experienced it too but I will not name them…

It was a great way to end a perfect weekend, where staff and drivers were really easy to talk to and friendly. We decided not to rush to leave Italy and then spent the Monday walking in Milano streets. We enjoyed the wonderful Italian cuisine (and I am French…) in the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II before flying back to Paris, stars in our eyes.

If you wish to see our pictures taken during the week-end, feel free to go on my website: http://matt.my.tripper-tips.com/photo/-104289.html#photo

We would like to thank again the GP2/GP3 Series staff for this amazing opportunity and terrific week-end!

Matthieu Piccon

Comments

on Tuesday 20 Sep 2011 - 19:55 by nathalie

Thanks for the story and the photos..(Me I have got Milan by night the sunday ;-))

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