Di Grassi corners glory for Brazil
'I am really pleased to be the first from my country in 20 years to win here and it feels good'
Lucas Di Grassi weaved the Brazilian magic back into the Macau Grand Prix when he became the first man from his country to win the blue riband race in 20 years yesterday.
Joining an elite company headed by the late, great Aryton Senna, who won in 1983 - Macau's first Formula Three race - the 21-year-old Sao Paolo native out-fought Poland's Robert Kubica to win the 52nd edition of the race on the narrow and twisting 6.2-kilometre Guia circuit. Third was Germany's 18-year-old Sebastian Vettel ahead of another Brazilian, Joao Paolo de Oliveira.
'I really love my country,' said Di Grassi who decked himself in the green-and-gold colours of his country after steering his Manor Motorsport Dallara Mercedes-HWA to victory at the end of the 15-lap race.
'I am trying to rebuild the Brazilian spirit. Senna won in 1983 and [Mauricio] Gugelmin won in 1985. I am really pleased to be the first from my country in 20 years to win here and it feels very good. France won it too many times [three years straight]. We needed to break their domination and I did it today.
'I knew it was going to be either me or Robert [Kubica] to break the domination. I managed to do the job. I really don't know why it took so long for a Brazilian to win here. Maybe there weren't enough Brazilians. I had the opportunity and I won it. This is my biggest win so far in my career,' he said.
Di Grassi and Kubica, last year's runner-up in the same race, were engaged in a thrilling battle as they exchanged the lead several times during the race. The Brazilian first imposed his authority on lap two when he passed the Pole in a brave move heading towards Lisboa Bend, but he lost his lead on lap 10 when Kubica dived down the inside at the same corner after getting a good slipstream.
Kubica then built a 1.612-second lead before a series of crashes involving Danny Watts, Charlie Kimball and Dan Clark at Faraway forced the safety car to come out.
At the restart, Di Grassi struck another blow for himself when he snatched the lead moments after they accelerated on the run into Mandarin and the Brazilian never looked back, taking the chequered flag 0.6 seconds ahead of the pack.
Meanwhile, polesetter Loic Duval of France eventually dropped to sixth spot after a drive-through penalty for jumping the start. Duval was hoping to become the fourth straight Frenchman to win the race, but it was not to be the 23-year-old's day despite dominating practice and Saturday's qualification race.
Di Grassi, who was fourth in qualifying on Saturday, said of the Frenchman: 'He had a big moment at the start. He was moving at the start, but so was everybody. As soon as I knew that Duval got the penalty, I knew I was fighting for first and not for second.
'I had some problems with some slow guys. I had a problem at Melco Hairpin and I had some problems at Fisherman's Bend and I was losing a lot of time and Robert was really closing in. There was another slow car braking into Lisboa so Robert took his chance and took the opportunity to overtake me and he did. But I overtook him again.'
Di Grassi attributed his win partly to the safety car coming out as it allowed his tyres to cool down.
'After a few laps, our cars performed differently. My cars was better in the beginning and his was performing better after a few laps. Mostly it was very hard trying to catch him. But when the safety car came out, the tyres cooled down and I knew I had a better car and I could go forward and overtake him.
Di Grassi improved his third-place finish from last year, saying he had completed a 'real tough' job winning the race.
'It is so easy to crash here. If you try to push too hard and go to the limit for 15 laps it's very hard not to touch a wall especially with a lot of oil and other circumstances on the track.
'That could change things a lot for you. But it's a very special track and I think it's the track I like most. Definitely, this is the most important win of my career,' said Di Grassi, a former Formula Renault runner-up and this year's third place-getter at the Euroseries.
Kubica, who races for Carlin Motorsport, saluted his Brazilian rival saying he had done a 'good job' but he still couldn't hide his disappointment.
'I am a bit disappointed because this is the second time in two years that I have finished second in the race. We have seen a lot of crashes but we have done our job but a lot of the time, you need luck and I felt I was not lucky. But that's motorsport,' said the 20-year-old Pole.
'We knew from the start that we didn't really have the power in the straights. We tried to be quickest going into the corners. For many years, the best driver is not always the fastest,' he said.