Arden International claimed its first GP2 race win since the 2010 season opener in Spain, after Luiz Razia claimed the chequered flag at the end of the first feature race of 2012 at Sepang, Malaysia.
After an aborted start caused when both Rapax's Tom Dillmann and iSport's Jolyon Palmer stalled on the grid, the race got underway with a shocking start for polesitter Davide Valsecchi, who not only lost the lead to Luiz Razia but also found himself swamped by Fabio Leimer and Stefano Coletti and pushed down to fourth place. Valsecchi would regroup and be able to re-pass both the Racing Engineering and Coloni cars with bold moves over the opening laps, but the damage was done and Razia was now over five seconds ahead.
Also having a poor getaway off the line was Giedo van der Garde, who lost several positions in the opening seconds with a clutch problem. By contrast, Esteban Gutiérrez made up for a disappointing qualifying performance by getting a flier at the green light and soon zipping into the top eight; he even would briefly find himself into the lead during the cycle of pit stops, only to undo much of his good work when it came to his own stop by overcooking his entry to pit lane and running onto the grass. He would temporarily lose another spot to Fabrizio Crestani by then locking up on the pit exit.
When all the pit stops were done, Razia now had an impressive 9s lead over Valsecchi after the DAMS had been briefly held up behind the yet-to-pit Trident of Julian Leal and the lapped traffic of Lazarus' Giancarlo Serenelli. That proved to be the final straw, and despite rain threatening to make an appearance in the closing laps, the showers held off long enough to see Razia bring home the win for Arden by an impressive margin over Valsecchi.
Joining them on the podium was Carlin's Max Chilton, who had managed to jump over Leimer and Coletti for third place during the pit stops. Valsecchi's team mate Felipe Nasr was up in an impressive sixth place on his GP2 race debut, confirming just how strong the DAMS team were looking this year.
With things settled up in front, the fiercest battle was over the crucial final points position of eighth place where Esteban Gutiérrez was now under heavy pressure from van der Garde. Gutiérrez wasn't helped by being bottled up behind his own team mate James Calado immediately ahead of him in seventh, but a lock-up from the GP2 rookie through the final corner opened the door for Gutierrez to steal the position with six laps to go. The Mexican was then able to scamper off into the distance and leave Calado to fend off the Dutchman.
Calado proved able to do just that, the Caterham seemingly having cooked its tyres by this stage and gradually falling out of contention for the position in the final minutes. Retaining eighth meant that under the reversed grid system Calado now clinched the sprint race pole position, with Gutiérrez set to line-up alongside him on the front row.
There were only three retirements during the race, the first coming just one lap in when Ocean's Jon Lancaster came into the pits with technical issues. Rodolfo Gonzalez was also a non-finisher after his Caterham went off into the gravel trap at turn 1 on lap 13.
Johnny Cecotto had been off the pace right from the start and plummeting rapidly down the running order as he found himself passed by all and sundry. He decided to gamble on a very early mandatory pit stop as soon as possible on lap 7, but that backfired when his right rear wheel was fitted improperly and promptly detached itself as the Barwa Addax returned to the track, sending Cecotto into an early retirement.
The only penalty handed out during the race was a stop-go for Nigel Melker, after his crew were too slow to clear the starting grid.
After the race, Simon Trummer (Arden International) and Stephane Richelmi (Trident Racing) were both issued with 20 second penalties for causing collisions, which cost them both two places in the final classifications.
The Barwa Addax team also took a 1500 Euro fine for the unsafe release of Cecotto that resulted in his wheel flying off.
Full feature race results and positions