Dams' Romain Grosjean locked up the final 2011 GP2 Asia feature race right from the start, converting pole position into a huge lead that he only lost briefly during the cycling-through of pit stops midrace.
His main rival was expected to be iSport's Sam Bird, who had set the fastest practice time on Friday morning and who had come close to claiming pole in the qualifying session in the afternoon. But instead, Bird was never a factor - getting a seriously slow start and dropping back to eighth, and subsequently involved in contact with his team mate Marcus Ericsson - who was recovering from sliding onto the grass on lap 8 - that put him out of the race entirely.
Instead it was Barwa Addax's Giedo van der Garde who was closest to Grosjean and pushing the leader in the early laps before the Frenchman started to stamp his authority on the race and pull away, leaving van der Garde struggling to hold off Michael Herck for second.
The GP2 Asia championship leader going into Imola, Jules Bianchi, was initially slow and found himself sandwiched between the two Ardens of Josef Kral and Jolyon Palmer, but Bianchi finally found his pace and passed Kral for fourth place on lap 6, then picked up third by overtaking Michael Herck in the pits during the mandatory round of stops for two-tyre changes. Kral and Palmer both had problematic stops and subsequently fell out of the top ten as a result: Palmer ended up 19th after struggling with damage to his front wing sustained while attacking the back of Bianchi's Lotus ART in the opening laps, while Kral lost a fierce battle with Bianchi's ART team mate Esteban Gutierrez for 12th.
By midrace everyone had pitted save for Rodolfo Gonzalez who briefly led the race before coming in for his stop and returning the lead to Grosjean, who was now cruising to victory and far out of reach of van der Garde, Bianchi and Herck with a lead already over 8s that eventually stretched out to over 14s by the chequered flag, giving him a 5pt overnight lead over Bianchi in the GP2 Asia championship going into the final race of the season.
Stefano Coletti claimed fifth place after a late-race error sent Team AirAsia's Davide Valsecchi off-track at Acque Minerali, giving the Trident Racing driver a chance to claim the position. Valsecchi was able to recover and hold onto sixth place ahead of Rapax's Fabio Leimer, but was subsequently disqualified from the results for a breach of article 4.3.12 of the technical regulations when the car floor was found a bit too low.
Dani Clos overcame the handicap of a 20th grid spot with the aid of an early pit stop to storm up the positions and claimed eighth position, which initially him the pole position for the sprint race under the reverse grid system until Valsecchi's disqualification boosted him to seventh and handed the sprint pole to Super Nova's Fairuz Fauzy instead. By contrast, Oliver Turvey started 14th and remained mired in the lower orders, finally crossing the finish line in a disappointing 15th place.
Luca Filippi's ill-starred return to Scuderia Coloni saw him end up as the last of the 23 cars running by the chequered flag. The other retirees apart from Bird were Luiz Razia (who went off track in the first lap) and Nathanael Berthon, who stopped at the side of the track on lap 16 just shy of the midpoint of the 35 lap event.
The final sprint race of the 2011 GP2 Asia series starts at 1pm GMT (2pm local time) on Sunday, March 20.
For full feature race times
, see the results section.