Sam Bird scored his fourth GP2 victory of the season at Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday and put himself right back into the title fight in the process. The Briton won the feature race for the Russian Time team by seven seconds over Marcus Ericsson.
ART's James Calado grabbed the lead off the startline, making a great getaway on his soft-compound slick tires from third on a slippery circuit. But Bird pounced on the exit of La Source, retaking the lead and never looking back.
Bird pitted on lap 14 for more prime tires, and rejoined well clear of a fierce battle for second between Ericsson (DAMS) and Alexander Rossi (Caterham).
Ericsson had slipped to fifth on the opening lap, but took full advantage when Carlin teammates Jolyon Palmer and Felipe Nasr collided at La Source on lap five. Palmer spun around the bows of aggressor Nasr, who had pulled off a similar move on Ericsson the lap before, but this one failed dismally and the Brazilian was out on the spot.
Ericsson passed Rossi for fourth at Les Combes on lap seven, and then ran a longer stint than his rivals that paid off big time. He jumped Leimer during the pit stop cycle and picked up another spot when Calado suffered a disastrously slow stop.
Rossi, who also passed Leimer in the pit cycle, caught Ericsson but just could not find a way past him and settled for third.
Leimer pulled a brave move on Calado into Les Combes in the early stages and finished fourth, ahead of a charging Tom Dillmann, who bounced back from a disappointing qualifying to finish fifth.
Julian Leal was sixth, followed by Stephane Richelmi, while Calado recovered to eighth, which means reversed-grid pole for Sunday's race.
Bird is now 24 points behind series leader Stefano Coletti, who failed to score in 13th. Coletti was in the mix for points but suffered a scare when Dani Clos drove into the back of him at Raidillon, for which he was penalized. Leimer has closed to within seven of Nasr's second place in the points race.
The race was interrupted by a safety car after Rio Haryanto clipped Daniel de Jong at Eau Rouge, the resultant puncture sending de Jong into the tire wall at high speed. He was unhurt.
Results - 25 laps:
Pos Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Sam Bird Russian Time 52m55.642s
2. Marcus Ericsson DAMS +7.001s
3. Alexander Rossi Caterham +8.242s
4. Fabio Leimer Racing Engineering +13.950s
5. Tom Dillmann Russian Time +15.353s
6. Julian Leal Racing Engineering +18.643s
7. Stephane Richelmi DAMS +26.086s
8. James Calado ART +27.559s
9. Robin Frijns Hilmer +28.425s
10. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs Hilmer +30.497s
11. Mitch Evans Arden +33.190s
12. Simon Trummer Rapax +33.341s
13. Stefano Coletti Rapax +33.837s
14. Johnny Cecotto Jr Arden +48.970s
15. Jolyon Palmer Carlin +49.347s
16. Daniel Abt ART +52.471s
17. Jake Rosenzweig Addax +57.102s
18. Vittorio Ghirelli Lazarus +57.982s
19. Rio Haryanto Addax +1m03.628s
20. Dani Clos MP +1m20.316s
21. Ricardo Teixeira Trident +1m27.365s
22. Nathanael Berthon Trident +1m28.885s
Sergio Canamasas Caterham 19 laps
Felipe Nasr Carlin 5 laps
Daniel de Jong MP 3 laps
Rene Binder Lazarus 0 laps