Heikki Kovalainen was clearly the class of the GP2 field at Magny-Cours, but was made to wait for victory after a safety car period provoked a variety of tactics among the frontrunners.

The Finn made a demon start from row two of the grid, aided by a slow getaway from second-placed Jose Maria Lopez, firing from fourth to first as he stuck his Arden Dallara down the inside of poleman Alex Premat into turn one. Finding no lack of traction with two wheels on the grass, Kovalainen held his line and his nerve to then brave it around the outside of Estoril, emerging in front as the field fired down to the Adelaide hairpin.

Remarkably, there was no first lap accident at the tightest corner on the Magny-Cours layout, and the entire 20-car grid eventually crossed the line intact. Eventually, as veteran Gimmi Bruni managed to stall on the line, getting away behind his opposition, and Ryan Sharp's miserable weekend continued with a spin that then dropped him behind the tardy Italian.

Kovalainen led Premat, the recovered Lopez and Nico Rosberg across the line, with Scott Speed, Adam Carroll, Nelson Piquet and Giorgio Pantano completing the top eight runners. The lower order was rearranged the next time through, as Ferdinando Monfardini nudged Alex Negrao into a spin at the final chicane, delaying Durango team-mate Clivio Piccione into the bargain, while Olivier Pla waited until lap four to remove himself from contention with the first of two spins.

The accident-prone Frenchman would play a bigger role twelve laps later, rotating solo out of the final chicane and leaving his car stranded, half on the racing line, opposite the pits. The safety car was a necessity as the marshals struggled to move the stricken DPR entry, playing perhaps the biggest role in the race.

By that point, lap 15, most of the field had already decided to make its mandatory pit visit, led by Borja Garcia's second lap stop, with only Kovalainen and the two ART drivers from among the frontrunners still needing to make their tyre change. Arden called the race leader in before he had even caught the tail of the pace car - a move that probably saved the race for Kovalainen.

The Finn resumed in third spot, now directly behind Premat and Rosberg, who had not received such a swift response from the pit-wall, and appeared in prime spot to claim the win when the two white cars finally stopped.

With the safety car remaining on track for several laps, and the field now bunched up behind it, the optimum time for either Premat or Rosberg to stop appeared to have passed, leaving ART in a difficult position - call the pair in sooner rather than later and see the bulk of the train flash by, or leave them out in the hope that they can open out enough of a gap to preserve at least a points finish.

In the end, Nicolas Todt's squad opted for the latter, but no-one quite expected the two cars top be left running until the final ten laps. But that was exactly what happened, with Premat and Rosberg initially able to drop Kovalainen and Lopez, but soon finding the Finn closing back in. Still the team left them running, until a sharp word from Rosberg's world champion father eventually saw the leader called in with nine laps to run.

Once freed of having to chase his team-mate's gearbox, Rosberg Jr promptly showed that he had a lot more pace in the bag, despite now running on very worn tyres. The German was immediately able to take a second from his lap times, dropping Kovalainen to a respectable distance. Six further laps in the 1min 28s followed before Rosberg bowed to the inevitable, pitting on lap 38 of 41.

Unlike Premat, who rejoined down in twelfth and spent the remaining laps fruitlessly - and wildly - trying to recover a point, Rosberg was able to filter back in in seventh, securing himself not only two points but also a front row start for Sunday's sprint event.

Kovalainen, meanwhile, was able to re-assume the lead of the race for the final three laps, enjoying a comfortable enough gap back to Lopez to cruise to his third victory of the season. With Scott Speed mired down in the pack after the safety car - and a subsequent off - ruined his afternoon, the Finn also re-established a healthy advantage in the points race.

His closest points rival turned out to be Carroll, but the Irishman, despite timing his pit-stop better than Speed, had to make do with fourth on the day, as Lopez and Nicolas Lapierre filled out the remaining podium positions. The two entertained with a close dice in the wake of the safety car withdrawing, but were eventually separated by a sizeable gap as they passed the flag.

Carroll duly took fourth, coming home ahead of Neel Jani and Hiroki Yoshimoto, who scored the first points of an otherwise troubled season. BCN got both its cars to the flag for the first time, with Ernesto Viso climbing to eleventh after having to start from the back. The Venezuelan's charge came to a halt as he found himself in the middle of a pack running just outside the points, and eventually had to give up a place to the recovering Premat, although the irate Frenchman almost had the BCN car off on two occasions.

Piccione took the final point, a decent return after starting 22nd and then being caught up in his team-mate's moment with Negrao, but the Nurburgring winner had to pass Giorgio Pantano late in the race to secure the spot - and pole for race two. Missing from the top eight at the end was Nelson Piquet, who had run in the points for much of the event, before succumbing to mechanical failure.

Bruni, meanwhile, stopped for a second time late in the race, fitting a new set of rear tyres and successfully chasing the two bonus points for fastest lap. The Italian finished the race down in 18th.

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