The start of the last GP2 Asia sprint race of 2011 saw a great getaway from Dani Clos off the front of the grid to lead the race at Imola, ahead of Fabio Leimer, Giedo van der Garde, Romain Grosjean - and Esteban Gutierrez, who had got a flier off the line from 11th on the grid.
After the build-up about the race being the title decider, it proved something of an anti-climax when the championship was immediately put beyond any doubt by an early crash for Jules Bianchi. Polesitter Fairuz Fauzy, who had suffered a really bad getaway, fell backwards through the positions and was then in too much of a rush to make up for lost ground. He locked up going into the first corner and set off a chain-reaction shunt with Stefano Coletti's Trident and Bianchi's Lotus ART putting all three of them out of the race along with the Arden of Jolyon Palmer.
The crash briefly brought out yellow flags that gave Carlin's Mikhail Aleshin a chance to close up to the back after having been forced to start from pit road, and with Bianchi out of the race it meant that feature race winner Romain Grosjean could not be overtaken in the points for his second GP2 Asia title no matter the outcome of rest of the sprint race.
But there was still a race to fight over, and once the green flags came out battle was rejoined with Clos confident in the lead ahead of a pushy Leimer. Behind van der Garde in third was Grosjean who continued to be the fastest man on track, although Grosjean found that even with the speed advantage it was another matter entirely when it came to trying to overtake the Barwa Addax in front. Behind them both Gutierrez was lurking, ready to pounce on a mistake by either car in front: when no opportunities presented themselves by the penultimate lap, Gutierrez launched his fiercest attempt to pass the new champion through Tamburello only to find himself firmly rebuffed by Grosjean - who appeared to have to cut across the grass to retain his place and found his result subject to a stewards' review. Although Gutierrez was forced to take a wide line as well, Grosjean was duly handed a 20s time penalty after the race for gaining an advantage by failing to respect the track limits. That put him down in 7th place and out of the points - not that it affected the championship position.
Ahead of them, Dani Clos had led from that great start right through to the end of the race, despite some fast laps from Leimer that seemed to threaten his lead at various stages of the race. But Clos always had enough in his back pocket to respond with and finally crossed the finish line with a lead of almost 1s over Leimer, with van der Garde 3s away in third and then the duelling Grosjean/Gutierrez pairing nearly 4s further back.
Rodolfo Gonzalez had run in sixth place early in the race but was always clearly the slowest of the front-runners, and was seen locking his brakes up as a result of the pressure being exerted by Marcus Ericsson and Michael Herck behind him. A mistake by Ericsson saw him run wide into Tamburello on lap 5, which allowed Herck to take up seventh place. Herck subsequently found himself up another position and left in a lot of clear space when Gonzalez subsequently retired his Trident on lap 15 with mechanical problems, and then rose to 5th place after Grosjean was penalised, putting him in front of Grosjean's Dams team mate Pal Varhaug who took the final point for sixth.
Davide Valsecchi, starting from the back of the grid after being excluded from the feature race results for a technical infringement relating to the ride height of his Team AirAsia car, initially made good progress but was unable to retain many of those gained positions after he sustained some midrace damage to his front wing. Julian Leal also needed a pit stop for a new front nose and fell to the back of the lead lap.
Sam Bird completed a dismal weekend - that had started so well with his form in practice and qualifying on Friday - with a second retirement today, after Johnny Cecotto Jr forced him off the track into the gravel at Tamburello on lap 21. After the race Cecotto was rightly given a 20s penalty for causing an avoidable accident, but it did not change the final classified positions.
That completes the truncated 2011 GP2 Asia season. The first round of the 2011 GP2 main series starts well be held from May 6 to 8 in Istanbul, Turkey as the support event to the F1 Grand Prix of Turkey.
For full sprint race times
, see the results section.