After 21 races in nine countries, the GP2 series touches down in Bahrain - its first non-European destination - this week with two combatants still locked in battle for the inaugural drivers' title.

While the teams' trophy is already being engraved with the name of his ART Grand Prix equipe, Nico Rosberg holds but a slim three-point advantage over long-time championship leader Heikki Kovalainen with two races to run, almost ensuring that the title will not be decided until the final chequered flag falls on Friday afternoon.

After struggling in Turkey, and seeing Kovalainen re-establish a stronger position at the head of the table, Rosberg hit back at both Monza and Spa, circuits he correctly claimed would suit both his style and the strengths of the ART car. If Kovalainen needed any further warning of the German's intent this weekend, Rosberg also believes that the Bahrain International Circuit will play to those same advantages.

"I am very optimistic that our car will be quick in Bahrain," Rosberg insists, "I like the circuit very much, as it is unique and has perfect possibilities to overtake. Last year, I won the F3 Macau-Bahrain-Challenge Cup there and hope that will be a good omen.

"My attitude towards the championship is still the same - concentrate on the upcoming qualifying and race. But it is a bit harder to ignore the championship when you go to the last event as the leader. You can be sure that we will fight for it until the last lap!"

The additional fact that the former F3 Euroseries racer already has experience of the Sakhir facility from last year's F3 Festival, means that Kovalainen will have to ensure that he is on top of his game right from the first of the week's two qualifying sessions.

"It's always better if you are leading going into a championship showdown, but I'm not too worried even if I have lost the lead," the Finn claims, "We just had an unlucky weekend at Spa. The gap is still only three points, so I think we have everything to play for - and I'm still confident we are still going to win it.

"I'm only looking for victory from Bahrain - nothing else. With the great team I have behind me, I'm confident we will be right at the front, fighting for victory and, of course, the championship."

The GP2 Series' first 'stand-alone' event, after supporting the nine European Formula One rounds this summer, will feature a slightly revised format, giving the 24 drivers two half-hour qualifying sessions instead of one, albeit at the cost of the traditional free practice session that has featured at every round so far. The two sessions will, in effect, act as one, as each driver stands a chance of his best time from either session qualifying him for pole position for Thursday's feature race - and the two-point bonus it carries.

In order to squeeze the finale into the two-day Bahrain weekend - Thursday and Friday - the first race will also run on the same day as qualifying, covering 34 laps of the desert circuit, while Friday's 23-lap sprint event will be preceded by a 20-minute warm-up session.

Of course, the title contenders will not only have the tricky Bahrain circuit, and the expected hot conditions, to deal with, but also 22 rivals hungry for one last taste of champagne.

Scott Speed is perhaps the most ravenous driver still on the grid, having occupied third place for most of the season, yet still not taken a race win. The American looks pretty secure in third overall but, especially after a disappointing A1 Grand Prix debut last weekend, will feel he has a point to prove in Bahrain.

Three weeks ago, Nelson Piquet Jr may well have fallen into the same category but, having finally broken his GP2 duck at Spa, and then dominated the A1GP weekend at Brands Hatch, the Brazilian could go to Bahrain - a circuit he also tasted at last year's F3 finale - as one of the favourites to interfere with the championship battle.

Between Speed and Piquet in the standings, Adam Carroll, Alex Premat and Neel Jani all have the chance of securing fourth overall - and, perhaps if results go their way - third spot. Carroll was returned to winning ways in Belgium by a combination of his skill in appalling conditions and the fact that he finished eighth in race one, while Jani won at the previous round in Italy, fending off Rosberg all the way to the line. Premat, meanwhile, has seen his luck tail off in recent weeks, non-scoring in both the final European rounds, and will be looking to reignite his season before its closes.

Giorgio Pantano is the closest threat to Piquet's current championship position, lying just three points behind the Brazilian after a string of podium finishes. The Italian, however, is another who many would have tipped for victory before the season - perhaps even championship honours - but who has struggled with misfortune.

Gianmaria Bruni and Jose Maria Lopez would both also have fancied themselves in the 'potential champion' category, but have faded in the latter half of the season for one reason or another. Bruni is now on his second team of the season, Durango, while Lopez remains at DAMS, both drivers seeking to reclaim the top step of the podium.

Olivier Pla and Nicolas Lapierre round out the top twelve in points, both Frenchmen hoping to return to the points after difficult outings in Belgium, and could come under pressure from the resurgent Borja Garcia and Ernesto Viso, both of whom have managed to turn their luck around in recent weeks. Both featured on the race two podium at Spa, with Viso adding a slightly fortuitous third place to the stunning second he took in race one. His confidence climbing, the Venezuelan could be a man to watch this weekend.

In truth, however, all eyes will be on just two men, as Rosberg and Kovalainen go head-to-head in a fitting climax to the inaugural GP2 campaign. Who remembers F3000 now?


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