Blue skies, puffy white clouds, bone-dry track and not a hint of rain for the entire race - you had to check your GPS coordinates to make sure this was actually Spa-Francorchamps for the penultimate GP2 Sunday sprint race of the year, so wondrously benign were the climactic conditions.
Josef Kral had inherited pole position overnight after race stewards inverted his and Fairuz Fauzy's feature finishing positions, and Kral duly led out of La Source with Fauzy in second. But the surprise - call it outright shock - was who was in third place.
Johnny Cecotto Jr had lined up on the grid in 11th place; and a stuttering Adam Carroll in front of him on the grid forced him to swerve and take to the grass down the inside into the turn 1 hairpin, a move that could have ended up in disaster in any number of ways. Fortunately for him, Dani Clos struggled to turn in and left Cecotto with a big hole to slip into, and he duly emerged from the first corner in a spectacular third place.
By contrast, Cecotto's Ocean Racing Technology Brendon Hartley went the polite way around the outside - and was rewarded for his good manners by losing a couple of spots. But Giedo van der Garde illustrated how Cecotto's tactics could easily backfire, as he tried the same inside line down the grass verge only to end up clashing with the back wheel of Pal Varhaug at the apex of La Source, which resulted in the Barwa Addax suffering front wing damage that required a pit stop and consigned van der Garde to the back of the field for the rest of the race.
Cecotto pressed home his early advantage by passing the clearly slower Fauzy on the run down to Les Combes to take second place. Fauzy also fell foul of a charging Luca Filippi in the same spot a lap later, but would then do a good job bottling up Romain Grosjean, Dani Clos and Jules Bianchi who had an entertaining battle amongst themselves with positions traded to and fro multiple times.
Josef Kral looked be be safely away with a comfortable lead, but Cecotto's early pace had now lost its shine and five laps in to the race a charging Filippi got past Cecotto out of Raidillon and in the run down to Les Combes for second place. That released Filippi who was instantly fastest man on track as he sought to hunt down the leader.
And then the safety car was summoned out of its slumbers, after Fabio Leimer lost the Rapax going into Eau Rouge and spun at high speed into the tyre barrier on lap 7. The car was torn apart in a frightening impact that left it in two sizeable chunks of wreckage, but amazingly not only was Leimer able to climb out, he went for a jog over to the barrier as if out for a Sunday morning training run.
After four laps behind the safety car, the race resumed. But now the cars had been closely re-packed together and where before it might have been all too much effort to catch someone let alone try to overtake them, now there were far-too inviting temptations right through the running order for those bold or reckless enough to make a grab for them.
The obvious move everyone was expecting was Filippi's play for the lead, and he didn't wait long to muscle his way past Kral on the run down to Les Combes. Behind them, Fauzy had nudged the back of Cecotto through the apex of the La Source hairpin which cost them both drive out of the first turn. Fauzy promptly lost multiple slots including banging wheels with Dani Clos at Les Combes and damaged his front wing in one or other of these collisions and subsequently had to pit for a replacement, which put him at the back of the field.
Grosjean briefly overtook Cecotto through the Bus-stop chicane at the end of the lap but it proved costly as he lost the position on the run down to the hairpin. He then found himself in a scary three-wide battle out of the apex with Dani Clos and Jules Bianchi in the run up the hill - and lost out to both, with Bianchi emerging as the big winner making up two places before going on to scoot around Cecotto at the end of the lap as well to pick up third place.
Grosjean regrouped and quickly re-passed Clos, then overtook Cecotto again next time through the Bus-stop rather more smoothly and easily this time: Cecotto's pace was clearly waning and he would soon prove easy prey to Sam Bird and Esteban Gutierrez as well, ejecting him from the points after that stunning start that had promised so much.
There was no question now as to who would win the race - Filippi had a four second lead going into the final moments of the race. Behind him, Jules Bianchi clearly had the measure of Kral and proved it on the penultimate run through the Bus-stop to wrest second place away from the Arden.
Newly confirmed 2011 GP2 champion Grosjean didn't have enough time left in the race to follow Bianchi's lead and missed out on the podium today behind Filippi, Bianchi and Kral - Jules Bianchi looking considerably happier today than he had at the end of the feature race as he collected the trophy for a second consecutive runner-up position. With another dreadful day for Barwa Addax, that puts Bianchi right into the middle of the fight for second place in the championship with van der Garde and Charles Pic, giving him everything to play for going into the final race weekend at Monza in a fortnight.
Other than Leimer's dramatic exit from the race, the only other retirements were from Luiz Razia, Mikhail Aleshin and Julian Leal - who spun in the run down to La Source and ended up in the outside tyre barrier shortly after the restart.
Full results and positions