Stoffel Vandoorne made the perfect start to his 2015 GP2 campaign as he converted his fifth consecutive pole position into a win after passing Alexander Rossi on the penultimate lap.
Vandoorne had to do it the hard way though after the majority of the field pitted under the safety car, caused by an incident between Arthur Pic, Raffaele Marciello, Norman Nato and Pierre Gasly.
The Belgian decided to stay out until lap 22 to fit the faster soft tyre. He rejoined the field in 10th and had to fight his way through a handful of cars on worn rubber.
The title favourite did it with ease though and was 5 seconds a lap faster than leader Rossi at one point. He was able to pass Rossi for the lead on the penultimate lap.
From 12th on the grid Rio Haryanto ran the same strategy as winner Vandoorne and pitted a lap later than the Belgian. Like Vandoorne, Haryanto made the strategy count and passed Rossi for 2nd place on the final corner of the final lap.
Rossi, who managed his tyres brilliantly from lap six under the safety car, couldn’t hold off the hard charging Vandoorne and Haryanto but drove a controlled race to push through the field.
The race started relatively incident-free. Nobuharu Matsushita starting from 2nd on the grid almost caused an accident after an awful saw the anti-stall kick in. The Honda-backed driver fell down to 15th on lap one.
The only casualty from the opening lap was Artem Markelov, who lost his front wing endplate after contact with Andre Negrao at turn one.
Marco Sorensen was the first retiree after picking up a puncture on lap three following contact with Daniel De Jong.
But it was on lap six when the race took an interesting turn. Nato, Pic and Marciello had been battling three abreast before Nato closed the door on Marciello after the Trident man had a good run out of turn seven.
Pre occupied by Marciello, Nato managed to clip the rear of Pic who ended up in a spin.
The resulting spin left Gasly with nowhere to go and the Frenchman ended up head on into the side of an angry Pic.
Under the safety car the majority of the field, who were on the softs, pitted to switch to the medium compound tyre.
It seemed as though the biggest winners from the safety car were Rossi, Mitch Evans and Alex Lynn. Rossi though jumped Lynn in the pitstop and Evans moved up the order just behind the Brit.
On the restart Vandoorne came under immediate pressure from Haryanto but quickly pulled away. The Belgian decided to stay out on the medium compound tyres for as long as possible.
Desperate to get ahead of Rossi on the safety car restart Lynn was lucky not to lose his front wing after he took too much kerb and made contact with the rear of Rossi.
The incident was under investigation briefly but no further action was taken.
With fresh tyres Rossi, Lynn and Evans made their way through the field together with ease trying to close the gap to leader Vandoorne.
Rossi quickly dropped the pair though and made his way to the front while Evans and in particular Lynn struggled with tyre degradation.
Evans and Lynn were locked in a captivating battle that did their tyres no good. They ran side by side down the main straight for consecutive laps before Evans made a move stick into turn three.
Their constant battling however quickly came to haunt them as rookies Jordan King and Robert Visoiu made easy work of Evans.
Visoiu picked up a five second penalty for speeding in the pit-lane but still managed to hold on to fifth position after an impressive debut.
Lynn on the other hand had front wing issues and sever tyre degradation and began to fall back dramatically. So dramatically in fact that the Brit ended up crossing the line down in 19th place.
Nathanael Berthon and Julian Leal, who both pitted late on for softs, squabbled over 7th and 8th in the closing stages. Leal ended up behind the Lazarus of Berthon but crucially he will start from reverse-grid pole in tomorrow’s sprint race.
Negrao finished in 9th just ahead of Matsuhita, who rounded out the top ten after a fantastic recovery drive following his poor start.
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