Lining up on the starting grid for the Malaysian GP2 sprint race, James Calado's mind must have flashed back to last November and the non-championship GP2 Final race at Abu Dhabi, where he had been able to pull out in front and control the race to claim his first win in his first weekend competing at GP2-level.
But could he do it again in a championship event? He got a decent start off the line, but his Lotus GP team mate Esteban Gutiérrez was right alongside him and even put his nose in front doing the start/finish straight. But Calado had control of the inside line and Gutiérrez was forced to yield and drop back into line, almost getting rear-ended by Stefano Coletti and Felipe Nasr who were having their own fierce private squabble for third place.
That moment effectively decided the race winner, with Calada never disappearing into the distance but always able to maintain a comfortable margin over Gutiérrez and the rest of the field all the way to the chequered flag. He already had his first GP2-level win; now he had his first series championship victory as well. Not bad at all for the rookie who has only two race weekends under his belt since transferring in from GP3 where he was 2011 runner-up.
There was still plenty of action going on behind the Lotus duo, however. Coletti's battle with Nasr ended up with the Coloni running wide on the first lap, releasing Nasr into an unchallenged third place and also getting passed by Giedo van der Garde and Fabio Leimer before he was able to slot back into the traffic in front of Luiz Razia.
Behind them, an oddly sluggish Davide Valsecchi had his hands full in the first couple of laps trying to maintain his position over a hard-charging Max Chilton. Valsecchi was just about to hold off the Carlin, but Venezuela GP Lazarus's Fabrizo Crestani tried to outwit them both by sticking his nose down the inside of the battle into turn 1 on the second lap and ended up getting his front wing clipped for his trouble, and then getting handed a drive-thru penalty for causing a collision with the move.
As the race settled down, Valsecchi's pace improved and he was soon out of reach of Chilton, allowing the DAMS driver to look ahead at the car in front that had beaten him to the feature race win the day before. But in trying to get past the Arden car of Luiz Razia, Valsecchi overcooked it and ran off the track going into turn 5. Chilton was past him in a flash, and Valsecchi came back on track determined not to loose any more positions - but ended up rejoining just in front of Marcus Ericsson. It was too close, and the iSport's front right wheel made contact with the left rear tyre of the DAMS and flipped Valsecchi into the air, rolling it over in a somersault into the gravel.
Despite the scary moment flying through the air, Valsecchi was done the worse for wear and the race officials were able to remove both of the stricken cars without needing a full course yellow. Ericsson was deemed to have not given Valsecchi enough room and to have caused the collision, and was given a 10-place grid penalty for the next race of the GP2 Series championship at Sakhir.
As the race neared its end, tyre wear became critical and there was plenty of entertaining racing to be had as the cars started drifting and sliding all over the place. Particularly badly affected was Coletti, who came under sustained pressure from Chilton and Nathanael Berthon and ended up losing out to both of them through a single corner, so cooked were his tyres at this point. With no hope of recovering the positions he was now haemorrhaging, Coletti crawled into the pits to retire.
Ricardo Teixeira also found his car unable to last the distance, running off the track twice in the last half of the race before he decided to call it a day three laps before the end. He was later Teixeira reprimanded for returning to the track in the wrong direction down a run-off, earning him a 1,000 euros fine for not rejoining the track in a safe manner.
Other drivers not finding much luck in the sultry but dry conditions at Sepang on Sunday morning included Johnny Cecotto Jr who stalled on the grid; and Stephane Richelmi who was judged to have jumped the start and handed an early drive-thru penalty.
But Tom Dillmann had an entertaining race, making his way up steadily from 19th on the grid to 11th place by the finish, pulling off some great moves on the likes of Fabio Onidi along the way but finally coming up just inches short of passing Rio Haryanto at the line for the final points on offer.
None of this affected the race leaders, however. Calado's lead in front was now 2s and all of Gutiérrez's attention were focussed to his rear where series rookie Felipe Nasr was proving feisty and threatening. Gutiérrez had it under control and kept the position until the end, with Nasr having to settle for the final podium position in his first GP2 weekend.Full race results and times