Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio PÃ©rez took the victories as GP2 Asia visited Bahrain’s Sakhir circuit for the third round of its championship.
Round two, also held in the Gulf at Dubai, was cut short by a torrential downpour, but no such problems beset the 3.37 mile Formula One desert track.
While Michael Schumacher’s 1:30.252 lap record, set in his 2004 Ferrari, was unlikely to be up for grabs this time around, a weekend of exciting racing was still expected – and delivered.
Going into the weekend, DAMS’ Kamui Kobayashi, also recently seen testing for Toyota in Portimao, was leading the championship ahead of Piquet GP’s Roldan Rodriguez and Durango’s Davide Valsecchi.
In practice he was still the man to watch, with a fastest lap of 1:42.642 – but closely followed by ART’s Nico Hulkenberg, on his tail with a time of 1:43.221, and his DAMS team-mate JÃ©rÃ´me d’Ambrosio challenging strongly on 1:43.444.
Britain’s James Jakes, driving for Super Nova, was eighth-fastest in a tight field with a time of 1:43.872.
Rookie Hulkenberg nicks pole
However Kobayashi was unable to make his lead stick in qualifying, and Williams tester and GP2 Asia rookie Hulkenberg took pole on his first race weekend with the series.
He topped the timesheet 10 minutes into the session and then posted his best laptime of 1:41.351 in the last minutes of the event.
Dams took P2 and P3 with d’Ambrosio Kobayashi fighting for position until the session’s closing seconds.
The fourth slot was taken by Arden’s Edoardo Mortara with Rodriguez in fifth and iSport’s Giedo van der Garde in sixth. Seventh was ART’s Sakon Yamamoto, eighth Super Nova’s Javier Villa, and ninth GP2 returnee Marco Bonanomi at Meritus.Mahara .
Valsecchi completed the top 10 with Jakes lining up on the grid for the feature race in 14th place.
DAMS seals feature race one-two
Kobayashi stormed from fourth to second at the start before passing race leader HÃ¼lkenberg to cross the finish line in first position for the second time this season, 5.8 seconds ahead of teammate Ambrosio.
HÃ¼lkenberg made a good start from pole position and led the race in the early laps, but the ART rookie was unable to see off the more experienced driver.
HÃ¼lkenberg contained Kobayashi as long as he could, locking his wheels several times in the process, but eventually, he had to give up as the DAMS driver overtook him at the end of the straight on Lap 13.
In the end Kobayashi crossed the finish line almost six seconds ahead of his second-placed team-mate and scored the extra point for a fastest lap of 1:43.604.
A slow pitstop for Hulkenberg saw d’Ambrosio and Mortara promoted to second and third. But soon Mortara’s biggest task was preventing HÃ¼lkenberg from fighting his way back into the top places. He succeeded, pinning the rookie into fourth and collecting his first GP2 podium.
Valsecchi was fifth with Rodriguez sixth and Van der Garde seventh. Campos’ Sergio Perez was eighth and therefore set for pole for the following day’s sprint race.
Completing the top ten were Villa and Perez’ Campos team-mate Vitaly Petrov. Jakes was placed an unfortunate 22nd – the last of the drivers to post a time.
Sprint serves up maiden win for Perez
GP2 debutant Sergio Perez had a fantastic start to his career with Campos after leading the sprint race from start to chequered flag, seeing off a late challenge from Davide Valsecchi to do so.
Van der Garde stalled on the grid, leaving Valsecchi in fourth place with a clean track in front of him for the star.
He took advantage of the situation to come out of the first corner in second position, with Nico HÃ¼lkenberg behind him – but despite superior pace in the final laps he could never could get close enough to challenge for the win.
D’Ambrosio made up for a poor start by passing his teammate Kobayashi, Qi-Meritus’ Earl Bamber, Rodriguez struggling with his tyres, Villa and finally HÃ¼lkenberg on the last lap.
He crossed the finish line for well-deserved third place. HÃ¼lkenberg finished fourth ahead of Villa in fifth. Kobayashi came home in sixth, the last points-paying position of the event. Jakes failed to finish.
Kobayashi now leads Valsecchi by 24 points to 34 with Rodriguez just two points behind. D’Ambrosio is fourth with Javier Villa and Sergio Perez behind him tied on 10 points. Jakes has yet to score after a weekend to forget.
The next event is due to be held at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar from Friday February 6.
Championship standings after Bahrain (points-scorers only):
- Kamui Kobayashi (DAMS): 34 points
- Davide Valsecci (Durango): 24 points
- RoldÃ¡n RodrÃguez (Piquet): 22 points
- JÃ©rÃ´me d’Ambrosio (DAMS): 17 points
- Javier Villa (Super Nova): 12 points
- Sergio PÃ©rez (Campos): 10 points
- Nico HÃ¼lkenberg (ART): 10 points
- Earl Bamber (Qi-Meritus): 8 points
- Vitaly Petrov (Campos): 8 points
- Sakon Yamamoto (ART): 7 points
- Giedo van der Garde (iSport): 7 points
- Edoardo Mortara (Ardem): 6 points
- Chris van der Drift (Trident): 5 points