Nico H?‚??lkenberg took an emphatic win from pole position in GP2 Asia’s first ever night race at Losail International Circuit in Qatar. The ART driver started from pole position for his second GP2 Asia feature race – just as he did for his first at Bahrain.
Sergio Perez, sprint race winner at Bahrain, joined him on the front row of the grid but was 0.75s slower than the ART driver in qualifying. Behind them were Vitaly Petrov, series leader Kamui Kobayashi, Roldan Rodriguez, Sakon Yamamoto, Javier Villa and Davide Valsecchi.
Perez grabbed the lead off H?‚??lkenberg When the race started Yamamoto’s ART car failed to get away and a nightmare scenario unfolded as an unsighted Yelmer Buurman ploughed into the stationary car at undiminished speed.
The impact tore the left rear quarter out of the ART drivers’ car while Buurman’s mercifully did not take off, his wrecked car skidding to a halt at the pit lane exit. Happily both were uninjured, as was Rodolfo Gonzalez who was caught up in the carnage.
The race resumed after a 20-minute safety car period, during which the field was routed through the pit lane to avoid the wreckage strewn across the start/finish straight.
An erratic race with huge swings in lap times unfolded, probably due to the huge amount of dust visible on the track. Kobayashi was first to slow dramatically, and was passed by Valsecchi and Villa on the main straight. Villa then took the outside line at the first corner to pass Valsecchi.
Villa then caught and passed H?‚??lkenberg for second place, the ART driver the latest to suddenly fall off the pace. Shortly afterwards race leader Perez pitted and, crucially, emerged behind team mate Petrov who had made his stop several laps earlier.
Villa came out of the pits several seconds behind the battling Barwa duo. That contest was finally resolved in Perez’s favour, the Mexican gingerly diving past his team mate at turn one, by which time H?‚??lkenberg was 35 seconds up the road. But even in clean air Perez was still half a second per lap off H?‚??lkenberg’s pace.
Meanwhile Kobayashi continued to tumble down the order, being passed by series debutants Alvaro Parente and, later, Valsecchi. Villa, who was looking set for the first podium of his GP2 career, was summoned to the pits to serve a drive-through penalty.
H?‚??lkenberg had 45 seconds in hand when he made his final pit stop, giving him more than enough time to get back on track still in the lead.
Kobayashi made a later charge on Petrov for third but fell just short, chasing the two Barwa cars across the finishing line. Jerome d’Ambrosio in the other DAMS car was fifth. Valsecchi was sixth and Edoardo Mortara seventh, with Luis Razia eighth and taking pole position for the sprint race.
Drivers’ championship (top 12)
Kamui Kobayashi 39
Davide Valsecchi 27
Nico H?‚??lkenberg 23
Roldan Rodriguez 22
Jerome de Ambrosio 21
Sergio Perez 18
Vitaly Petrov 14
Javier Villa 12
Earl Bamber 8
Edoardo Mortara 8
Sakon Yamamoto 7
Giedo van der Garde 7