The much-vaunted GP2 Asia Series finally gets underway at the Dubai Autodrome this weekend, with a mix of seasoned veterans and eager rookies all looking to make a name for themselves in the 'winter championship'.

Designed to bring the flavour of Formula One's leading feeder series to the emerging motorsport nations in the Middle East and Asia, the inaugural line-up has not exactly fulfilled the criteria laid out by its organisers - to provide a step on the ladder to aspiring young drivers from the region - but promises to match some of Europe and South America's best prospects with those members of the Asian contingent already making a name for themselves ahead of a possible rematch in the now familiar summer series.

"The philosophy of the GP2 Asia Series is to expand the successful concept of the GP2 Series to the emerging motorsport nations," series organiser Bruno Michel said at its launch, "These high potential regions will benefit from the incredible racing which the GP2 Series has set as its hallmark, but at a much reduced cost.

"As Formula One expands further into Asia and the Middle East, the GP2 Asia Series will be perfectly placed to act as its support event at an increasing number of races, as we strive to promote the best emerging talents in Asian motorsport. Part of this commitment to the promotion of drivers from Asia is reflected in a specific regulation for the GP2 Asia Series, which will ensure that at least one race seat per team is filled by a driver from this part of the world."

As it turns out, four of the 13 teams have failed - or chosen not - to fulfil that specific requirement, some citing A1GP's recent deal with Ferrari as an excuse, but they will not be allowed to score points as a result. The rest have attracted leading drivers from Japan, China, India and Pakistan to do battle with champions and GP2 favourites from 2007.

Four days of intensive testing in Dubai have proven that GP2 is by far the fastest series to have run at the circuit, setting up a fascinating weekend of action. Star of both four-day sessions was Frenchman Romain Grosjean, the reigning F3 Euroseries champion having linked up with former GP2 kings ART Grand Prix to top the timesheets in the majority of outings.

Also at the sharp end of proceedings throughout the tests were reigning GP2 champions iSport International, which put both Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok towards the top of the times. Chandhok topped the order on one occasion in the past week, while fellow GP2 sophomore Senna kept Grosjean within striking distance throughout.

Others to watch according to the results will be inaugural FMaster champion J?r?me d'Ambrosio, who makes his GP2 debut with the experienced DAMS outfit, Spain's Andy Soucek, who returns to DPR after a strong finish to 2007, and Marco Bonanomi (Piquet Sports), S?bastien Buemi (Trust Team Arden) and Adrian Valles (FMS International), who were all impressive throughout the four days of testing. Bonanomi makes his first start in the category this weekend, while Buemi prepares to embark on his first full season after flitting between F3 and GP2 for much of 2007. Valles, meanwhile, has seen it all before, but returns to GP2 after taking a year out to focus on F1 testing duties with Spyker in 2007.

Perhaps the most impressive outfit, however, was the only Asian team in the fold. Added to the line-up after Racing Engineering declined the opportunity to take part, Qi-Meritus.Mahara will run the experienced pairing of Luca Filippi and Hiroki Yoshimoto, the Italian already being touted as a possible summer series champion following his deal with ART. Yoshimoto, meanwhile, started off slowly as he readjusted to the Dallara, but ended the test an impressive fourth fastest.

GP2 has managed to retain the services of Mecachrome and Bridgestone for its new venture, and the tyre manufacturer has been busy making preparations for its desert outing.

In order to cover two official tests and the first round, approximately 1250 slick Potenza tyres and 630 wet versions were been shipped directly from Bridgestone's Technical Centre in Kodaira City, Japan. Although there will be the usual limit on tyres for round one - with drivers only permitted to use only four sets of drys and two sets of wets over the weekend - a lot more were needed for testing.

"We are very excited about this week's inaugural GP2 Asia races," director of motorsport tyre development Hirohide Hamashima, "We have chosen to use the same construction of GP2 tyre for the GP2 Asia Series that drew confidence and praise from those drivers competing in GP2 in Europe over recent seasons. The track surface is quite slippery at the moment, but we are confident our GP2 Asia slick tyre should not suffer too much from any potential wear or degradation issues brought about by the sandy conditions on track.

"The drivers can expect a tyre capable of long-lasting grip and which will allow a variety of race strategies. However, on this track, the compound may present the drivers with a challenge in qualifying as they will need to get their tyres up to temperature and up to optimum pressure as efficiently as possible. Nevertheless, those drivers who find themselves at the back of the grid in the feature race may well be able to jump up the field utilising a well timed pit-stop.

"Looking at recent weather reports though, it seems the drivers may also be using our wet weather tyres, which is quite surprising, but we are confident that the drivers will find that our innovative tread pattern, which features sloping tread blocks, will provide them with the performance they require, however much or however little rain falls."