Two of the GP2 Series' powerhouse operations made solid if unspectacular starts to their 2009 campaigns, taking home points from a competitive weekend in Barcelona.
Double champion ART Grand Prix and 2007 title winner iSport International left the Spanish venue with five points apiece after Pastor Maldonado and Giedo van der Garde respectively opened their accounts across the two races.
Maldonado is rated amongst the likely contenders for this year's title - provided he can kerb his sometimes reckless ways - and got the better of rookie team-mate Nico Hulkenberg on a weekend when ART appeared to be edging back towards the sort of form that took Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton to the first two GP2 titles.
The Venezuelan qualified tenth for race one after being hampered by traffic, but produced a strong -and controlled - drive to cross the line in fifth place and earn four points. A bigger score looked possible in Sunday's sprint event, where he would start from the outside of row two, but a typically fraught GP2 start saw Maldonado drop back to tenth, behind his team-mate, in the early going.
From there, however, he overtook no fewer than four of his rivals to claim the final point of the morning, and heads to round two in Monaco - where he traditionally excels - in optimistic mood.
"The weekend was not too bad," Maldonado admitted, "The car is getting better and better, and we improved a lot from the first to the last lap in Barcelona. The problem is that the tyres were good enough for one quick lap and then they'd lose at least three or four tenths so, when you pick up some traffic like I did, there's no way to be up front. But we worked very hard for the long stints this winter and it paid off.
"I pitted late in the [feature] race and we changed all four tyres, which was really a great move because I was much faster than all the others at the end of the race. I did not want to take any risks, but I could push hard and overtake several cars and enjoyed myself very much.
"It was the same thing in race two, but with an even better car. The changes we made were heading in the right direction, and I was very confident and really fast. I wanted to secure some good points because it is important to start the championship on the right foot, but we have improved a lot already and I hope we will definitely be able to close the gap in Monaco. The podium and the win will be our target!"
Team-mate Hulkenberg qualified fourth on the grid for race one, but problems at the start and during his pit-stop - as well as a subsequent drive-thru' penalty - saw the German drop back to 18th. That merely prompted a brilliant drive through the field but, even then, a points finish went begging as he reached only ninth place - missing the Sunday pole by a single place as well. Points looked likely on Sunday until he was hit by another car and finished only 14th.