Stoffel Vandoorne showed no signs of easing off on Saturday night in Abu Dhabi. Despite having already clinched the 2015 GP2 championship way back in Sochi at the start of October, and then played a big role in ART securing the team title last time out in Bahrain, the Belgian wasn't quite done yet in collecting accolades for his season.

With one final round left in his time in the series, Vandoorne set himself the target of smashing the record for the total number of wins in the series previously set by Pastor Maldonado - and he did it in the trademark cool and collected style that has been his hallmark through the year, executing a smart strategy to perfection under the floodlights at Yas Marina Circuit.

CLICK: Full results from the GP2 feature race 1 at Abu Dhabi.

Vandoorne started the race from second place, Pierre Gasly having won a hard-fought qualifying session on Friday evening to claim back-to-back podium positions for DAMS. Russian Time's Mitch Evans was in third with Gasly's team mate Alex Lynn next to him on the second row of the grid, both of them keen to exploit any moment of weakness or opportunity presented to them by the drivers ahead.

When the lights went out, Gasly got a less than optimal start and was forced to pinch Vandoorne to the wall in order to keep the lead of the race into the first left-hander. Vandoorne put safety first, backing out of the move and allowing Gasly to keep the lead for the time being, while Evans and Lynn left them to it and were followed into turn 1 by Rio Haryanto (Campos Racing) and the Racing Engineering cars of Alexander Rossi and Jordan King. A flying start from Norman Nato from 13th place on the grid saw the Arden immediately shoot up to eighth where he was soon able to make a successful move on King for seventh.

As the highest-place man on the grid on medium tyres, Trident's Raffaele Marciello had conspicuously struggled the most to get underway and immediately fell from fifth to ninth in the opening corner before finally being able to steady the ship and get to work regaining some of that lost ground. He was the next person to pass King on the track, although not without slight contact in the process that left King with minor damage to his front wing end plate.

While Gasly had been successful in retaining the early lead, once DRS became available it was clear that it was only a matter of time before Vandoorne was able to get by him. In fact Vandoorne didn't even need the overtaking boost to finally complete the move on lap 4. Evans was also smartly past the DAMS car a few corners later as both Gasly and his team mate Lynn started to struggle badly with dramatic early tyre drop-off afflicting those drivers who had started the race on the supersoft compounds. That was great news for Marciello who was able to carve his way straight back through the field in double quick time putting him right back into contention in third place.

Despite themselves being on the supersofts, Vandoorne and Evans had nonetheless succeeded in pulling out a five second lead over Marciello, Gasly, Artem Markelov (Russian Time), Rio Haryanto (Campos Racing), King, Rossi, Lynn and Andr? Negr?o (Arden) in tenth by the end of lap 5. Unsurprisingly given the extraordinary drop-off in the option tyre performance, everyone who had started the race on them was now extremely keen to make their mandatory pit stops the moment that the pit window opened, but Lynn didn't get the chance to come in quite as planned before a virtual safety car was declared as a result of a collision between Norman Nato and MP Motorsport's Nicholas Latifi at the penultimate corner.

The pit stops left Vandoorne and Evans down in 14th and 15th positions respectively and meant that Marciello was now handed the lead ahead of Markelov, King and Negr?o at the restart, which saw Lynn finally allowed to dive in for his delayed pit stop without too much harm having being done to his day as a result.

The race had now been effectively split into two separate events on track: the cars which had started on the medium tyres at the front but with a pit stop and a stint on the extremely shortlife options to come, and then Vandoorne and Evans leading the pack of cars which had already made their stops but which were now half a minute off the leaders. Vandoorne was aware of the task ahead of him and didn't waste any time merely protecting his tyres, immediately getting to work and posting two consecutive fastest lap times so that by lap 12 he was already making short work of the backmarkers at the tail-end of the non-stoppers beginning with Carlin's Sean Gelael.

Despite his progress Vandoorne still wasn't closing the gap to the race leader Marciello, who was left out on his own at the front after Markelov abruptly slowed and pulled over to the side of the track with terminal technical problems on lap 14. Also out of contention was Dani?l De Jong whose Trident lost power but just managed to limp back to the pit lane to retire. Other drivers hitting problems were Gasly and Status Grand Prix's Oliver Rowland, both of whom were penalised for speeding on pit lane during their earlier stops - although strangely Gasly was handed only a five second time penalty compared with a formal drive-thru for Rowland to serve for nominally the same offence.

As a result of the retirements and penalties, at the halfway point of the race Vandoorne was up to tenth place - but more significantly he was still running half a minute down from Marciello. More passes on Rapax's Gustav Malja and Status Grand Prix's Marlon St?ckinger soon followed and put the Belgian up to eighth place, with Evans, Gasly, Rossi and Haryanto all experiencing varying degrees of success in following him through the backmarkers. In the process Rossi took the opportunity presented by the on-track congestion to make a successful move on Gasly for 12th place on lap 21.

With eight laps remaining it was clear that the cars still on their original set of medium tyres were now struggling with end-of-life tyre degradation. ART's Nobuharu Matsushita was first to pit from fifth place at the end of lap 23 but Marciello toughed it out for two more laps before surrendering the lead. Everyone else followed his lead, meaning that the way was cleared for Vandoorne to finally reassume the lead of the race with a six second lead over Marciello who had returned to the track with a narrow lead over Evans, Rossi, Gasly and Haryanto. King was back out in seventh putting him ahead of Lynn, Negr?o and Matsushita.

The question now was whether any of the late stoppers could make their fresh supersoft tyres count before the steep drop-off in performance kicked in during the final laps. Marciello was keenly aware of how delicate the option tyres had proved to be and decided that discretion was now the better part of valour, nursing the Trident home and prioritising holding on to second place from Evans while foregoing any heroic thoughts of hunting down Vandoorne at the front.

Sure enough, Vandoorne crossed the line a full 9.4s ahead of Marciello to claim his 11th win in two seasons in the GP2 Series, surpassing the long-standing record set by 2010 champion Pastor Maldonado. It's his seventh win of 2015 alone, which also sets a new record for most wins in a season.

Evans joined them on the podium having managed to hold off Rossi and Gasly, the pole sitter finishing in fifth place after the application of his five second penalty. King was able to hold on to sixth despite intense last lap pressure from Haryanto and Lynn, the Briton picking up the sprint race pole position for Sunday under reverse grid rules.

Negr?o managed to finish in the points for the first time since the opening round of the year at Bahrain, while Nathanael Berthon was able to make a successful pass on Matsushita for tenth place in the closing laps meaning that Lazarus pick up a championship point in what is their final weekend in the feeder series, their grid spot passing on to Prema in 2016.

There was one other small piece of history made on Saturday night, but it's not one that Sean Gelael will be pleased to have played a starring role in. He became the first driver to have an accident in Abu Dhabi's unique pit lane exit underpass, the Carlin locking up going down the slope and running nose-first into the concrete wall. Fortunately the incident happened late on the race on lap 26 meaning that the blockage didn't affect anyone else and didn't cause any interruption to the closing stages of the race.

It will be back to daytime conditions tomorrow for the last GP2 race of the year, the 22-lap sprint which is scheduled for Sunday at 2.20pm local time (10.20am GMT). Before that, the GP3 drivers will also be in action for the final time in 2015 with the 14-lap race 2 concluding the season getting underway at 1pm (9am GMT).

See full results from the GP2 feature race 1 at Abu Dhabi.

 

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