Just when it seemed that the championship momentum might have swung in favour of Esteban Ocon, Trident's Luca Ghiotto snapped back into action to take the advantage back by claiming victory in the weekend's second race at Bahrain International Circuit and set up a knife edge finish to the season.
CLICK: Full GP3 race 2 results from Bahrain International Circuit
Having finished Friday's race 1 in eighth place, the reverse grid rules meant that Ocon's ART team mate Alfonso Celis Jr was on pole position for Saturday morning's shorter 15-lap event, with Jann Mardenborough next to him on the front row hoping to bring a little cheer to a difficult race weekend for Carlin. Trident's Artur Janosz and Koiranen GP's Jimmy Eriksson were on the row behind them, while the two championship leaders Ghiotto and Ocon were once again starting side-by-side this time on row three.
When the race got underway, Celis got a good start and was able to lead into turn 1 but a sluggish Mardenborough got swallowed up by the field, finally forced to pull over to one side of the track and park after clashing with Eriksson. Meanwhile had Ghiotto gone down the inside to pick up second place ahead of Friday race winner Marvin Kirchhöfer in the ART, and then successfully made a play for the outright lead with a daring lunge past Celis.
Ghiotto had completed the pass in turn 1 at the start of lap 2 just before a safety car was deployed for a big accident involving Status Grand Prix's Sandy Stuvik at turn 15, which had left the Status Grand Prix car embedded in the tyre barrier after a collision with Mathéo Tuscher (Jenzer Motorsport). A red flag was required to enable repairs, but fortunately Stuvik himself was able to climb out and walk away from the nasty wreck, and he would watch the rest of the race from the sidelines along with Tuscher, where he joined Mardenborough and Jenzer Motorsport's Pål Varhaug who had spun out in a separate incident in turn 4 after clashing with Campos Racing's Konstantin Tereshchenko.
Once the wreck was cleared and the barrier back in working order, the cars streamed off pit lane behind the safety car to get the proceedings back underway on lap 5 with Ghiotto leading from Celis and Kirchhöfer and Ocon, meaning that all three ARTs were nose-to-tail in the top four after Ocon had just pulled off a crucial overtake on Janoz before the full course caution to put himself ahead of Emil Bernstorff (Arden) and Matt Parry (Koiranen GP)
Ocon's team mates didn't make things too hard for the Frenchman at the restart, and he was swiftly up to second place and starting to hunt down Ghiotto, although the Italian had made a strong restart and was already over a second down the road from the rest of the field. Meanwhile Kirchhöfer was showing little of his previous day's pace and was soon dropping more positions, with Parry taking advantage and then also pulling off a nice move on a defensive Bernstorff to take over fourth place. He followed it with a robust move on Celis for third on lap 10, which forced Celis wide over the kerbs costing him further positions to Bernstorff, Antonio Fuoco (Carlin) and Kirchhöfer before he could stabilise in seventh place and slot in back in ahead of Eriksson.
At the front, Ghiotto had responded to the threat of his title rival Ocon moving up to second position and had put his foot down, recording the fastest lap to reinstate a two second advantage at the front. With the shorter overall race distance coupled with the laps run under yellow the potential for tyre degradation was significantly lessened and ultimately proved not to be a factor among the leaders meaning that Ocon was unable to make any impression on Ghiotto's lead before the chequered flag came out.
It is an important win for the Italian, since it means he regains the two point lead in the drivers championship that he came into this weekend with but then lost as a result of Ocon out-performing him in Thursday's qualifying session and Friday's race. The battle for the 2015 GP3 championship will now go down to the wire next weekend, while the team championship has already been decided in ART's favour.
Joining Ghiotto and Ocon on the podium on Saturday morning was Matt Parry, with Bernstorff just missing out in fourth ahead of Fuoco, Kirchhöfer and Eriksson who made a late pass around Celis for seventh, leaving the polesitter with a single championship point as consolation. Jenzer Motorsport's Ralph Boschung finished outside the points altogether despite winning a hard-fought battle with Carlin's Mitch Gilbert, the Australian also losing out in the final laps to a hard-charging Alex Palou as the Campos Racing driver fought his way up from the back of the grid to finish in tenth place.
Janosz suffered from a torrid time at the restart which included some off-roading practice. He slipped backwards to finish the race in a disappointing 12th place just ahead of Campos Racing's Zaid Ashkanani and series newcomer Matevos Isaakyan in the Koiranen GP #10 car, while Arden's Kevin Ceccon suffered a late spin on the final lap and fell to 18th place in the final classification.
It's now just six days before the GP3 field is back in action, for the season finale at Abu Dhabi where the drivers championship will be decided at last in either Ghiotto or Ocon's favour. Which one will be celebrating very much remains to be seen, however.
See full GP3 race 2 results from Bahrain International Circuit.