The Once and Future King: 2008 GP2 Series wraps up at Monza (SPOILER ALERT)

Click for a hi-res gallery from the 2008 GP2 finale at Monza

If you're not familiar with the GP2 Series by now, think of it as the formula racing equivalent to college football. It can sometimes make for an even more engaging spectacle and gives a chance to preview who will make it into the big leagues of Formula One next. Since the series inception in 2005, each year's champion has earned a race seat in F1. And more than that, every year the runner-up has secured a testing role with the Renault F1 team. Considering that the drivers who have graduated from GP2 in the past few years have turned out to be some of the most talented young rookies in F1, any formula racing fan worth his lug-nuts keeps a keen eye trained on GP2.

This year's championship just wrapped up this weekend in Monza where the F1 circus came to race the Italian Grand Prix, providing a secondary spectacle for racing fans who braved the rain to get a glimpse of the action. Each stop on the GP2 calendar includes two races: the feature race on Saturday, and the reverse-grid sprint race on Sunday. To find out who took the honors and who you should watch in the big leagues for next year, follow the jump.

[Source: Autosport | Images: GP2 Series]

As with the Formula One main event, changing weather conditions played a starring role in the GP2 feature race on Saturday. Giorgio Pantano dominated the bulk of the race, maintaining a healthy lead over his rivals but with Lucas di Grassi and Pastor Maldonado following close behind. However Pantano lost time as the track begun to dry and back-markers began switching to slicks in search of an extra edge to move up the field and into the points. Pantano eventually came in for slicks as well, and narrowly re-emerged in the lead, but cut a chicane while attempting to get some heat into his tires. The error cost him a drive-through penalty that moved him way down the order, eventually finishing a disappointing tenth place. Di Grassi took the checkered flag with Maldonado less than a second behind and pushing hard.

Pantano couldn't have been too disappointed, however, as the loss didn't cost him much. With his only serious challenger Bruno Senna only coming in fifth, Pantano's place in the standings was secured and he claimed the title even before the final sprint race that would take place the following day.

As per GP2 regulations, the starting order of the top eight positions for the Sunday sprint race were reversed, with Di Grassi in the eighth slot and Davide Valsecchi taking pole position. Valsecchi maintained his lead to take the checkered flag for the sprint race, by far his best result in a season in which he was forced to sit out six races while he recovered from injuries and his first victory so far.

So what does this mean for next season's F1 grid? Don't be surprised to see Pantano back in Formula One. Like last year's champion Timo Glock, now racing for Toyota F1, Pantano has previously competed in Formula One with the now defunct Jordan Grand Prix team (today known as Force India). However, in the six grands prix Pantano contested in 2004, the one season in which he appeared on the F1 grid, Pantano never managed better than 13th place. Since then he's been working his way up the GP2 roster, taking 6th place in the series' inaugural year, 5th the following, 3rd last year and now the title. Pantano has clearly demonstrated his abilities, and any Formula One team looking for fresh talent will assuredly cast an eye Pantano's way.

Bruno Senna, however, will likely garner just as much attention from the runner-up position. Nephew of the late Ayrton Senna, Bruno has been steadily working his way up the order, and though he may be tempted to accept an offer should one come his way from a serious F1 team, the smart move will be for Senna to stay in GP2 another season – potentially while testing for an F1 team – too further hone his natural skills.

2008 GP2 Series

Drivers standings
1 Pantano 73
2 Senna 64
3 Di Grassi 63
4 Grosjean 62
5 Maldonado 59
6 Buemi 50
7 Petrov 39
8 Parente 34
9 Zuber 32
10 Chandhok 31
11 d'Ambrosio 21
12 Conway 20
13 Rodríguez 14
14 Soucek 14
15 Valsecchi 12
16 Kobayashi 10
17 Villa 8
18 Tung 7
19 Filippi 6
20 Buurman 5
21 Vallés 5
22 Nunes 3
23 Yamamoto 3
24 Hanley 1
25 Carroll 1
26 Valerio 0
27 Bakkerud 0
28 Asmer 0
29 Iaconelli 0
30 Herck 0
31 Ricci 0
32 Miloš Pavlović 0
33 Puglisi 0
34 Nocera 0

Teams standings
1 Campos Grand Prix 103
2 iSport International 95
3 Piquet Sports 91
4 Racing Engineering 81
5 ART Grand Prix 70
6 Trust Team Arden 56
7 Super Nova Racing 47
8 DAMS 31
9 Trident Racing 27
10 FMS International 12
11 BCN Competicion 5
12 Durango 5
13 DPR 4

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