Of all three drivers on the podium at Sepang on Saturday, the one who had looked the least thrilled with his day's work was Stefano Coletti. He had led the feature race from pole position only to suffer from a disastrous fall-off in tyre wear in the final laps that left him slumping to third behind Fabio Leimer and James Calado.
That result put him in sixth place on the reverse sprint race grid on Sunday in Malaysia, and the Rapax driver was determined to put that to good use. He was targeting at least a second consecutive podium - or maybe even that elusive win, if Saturday had taught him the trick of making his tyres last a full 22 laps. But first he had to put himself into contention off the grid, and he did so by sweeping down the outside line into turn 1 putting him squarely alongside polesitter Stéphane Richelmi (DAMS).
Jolyon Palmer had already thinned the field ahead of Coletti after stalling his Carlin at the start of the formation lap, meaning that there was a nice inviting gap on the grid where the third-place starter would normally be. That was to the benefit of Palmer's Carlin team mate Felipe Nasr when the lights went out as the Brazilian had a nice clear patch of track to launch into right in front of him: he put it to good use by diving past both Sam Bird (Russian Time) and Juliàn Leal (Racing Engineering) on the inside line into turn 1 at the same time that Coletti was working the outside groove. Coletti finished the job once the track switched back into a left hander out of turn 2, putting the Rapax in control of the race ahead of Richelmi with Nasr having to temporarily settle for third slot ahead of a slow-starting Bird, and Leal behind in fifth.
However, further back there was disaster, as James Calado misjudged a move on yesterday's feature race winner Fabio Leimer and clipped the right rear of the Racing Engineering car. Leimer was able to continue, but the collision sent the ART skating out of control over the grass verge on the right hand side. Calado was unable to do anything about stopping the damaged car before the track swept into the turn 4 right hander, and so the ART crashed straight through the line of traffic at speed: the front wing of Leal got in the way, as did the back of Sam Bird's car, and all three joined the list of retirements that had started even before the race had begun with Catherham's Ma Qing Hua withdrawing because of a nasty bout of gastroenteritis.
Having taken the lead, Coletti was attempting to make sure that victory didn't slip through his fingers as it had in the previous day's feature race; Richelmi meanwhile was demoted another spot at the start of lap 2 when Nasr put on a move into turn 1 and made it stick through the switchback. The lead trio had already managed to pull away by a second from Arden's Mitch Evans in fourth who followed by Johnny Cecotto Jr., with Leimer holding on to sixth despite that early hit from Calado and still running ahead of Coletti's team mate Simon Trummer and Hilmer Motorsport's Conor Daly.
With the lead now stable, much of the mid-race activity focussed on Palmer scything his way effectively through the field after having to start from pit lane; notably, he was soon in front of DAMS' Marcus Ericsson who initially seemed unable to do much at all about his poor starting position as a result of being the retirement on Saturday. By contrast to Ericsson's static 18th position, Palmer had fought his way back to 14th place by the midpoint of the 22-lap race, but shortly after that milestone the Swede seemed to spark into life and also made up two positions in quick succession as tyre wear became an increasing factor throughout the field.
At the front, everyone was waiting to see whether Coletti would suffer the same dramatic tyre degradation and performance fall-off that had afflicted him in the latter stages of the feature race, or whether he was doing a better job today of managing his tyre wear in the shorter sprint race. In fact he seemed to have no significant problems with his late race handling at all, comfortably holding off Nasr all the way to the chequered flag.
In fact it was third place man Stéphane Richelmi who was suffering, drifting too far on the run-off into the final turn on lap 16 which resulted in a lock-up that sent him wide, allowing Mitch Evans to take the position which the Kiwi then held when Richelmi tried to counter-attack down the front straight into turn 1. Also struggling was Fabio Leimer, who ran off into the gravel on lap 17 and duly lost multiple positions; he recovered to the track just ahead of Tom Dillmann, holding up the Russian Time to such an extent that both cars were easy prey for Jolyon Palmer to swoop past on his continued recovery from that pit lane start.
Despite going on to make short work of Venezuela GP Lazarus' Kevin Giovesi in the closing laps, Palmer's quest to finish in the points came up one place too short and he finished in ninth place behind Giovesi's team mate Rene Binder. Ahead of them, Cecotto, Trummer and Daly had been promoted a position apiece as a result of Leimer's waywardness and duly finished in fifth, sixth and seventh place respectively.
But down the road there was joy in the Rapax camp as Coletti finally claimed a victory at Sepang, putting him on the podium on both days in Malaysia - a result that means he leaves the first weekend of the 2013 GP2 Series season in the led of the drivers championship by 11 points over Fabio Leimer. Rapax also leads the team standings over Racing Engineering, albeit by a lightly tighter seven points. Nasr is in third place in the standings after his weekend's work ahead of Calado and Richelmi, while 2012 GP3 champion Mitch Evans will be delighted to open his GP2 account with a maiden podium on only his second outing, putting him in sixth place in the points positions.
The podium trio could certainly afford to celebrate today, as there is now a full month before the second round of the GP2 season. The drivers aren't back in action again until Bahrain on April 19-21, by which time the events of Malaysia will be a distant memory. James Calado will have a concrete reminder of his Sepang outing, however, as he'll have to labour under a ten-place grid penalty for the next feature race at Sakhir after being fingered for causing that first lap accident with Leimer, Leal and Bird.
Full sprint race results available