Mitch Evans and Aaro Vainio showed a sign of what may be to come in the 2012 GP3 Series season as they opened up a gap to the rest in the standings with a 1-2 finish in the first of the two races in Valencia.
Vainio came into the third weekend of the season with an 11 point advantage over Evans at the head of the standings after his Monaco win, but it was pre-season favourite Evans who led from start to finish around the Spanish circuit to move back into the lead of the points, two ahead of his Finnish rival.
The pair are now 30 points ahead of their nearest challenger and have set up a potential season-long battle between them for the crown.
MW Arden driver Evans, who turns 18 on Sunday, got a clean start from pole position. Vainio had started third despite qualifying within a tenth of Evans during the morning's session, but quickly deposed Evans' teammate David Fumanelli of second place off the line.
While the gap between the two leaders never grew above two seconds, Evans looked comfortable throughout as he claimed his second win of the season. He and Vainio looked in a class of their own, finishing ten seconds up the road from third-placed Fumanelli.
The Italian driver lost out to fellow rookie Tio Ellinas as well as Vainio on the opening lap, dropping him to fourth. He regained the place two laps from the end with a finely-judged move at turn 12 and beat the Cyrpiot to scoring his first podium.
Three seconds behind Ellinas was the third MW Arden machine of Matias Laine, who together with Ellinas and Daniel Abt got ahead of fourth-place starter Kevin Ceccon on the first tour. Ceccon tried for the entire race to get back ahead of German racer Abt, and the pair eventually crossed the line at the same time – but Abt was given sixth place.
Patric Niederhauser took eighth place to claim the reverse grid pole for race two, but he had to get by William Buller who was running well after topping last week's test at the permanent Ricardo Tormo facility up the road. Buller also succumbed to Tamas Pal Kiss before the finish.
Conor Daly enjoyed an eventful run to 11th after starting 16th due to a grid penalty received following his Monaco shunt. Just as in the first Monaco race the American driver fluffed his start, again being punished for a jump-start.
That was after he had fought his way up into tenth, having been involved in a battle with Antonio Felix Da Costa (sent to the back of the grid after qualifying fifth, due to a technical infringement) and his Monaco adversary Dmitry Suranovich.
The battle ended in tears, but not for Daly, who escaped with the position after Felix Da Costa took out an innocent Suranovich with an ambitious move under braking.
His drive-through knocked Daly back down to 14th, before recovering past impressive former Clio racer John Wartique on the last lap.
Valencia resident Carmen Jorda has looked well off the pace so far this season, but she had a competitive run to 13th, benefiting when Vicky Piria ahead of her was penalised first for ignoring yellow flags and then for speeding in the pitlane while serving her drive-through. Ethan Ringel and Robert Cregan were 14th and 15th respectively, ahead of Alex Brundle and Piria.
Brundle was one of a number of drivers caught up in incidents on the opening lap, with Robert Visoiu's race ending after he ran up the back of Pal Kiss under braking for turn two, and Antonio Spavone ending up in the barriers. The two remaining Status cars for this weekend were also damaged, with Marlon Stockinger and Alice Powell needing new rear and front wings respectively and finishing 19th and 18th.