Sandro Cortese came out on top in a fierce battle with Maverick Vinales to take his first Moto3 victory and with it, the championship lead. The Red Bull Ajo rider navigated his way through traffic to take the chequered flag half a tenth in front after 23 laps of thrilling, and at times physical competition.
Cortese made a strong start to lead Vinales around turn one while Zulfahmi Khairuddin jumped up from fifth to third ahead of Danny Kent and Miguel Oliveira. The home favourite fought his way up to second but seemed to have a problem with his Suter Honda as he tried to take the lead at the start of lap three. The Estrella Galicia rider outbraked himself for turn one and cruised around the rest of the circuit before retiring to the disappointment of the crowd.
Vinales hit the front at the start of lap five, diving past Cortese into turn one, but the KTM seemed to have clear advantage in terms of straight line performance, as Cortese proved by breezing past the FTR-Honda next lap around. Vinales fought back into turn four and his rival didn't respond this time, choosing to follow the Spaniard.
As the race unfolded, two separate battles were emerging for the podium positions with Zulfahmi Khairuddin coming under pressure from Luis Salom for third. Danny Kent should've been in the thick of the action but a collision with championship leader Romano Fenati on lap 14 dropped him down the order. Fenati lost out too but another excursion on the next lap took him out for good.
After sitting up in the slipstream of Vinales previously, Cortese finally regained the lead on lap 19, repeating the move that the Blusens rider had put on him earlier. Turn one would be the destination of another lead change two laps later as Vinales moved back to the front but Cortese remained a threat entering the final lap.
KTM power pushed Cortese back in front as the approached turn one but Vinales refused to give in, diving back through into turn three before squeezing the German wide at the next corner. Cortese would get his own back through turn six with a move that clearly angered Vinales, as he demonstrated after they had taken the chequered flag. The 17 year old crossed the finish line 0.055s behind Cortese and promptly ran him off the road at turn one before punching his bike in disgust.
Luis Salom eventually edged out Khairuddin for third after passing him on the penultimate lap while Efren Vazquez took fifth after holding off a pack of hungry youngsters. Gresini rookie Niccolo Antonelli was right behind in sixth while Alex Rins claimed seventh, just ahead of the recovering Danny Kent. Meanwhile, Danny Webb's luckless start to 2012 continued when his Mahindra broke down yet again.