Despite losing his pole position advantage away from the startline in Qatar, Nico Hulkenberg produced an utterly brilliant performance to win the first-ever GP2 Asia night-time feature race at the Losail International Circuit.
The ART Grand Prix star had to play second fiddle initially to Sergio Perez, the race being disrupted in the early stages after a huge startline crash. Sakon Yamamoto stalled from sixth on the grid and was struck by 23rd qualifier Yelmer Buurman, who hit him with enormous velocity. Fortunately, neither was injured, even though Buurman's car briefly caught fire.
Hulkenberg even slipped to third by lap 13, passed by a flying Javier Villa (Super Nova), who was up from seventh on the grid. But Nico was merely preserving his tyres and a phenomenal mid-race spurt meant he was matching the times of those who had stopped for fresh tyres, even though his were worn.
"We did the right strategy to stay out," said Hulkenberg. "My biggest problem was that I'd lost my communication to the team. So it was very quiet for a long time and I never got a clear answer when I asked if I should pit, so I stayed out. Everything was fine and to win a race after just three starts isn't bad I think."
Vitaly Petrov, who had run third early on, was the first of the big players to pit on lap 10. He took full advantage of his extra grip and was ahead of Campos teammate Perez when he rejoined the circuit from his own pitstop on lap 14.
Perez, who was also suffering from radio communication problems, admitted he was confused by this situation and also couldn't work out why he ended up over 10 seconds behind Hulkenberg by the finish. He lunged past Petrov with a determined move at Turn 1 on lap 18, fortunately without contact to preserve a 2-3 finish for sponsor Barwa on home turf.
Series leader Kamui Kobayashi finished fourth, having struggled in the early going after tangling with title rival Roldan Rodriguez at the first corner. He regained his pace after his pitstop and chased Petrov over the finish line by 0.4s.
His DAMS teammate Jerome d'Ambrosio was fifth, after overcoming Davide Valsecchi following a long battle. Arden duo Edoardo Mortara and Luiz Razia were seventh and eighth to lock out Saturday's reverse grid sprint race front row.
To show he had speed to burn, Hulkenberg rattled off a couple of 1:38 laps in the closing stages, enough to give him the point for fastest lap.
Pos Driver Team Time 1. Nico Hulkenberg ART 1h10:38.323 2. Sergio Perez Campos + 13.295 3. Vitaly Petrov Campos + 14.343 4. Kamui Kobayashi DAMS + 14.746 5. Jerome d'Ambrosio DAMS + 23.419 6. Davide Valsecchi Durango + 33.919 7. Edoardo Mortara Arden + 35.214 8. Luiz Razia Arden + 35.341 9. James Jakes Super Nova + 41.162 10. Fabrizio Crestani Ocean + 43.774 11. Diego Nunes Piquet + 45.097 12. Giedo van der Garde iSport + 47.627 13. Javier Villa Super Nova + 47.827 14. Davide Rigon Trident + 1:07.444 15. Michael Herck DPR + 1:09.324 16. Marco Bonanomi Meritus + 1:20.001 17. Alvaro Parente Meritus + 1:31.986 18. Kevin Nai Chia Chen Fisichella + 2 laps 19. Frankie Provenzano Trident + 4 laps 20. Michael Dalle Stelle Durango + 4 laps Retirements: Driver Team Laps Giacomo Ricci Trident 27 Roldan Rodriguez Piquet 10 Hamad Al Fardan iSport 9 Sakon Yamamoto ART 0 Rodolfo Gonzalez Fisichella 0 Yelmer Buurman Ocean 0