Sam Bird scored a stunning Bahrain GP2 Series sprint race victory at the Sakhir circuit, the first win for the new Russian Time team, after a thrilling battle to the checkered flag with Felipe Nasr.
The winning margin was just 0.08sec at the finish line, as longtime leader Bird's tyres went off in the closing laps, allowing points leader Stefano Coletti (Rapax) and Nasr (Carlin) to catch him.
Coletti braked too late for the final corner on the penultimate lap – having previously locked up at Turn 10 – and overshot the bend, allowing Nasr into second, and giving Bird some brief respite. However, Nasr quickly closed the gap, and pulled alongside as they braked for the final corner of the last lap. Bird just managed to hang on, controlling the wheelspin as his tires gave up their last ounce of grip.
Nasr pulled out from his slipstream, but just failed to overhaul him by the time they reached the finish line.
"Maybe I pushed too hard too early on the tires, it was just a case of keeping it on the racing line and hoping they'd battle it out behind me," said Bird. "Felipe's car was like a rocket at the end. Big thanks to my new team: to win in our fourth race, with no pre-season testing, is amazing."
Nasr, who is still chasing a breakthrough victory in the series, said: "It was a close finish, but I finished second, so we'll keep pushing to get that win."
Coletti admitted third was the best he could do. His points haul puts him back ahead of yesterday's feature race winner Fabio Leimer, after they came into this race tied for the series lead.
Leimer finished outside the points in ninth, but was lucky to make it around the first corner after being hit by Alexander Rossi, who had clashed with Jolyon Palmer. Leimer carried Rossi's front-wing flap for the remainder of his race, jammed in his sidepod.
Bird's teammate Tom Dillmann, who started from pole, finished fourth.
Bird and Dillmann fought out an early duel and almost touched at Turn 1 at the start of the second lap. That moment allowed Coletti to pass Dillmann on the run to Turn 4, and Nasr demoted him further on lap three.
James Calado finished an impressive fifth from 12th on the grid, having struggled with a lack of grip all weekend. He pulled some sensational passing maneuvers, the best of which was his around-the-outside move on Adrian Quaife-Hobbs at Turn 11. That came a lap after he'd gone around the outside of Palmer at Turn 1.
Palmer finished sixth, ahead of Calado's ART teammate Daniel Abt and Quaife-Hobbs.
Results - 23 laps:
Pos Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Sam Bird Russian Time 41m08.133s
2. Felipe Nasr Carlin + 0.080s
3. Stefano Coletti Rapax + 4.206s
4. Tom Dillmann Russian Time + 10.328s
5. James Calado ART + 19.713s
6. Jolyon Palmer Carlin + 21.773s
7. Daniel Abt ART + 24.108s
8. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs MP + 27.722s
9. Fabio Leimer Racing Engineering + 27.894s
10. Kevin Ceccon Trident + 27.997s
11. Sergio Canamasas Caterham + 28.601s
12. Johnny Cecotto Arden + 35.477s
13. Stephane Richelmi DAMS + 35.858s
14. Simon Trummer Rapax + 36.346s
15. Mitch Evans Arden + 36.950s
16. Julian Leal Racing Engineering + 37.671s
17. Kevin Giovesi Lazarus + 41.248s
18. Daniel de Jong MP + 44.757s
19. Jake Rosenzweig Addax + 47.006s
20. Alexander Rossi Caterham + 52.044s
21. Paul Varhaug Hilmer + 54.740s
22. Nathanael Berthon Trident + 55.332s
23. Robin Frijns Hilmer + 1m02.964s
24. Ryo Haryanto Addax + 1m17.388s
25. Rene Binder Lazarus + 1 lap
Marcus Ericsson DAMS 5 laps