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.