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22 May 2011

Sam retains championship lead with third consecutive podium

Sam Bird in BarcelonaSam continued his strong start to the 2011 campaign with his third podium on the trot at this weekend's GP2 Series round in Barcelona.

With concerns over tyre wear the main talk of the paddock, Sam and iSport took the bold decision to use free practice as a heavy fuel race run while the other teams went for a quick lap time.

When qualifying came around however, this did not seem to hamper Sam who earned himself a front row start, just 1/100th of a second off the pole time.

Saturday's feature race saw the top men neutralise each other in the early stages and few changes at the front until the mandatory round of pit stops. Sam came in for his tyre change lying second, but a slight problem with the front left wheel lost him a few vital seconds, dropping him down to third place, where he finished the race for his third podium in as many starts.

At the post-race press conference, Sam commented:  "It would be nice to say we could have won today, and that is a thought that may linger in the back of my mind for a while. The pit stop wasn't particularly good, and when I was released it was into a train of backmarkers, which cost me quite a bit of time. I'm a little disappointed, but it's still third position, which is not that bad."

The Sunday morning sprint race saw, as usual, the top eight feature race finishers reversed, with Sam starting in 6th. He made a good start to get up to 4th place and then held station in 'tyre management mode'. However, with severe tyre wear in the final laps and struggling for grip, he eventually yielded to Valsecchi and took the chequered flag in 5th place.

"That was a pretty tough race", said Sam afterwards. "On this occasion I think we have to hold our hands up and say that we didn't get the car quite right. I was pretty much stroking the car around throughout the race today because I knew tyre wear would be an issue and yet we still seemed to eat into our rubber faster than the guys around us."

"When Davide [Valsecchi] caught up to me, I did manage to keep him behind me for a few laps but he had bags more grip than me and was forcing me to push beyond the limits of what my tyres had to offer. I knew I was right on the edge of the cliff and with these tyres, if you fall over the edge, then you will tumble down the order. So I let him through and just nursed the car home to pick up the points.

"It's a little disappointing but I feel that that is the best that was on offer under the circumstances. We'll go away, analyse the data and find where we can make improvements. It's been a moderately good weekend overall and both iSport cars were in the points in both races, which is positive. A big thanks to the team, they've worked really, really hard as usual."

Sam is the only GP2 driver to have scored points in all four of this season's GP2 Series races and still leads the Championship, level on points with van der Garde. The next round takes place in Monaco next weekend, 26th to 28th May.