Rookie Romain Grosjean ignored the cranes littering the Dubai Autodrome horizon to claim victory in the inaugural GP2 Asia Series race after cruising away from the rest of the field.
Starting from pole position, the Frenchman made a solid getaway to fend off the attentions of Bruno Senna and Andy Soucek, and then benefited as the Brazilian and Spaniard embarked on a race-long scrap for the runner-up spot. Immediately able to pull out a couple of seconds over the pack, the reigning F3 Euroseries champion was in a class of his own, even able to up his game when anyone threatened to snatch the point for fastest lap.
Grosjean's dominance, however, meant that attention switched elsewhere during the 42 laps, with the battle between Senna and Soucek the main focus for much of the race. Although the iSport driver made the better start from the front row, Soucek was quickly on his tail and took advantage of a slight slip on the opening lap to steal second place. Although Senna tried to retaliate, Soucek held firm - just as he would for the majority of the distance.
The Spaniard's resistance could not last forever, though, and, having proven the stronger combination through the final corner and down the long main straight, Soucek's DPR car eventually succumbed to the pressure with four laps to run, running wide in turn one and allowing Senna to close, the Brazilian drawing alongside a couple of turns later to make the move stick around the outside.
Whatever Soucek's problems - and it was a toss-up between tyres and brakes - he almost fell victim to Adrian Valles in the closing stages, but managed to hold firm to add another podium to the brace he and DPR took at the tail-end of 2007. Valles, after a relatively quiet comeback to GP2, had to settle for a close fourth, but either position could have gone to both Luca Filippi and Karun Chandhok had they enjoyed better races.
Filippi, running with series newcomer QI-Meritus, had 'only' qualified sixth after the team lost most of the morning rebuilding his car following a practice shunt, but was quickly up to fourth as Chandhok fluffed his getaway. Waiting almost until last to change his tyres, Filippi worked his way to the front of the field - only to find his in-lap blighted by the inattentive Jason Tahinci. His fury continuing right the way to his pit box, the delayed Filippi re-emerged not only behind Valles - whom he had also beaten off the line - but also out of the reckoning for a podium.
Chandhok, meanwhile, slipped to fifth at the start and then compromised any hopes of a comeback by spinning as he left the pits. The dusty track had already caught a few out, but the Indian lost his iSport mount at relatively slow speed as he encountered Armaan Ebrahim passing pit exit. The loop cost Chandhok a couple of spots, but he appeared still to be on course for a handful of points before another rotation in the late stages dropped him to eighth. The only consolation now is that he will start on pole for Saturday's sprint event.
Filling the gap between Filippi and Chandhok, Hiroki Yoshimoto followed Valles' lead in making a quiet return, while Sebastien Buemi made the most of Chandhok's second spin to double his points haul. The Swiss driver had earlier been involved in a close battle with Christian Bakkerud, before the Dane - one of the race's earliest stoppers - got a little optimistic defending his line on fresh rubber. Not recognising quite how far Buemi was alongside, Bakkerud turned in and was promptly spun off and out.
The Super Nova driver, now fully fit after his injury-ridden 2007 debut campaign, joined the luckless Vitaly Petrov on the sidelines, the Russian not even starting the race after a recurrence of the gearbox problems that sidelined him in qualifying. Petrov could have started from the pit-lane, but instead it was Davide Valsecchi and Kamui Kobayashi lining up at the gate, the latter a helpless victim of the former stalling on the formation lap. Ho-Pin Tung then failed to getaway at the first attempt, dropping to the tail of the field, while rookie Michael Herck stopped on track to complete the retirees.
With the points for pole and race win already in his pocket, Grosjean came close to completing a sweep of the scoring opportunities when he wrested fastest lap back from Marco Bonanomi, the Italian having opted to cut his losses after being forced off the road by Alberto Valerio and go for the bonus. A pit-stop to replace a broken front wing - the legacy of contact with the marker boards into turn one - also allowed Bonanomi to fit fresh tyres, but his flying lap was quickly matched by Grosjean. The Frenchman, however, was not to have it all his own way, with Senna, once free of the Soucek roadblock, able to bang in an even faster tour in the closing stages.
Sunday's sprint race, in which the two fastest men will start from row four, promises to be an intriguing spectacle.