Pole sitter Jimmy Eriksson had to work hard to retain his lead at the start of the second GP3 race of the day at Sochi Autodrom, but once he did the race proved plain-sailing as he picked up his first win of the year for Koiranen GP.
However the championship battle tightened up considerably: having won the earlier race on Sunday, points leader Luca Ghiotto found himself in the wars and was lucky to salvage a single point from the event, while his major rival for the 2015 crown Esteban Ocon forced his way past the brace of Carlins to pick up second place by the finish.
CLICK: Full Sunday morning GP3 race 2 results from Sochi Autodrom.
Race 1 had been completed only two hours earlier, and under reverse grid rules the result from that event had set-up an all-Koiranen front row for race 2 consisting of Eriksson on pole next to Matt Parry followed by an all-Carlin line-up on the second row consisting of team mates Antonio Fuoco and Jann Mardenborough ahead of Campos Racing's Alex Palou in fifth and Arden's Emil Bernstorff in sixth. The key focus however was on the pair on the fourth row, where the leading title contenders Ocon (ART) and Ghiotto (Trident) were set to resume their earlier battle.
After the early exit of Jenzer Motorsport's Ralph Boschung on the installation lap and Arden's Kevin Ceccon unable to take the start after sustaining too much damage in race 1, there were just 22 cars lining up for the start including Aleksander Bosak who was starting from the pit lane as a penalty for colliding with his team mate Ceccon in the earlier race.
When the race got underway, Eriksson leapt away into the lead while a technical issue caused Parry to bog down and get swallowed up by a mass of cars in the run down to turn 1. Mardenborough and Fuoco promptly took the initiative and attempted to pounce on Eriksson, but the Swede was able to retain control despite running wide through turn 2. The Carlins had to settle into second and third, while behind them Ocon had been a big winner in the opening seconds having leapt up to fourth ahead of Bernstorff and Ghiotto. Trident's Artur Janosz had also enjoyed a good start, surging up from tenth on the grid to take seventh ahead of Palou.
On a mission to consolidate his earlier gains in the championship battle, Ghiotto pressed his claim on fifth place with a determined attempt to pass Bernstorff only for the Briton to refuse to yield as they ran wheel-to-wheel. Ghiotto was finally forced wide and ran off the track, costing him multiple positions as he fell out of the points to ninth behind ART's Marvin Kirchhöfer.
While Eriksson was building up a two second lead over Mardenborough at the front, Ocon was throwing everything into his assault on Fuoco for third. His opportunity came at the start of lap 8 when Ocon pulled off the pass despite being squeezed perilously close to the pit wall which earned Fuoco a black-and-white warning flag from race control as he staged an equally robust defence against an attack from Bernstorff. The Briton thought he has the pass made at the start of lap 10 only to run wide over the kerbs in turn 2, not only handing fourth straight back to Fuoco but also giving a free pass to Janosz for fifth.
As the 15-lap race entered its final minutes, Eriksson had pulled out enough of a lead to put his third GP3 win - his first of 2015 - beyond doubt. The centre of attention was the battle for second place, with Ocon hunting down Mardenborough in his determination to make up as much ground in the points standings as possible with Ghiotto still outside the top eight. Mardenborough looked to have the situation under control, but defensive driving through the chicane by the Carlin driver at the end of the penultimate lap gave Ocon the opportunity to force his way past for the position and the crucial extra points.
There was no time for Ocon to do anything further and second place was as good as it got. He did however slam in a final fastest lap to pick up an extra bonus point to cut Ghiotto's advantage in the championship to just two points with two weekends at Bahrain and Abu Dhabi remaining.
Mardenborough crossed the line in third to join them on the podium, with Fuoco ending up relatively safe in fourth ahead of Janosz, Bernstorff and Kirchhöfer with Ghiotto managing to slip into the final points position at the last gasp ahead of Palou and Status Grand Prix's Seb Morris.
There's another long pause now in the schedule before battle recommences at Bahrain International Circuit on November 19-21, a replacement round hastily arranged after the cancellation of the German event. It will be the GP3 Series' first visit to the venue, and unusually it won't be as part of a F1 Grand Prix event - although it will have to go a long way to feel anything like as unusual and atypical as this weekend's reshuffled schedule in Sochi proved to be.
See full Sunday morning GP3 race 2 results from Sochi Autodrom.