Davide Valsecchi moved a couple of steps closer to the perfect weekend in Abu Dhabi by clinching victory and fastest lap in the opening race of the third GP2 Asia Series at the new Yas Marina circuit.
Dominant since the beginning of the round, when he topped both practice and qualifying for iSport International, Valsecchi took an impressive victory in the 33-lap feature race, despite twice briefly losing the lead. Not to be denied, the Italian fought back to reclaim top spot and managed to open out 4.8secs gap over countryman Luca Filippi at the chequered flag.
Valsecchi first failing of the weekend saw him make a poor getaway from pole position, allowing ART rookie Sam Bird to easily lead into the first corner. The Briton's advantage lasted just a few metres, however, as the Italian put the pressure on and Bird eventually gave way.
Valsecchi then pulled away, while Filippi and James Jakes took advantage of Fabio Leimer and Roldan Rodriguez stalling on the warm-up lap and start respectively to battle over third place, with the Briton claiming the upper hand. Both then attacked and passed Bird, who was notably slower than those around him, with Filippi eventually taking second and putting his head down to try and catch the leader.
Jakes was the first of the top three to make his compulsory pit-stop, coming in one lap before Valsecchi, who consequently left Filippi to take control of the race. While his countryman was pitting, the Meritus racer pushed as hard as he could and benefited as the safety car was deployed on lap twelve - following a collision between Luiz Razia and Christian Vietoris - just as he made his own stop. Filippi managed to stay ahead of Valsecchi at the restart, with Jakes running in third place ahead of Bird, Alexander Rossi, Josef Kral, Rodolfo Gonzalez and Vietoris, who escaped unharmed from his brush with Razia.
Running half a second quicker than Filippi, Valsecchi closed in on his countryman and, on lap 19, passed the Meritus driver in a bold move that saw the two cars running side-by-side through turns 11-13, before Filippi eventually gave way in turn 14. After that, Valsecchi raced to the chequered flag, adding consecutive quickest laps to increase his advantage.
Not even a brief second appearance by the safety car in the closing stages of the race - after Plamen Kralev spun and stopped on track - could prevent Valsecchi from securing his first win in a GP2 feature race, while, behind him, although Jakes tried to overtake Filippi, the Italian kept the Briton in check.
American Rossi, driving for Ocean Racing, was the best debutant, crossing the line in fourth ahead of fellow newcomers Kral (Super Nova), Vietoris (DAMS) and the slightly more experienced Johnny Cecotto (Trident).
Bird, meanwhile, lost a possible podium result as brake problems intensified, and was cruelly forced out of fourth place when he was left with no retardation at all on the penultimate lap.
His misfortune promoted iSport's Oliver Turvey to eighth place and pole for race two.