Roldan Rodriguez may have started the opening race of the new GP2 Asia Series from pole position, but there was only ever likely to be one winner - until Kamui Kobayashi threw away his lead with just five laps to run in China.

The Japanese driver had been the pacesetter throughout the preparations for this weekend, but lost pole to Rodriguez at the last gasp on Friday. Not prepared to play second fiddle to the Spaniard for any longer than he had to, however, Kobayashi waited only until the turn 14 hairpin on the opening lap before retaking the upper hand.

Rodriguez had made a decent start, blocking off any hope that Kobayashi may have had of seizing the lead into turn one, and the entire field - bar Nelson Philippe and Giacomo Ricci, who both stalled, and Kevin Chen, who started from pit-lane - made it through the opening sequence of corners unscathed.

Having tailed the leader for much of the lap, taking a look at turn six, Kobayashi pounced to the inside of the hairpin with Rodriguez making little attempt to close off his avenue. Behind them, Sakon Yamamoto passed Javi Villa in similar fashion, although he needed two attempts to finally see off the Super Nova driver before claiming third.

Once in front, Kobayashi appeared to have the race in his pocket, able to ease away from Rodriguez, who was left to run in no man's land as the leading group became strung out. Behind Villa, Vitaly Petrov headed leading rookie Earl Bamber, Jerome d'Ambrosio and Luca Filippi, while Giedo van der Garde and Davide Valsecchi rounded out the top ten.

There was early action in the pits, with Champ Car refugee Philippe raising a few eyebrows when, having been restarted by the ART team, he promptly took his eye off the road ahead and ran over a neighbouring crew's pit equipment, ripping the nose off his car in the process. Undeterred, the Frenchman continued to exit the pits - and then attempted to race those trying to lap him as he struggled to get the #2 car into corners....

Luiz Razia's race came to an early end at the same time, the Arden driver pitting with right-front suspension damage after a coming-together with Diego Nunes, while d'Ambrosio - who should know better after a full year in GP2 - added to the chaos when he almost missed his stall, then bumped the tyre waiting to be fitted to his left rear. To compound matters, the Belgian also stalled as he attempted to restart, losing valuable track time. When one realises where he eventually finished, it ponders what could have been...

Philippe eventually received a stop-go penalty, presumably for the contact in the pits rather than rejoining the track with less than a complete car, and promptly pitted to have a new wing attached, rejoining well down the field as the regular stops intensified. Rookie James Jakes and veteran Andi Zuber were among those in on lap nine, the pair rejoining behind Davide Valsecchi after the Italian took on tyres a lap later and immediately attacking the Durango car, Zuber making contact on more than one occasion.

The action was slowed a lap later when rookie Sergio Perez spun shortly after his pit-stop, stalling the second Campos car in the middle of the track and prompting the safety car to appear for the first time. The leaders were among those to take advantage of being able to make their mandatory stops while the pace was reduced and, when the backmarkers had been waved around the Mercedes, resumed at the head of the field.

The pit window had produced few changes among the leading order, although FMaster champion Chris van der Drift had moved up to seventh, ahead of Filippi, van der Garde, Valsecchi, Zuber and Jakes. Despite the combative nature of the pack, therefore, it was a surprise when no-one appeared keen to make a move at the restart on lap 16, although Hamad Al Fardan was caught out a little later around the lap, running off the road and spinning to a halt.

van der Garde cost himself a shot at Sunday pole when he ran off the road at speed on lap 19, allowing both Valsecchi and Zuber through, but made the places back when the pair collided again, this time as Zuber appeared to hesitate on a passing move at turn one. The Austrian came off worst in the collision, spinning into the path of the hapless Jakes, who lost the front of his car and had to retire. Zuber, too, was in trouble as the second contact broke the steering on his FMSI entry. At the same time, Hiroki Yoshimoto's race was ended by contact from Nunes that broke his rear wing, although the Japanese driver made it back to the pit before being persuaded it was over by the BCN crew.

Valsecchi, meanwhile, was not about to have it easy, with van der Garde and the recovering d'Ambrosio - helped by the safety car - harrying him for ninth. When Filippi became the next driver to run wide, the battle was elevated to that for pole in Sunday's sprint.

A second safety car period, precipitated by a clash between Filippi and Yuhi Sekiguchi, allowed the battles to close up, but Kobayashi still held sway out front, with Rodriguez, Yamamoto, Villa, Petrov, Bamber, van der Drift and Valsecchi unchanged in the points positions behind. van der Garde continued to lead d'Ambrosio in ninth and tenth and, when Valsecchi took a look at van der Drift on the restart, harboured hopes of possibly making it into the top eight, before the door shut once again.

Just as it appeared that everything was settled, however, Kobayashi made the mistake that would turn the result on its head, running wide at turn four and allowing Rodriguez to sweep back ahead for the first time since lap one. With just a handful of laps remaining, the gap between the top two proved impossible to bridge, especially as Rodriguez upped his pace to match that of his pursuer. Yamamoto had also taken a look at his countryman as Kobayashi resumed, but was forced back into third, giving Japan two drivers on the podium.

Villa, Petrov and Bamber crossed the line with comfortable gaps between them, but the battle for the final point raged right to the chequered flag, with d'Ambrosio having overcome van der Garde and closed right in on Valsecchi. The DAMS driver looked every which way for a path passed the Italian, but eventually lost out by a fraction at the line.