A perfect race for Alexander Rossi on his return to GP2 after two outings with Manor in Formula One enabled the American to pounce when first Stoffel Vandoorne and then Alex Lynn both made mistakes that put them out of the running for victory at Sochi on Saturday afternoon.

The Racing Engineering driver started from third place behind a front row comprised of DAMS' Lynn and runaway championship leader Vandoorne in the ART. Rossi represented the last remaining obstacle to the Belgian clinching the title this weekend, which he would be able to do merely by outscoring Rossi by just six points.

CLICK: Full GP2 feature race 1 results from Sochi Autodrom.

After the turmoil earlier in the day following a big accident in F1 final practice which had led to hasty revisions to the weekend's timetable for the support events, the GP2 feature race promised to be a relative oasis of calm and was able to go ahead as originally planned on Saturday afternoon and still scheduled for a full 28-lap duration. Naturally, that sort of calm couldn't last.

With the sun already low in the sky, the lights went out and Lynn seemingly effortlessly converted his pole to a huge lead down into the first turn, while a cautious Vandoorne bogged down and found himself passed in quick succession by Rossi and Gasly before he could get any momentum going. Meanwhile a dramatic run around the outside by Arthur Pic injected the Campos Racing car into second place, before he then ran wide over the kerb which allowed Rossi the opportunity to reclaim the position. Even so, Pic's successful lunge meant that Vandoorne had been pushed down another spot to fifth where he was now left running ahead of Trident's Raffaele Marciello and Arden's Norman Nato.

However behind the leaders there was a major outbreak of problems: Artem Markelov ran wide through turn 2 and clipped the outside wall as he tried to get himself back onto the track, collapsing his front left suspension and sending the Russian Time car sluing into the safety barriers on the other side of the track. Along the way he managed to pinch Sergio Canamasas (Lazarus) and Marlon St?ckinger (Status Grand Prix) who ended up joining him, piled on top of each other embedded in the collapsible TechPro barriers.

A separate incident for Jordan King who had damaged the front wing of his Racing Engineering car in a minor turn 1 collision with St?ckinger. King's simultaneous exit from the race meant that there was too much cumulative debris and barrier damage for the track workers to attend to and so the race had to be red flagged, immediately giving rise to how long the race would now be able to run in the rapidly fading daylight. When the red flag stretched to half an hour, race organisers declared that the new race distance would now be limited to 15 laps but with everyone still required to make their mandatory pit stop during that time.

With four cars out of the race and Hilmer Motorsport not competing this weekend, there were just 20 cars left on track when the race resumed behind the safety car. Once the cars were released on lap 4, Lynn leapt away from Rossi while Pic was able to maintain third place from Gasly. The biggest early mover was Rapax's Sergey Sirotkin who passed Nato even before the start/finish line and then made short work of Marciello moments later to put himself into six place and right on Vandoorne's tail even before DRS was enabled on lap 5.

Lynn opted to pit at the end of the lap to ditch his short-life option tyres at the same time as Mitch Evans (Russian Time), Johnny Cecotto Jr. (Trident) and Nicholas Latifi (MP Motorsport). That allowed Rossi to pick up the lead ahead of Pic, Gasly, Vandoorne and Sirotkin who was now coming under increasing pressure from Marciello who wanted his position back.

Gasly and Sirotkin joined the move to pit lane next time around, rejoining the race behind Lynn. Rossi was in at the end of lap 8 and he came back out just metres ahead of Lynn who was forced to use his up-to-temperature tyres to go around the outside of turn 3 to reclaim the initiative and effective lead of the race. The actual leader - yet to make his pit stop - was Vandoorne. With Marciello and Nathana?l Berthon (Lazarus) the only other drivers yet to make their pit stops, Lynn was now running in fourth place albeit 29s behind Vandoorne.

Fourth became third for Lynn when Marciello pitted with five laps to go, the Trident dropping to eighth place as he rejoined. It looked neck-and-neck between Vandoorne and Lynn, but then the DAMS ran wide in turn 13 on lap 11 and clipped the barrier, damaging the front left of the car and forcing him to pull over in the nearest run-off area where he could only rue the lost opportunity of an almost certain victory.

Confirming that the win really had been all-but Lynn's for the taking, Vandoorne's pit stop a couple of laps later saw him emerge in third place behind Rossi and Gasly, with Sirotkin now up to fourth ahead of Rio Haryanto (Campos Racing), Marciello, Richie Stanaway (Status Grand Prix) and Pic in eighth meaning he was on course to secure provisional pole for the Sunday spring race under reverse grid rules. The final points went to Carlin's Dean Stoneman and ART's Nobuharu Matsushita.

It was clear that Vandoorne wasn't holding anything back, as a wild off-track scare on the penultimate lap as he pushed hard to catch Gasly proved all too well. In the end, Vandoorne had to settle for a mere podium while Rossi successfully claimed his third win of the year to keep his title hopes mathematically alive - for another day at least.

Tomorrow's 21-lap sprint race will take place an hour earlier than originally planned and will now start at 11.05am (9.05am) on Sunday morning. The change is to accommodate today's rescheduled GP3 race 1 which will now get underway at 9.00am (7:00am BST) with the second GP3 race switched to 11.30am (9.30am BST) to immediately follow the end of the GP2 event.

See full GP2 feature race 1 results from Sochi Autodrom.



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