Fabio Leimer won the GP2 Series season-opener at Sepang in Malaysia after passing longtime leader Stefano Coletti with less than five laps remaining to grab the victory.
Rapax driver Coletti started from pole for the first feature race of 2013, but had to defend stoutly from the fast-starting Leimer, who rocketed his Racing Engineering car from fourth to second by the first corner.
This duo was over five seconds clear of the field by lap three, as front row starter James Calado of ART got into a huge battle early on with Carlin's Felipe Nasr and then Arden's Mitch Evans.
Despite running third for the first few laps, Evans, who was suffered from food poisoning, tumbled down the order and would finish 10th.
Coletti was clearly struggling with tire wear more than Leimer on the opening stint on soft rubber, and pitted at the end of lap six. Leimer stayed out for a further four laps, but still rejoined behind Coletti, who had been able to use his fresh hard-compound rubber to good effect to keep track position.
Stopping earlier was to haunt Coletti. After 20 laps on this set of tires, Coletti had a big lock-up into Turn 14. Leimer was unable to get past him immediately, as he lacked straightline speed on the long drag to the final corner, but a clever switchback move at the exit of Turn 4 on lap 27 put him ahead.
In clear air, Leimer was able to dip under the 1m50s bracket straight away and he romped away to two-second victory. The duel between the battling leaders allowed Calado to catch them up, and he pounced on Coletti.
After a big battle into the last corner on lap 27, during which he grabbed the place but ran wide at the exit, Calado finally nailed the pass at Turn 1 on the following tour. But Leimer was 2.7 seconds ahead by then, so Calado had no chance of catching him, and the Swiss driver recorded his third-ever victory in the series.
"I knew the car was good," said Leimer. "And I think this result shows we can fight for the championship. It's really nice to win the first race."
Behind Coletti, who trailed home almost 10s behind Calado such was his tire degradation by the closing laps, Nasr finished a distant fourth, ahead of the second Racing Engineering car of Julian Leal.
The first car home that started on hard-compound tires was Carlin's Jolyon Palmer. He stormed through from 22nd on the grid to lead the middle part of the race for nine laps, as the soft-shod starters pitted.
Once Palmer made his stop on lap 21, switching to the soft rubber himself, his pace was such that he rejoined sixth, a position he maintained to the finish despite front-left wing damage.
The charging Sam Bird ran a similar strategy, and would have finished much higher but for a drive-through penalty for failing to slow sufficiently under yellow flags, one of six drivers to be penalized. He took fastest lap and finished seventh after a barnstorming pass on Evans and Stephane Richelmi at Turn 1 on lap 24.
Richelmi (DAMS) finished eighth ahead of Simon Trummer (Rapax) and Evans.
Pos Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Fabio Leimer Racing Engineering 57m49.385s
2. James Calado ART + 2.045s
3. Stefano Coletti Rapax + 11.271s
4. Felipe Nasr Carlin + 12.810s
5. Jaime Leal Racing Engineering + 28.837s
6. Jolyon Palmer Carlin + 34.209s
7. Sam Bird Russian Time + 41.183s
8. Stephane Richelmi DAMS + 58.941s
9. Simon Trummer Rapax + 1m02.853s
10. Mitch Evans Arden + 1m16.730s
11. Rene Binder Lazarus + 1m16.137s
12. Johnny Cecotto Arden + 1m18.357s
13. Conor Daly Hilmer + 1m20.096s
14. Tom Dillmann Russian Time + 1m21.812s
15. Paul Varhaug Hilmer + 1m23.754s
16. Kevin Giovesi Lazarus + 1m35.775s
17. Kevin Ceccon Trident + 1m37.928s
18. Jake Rosenzweig Addax + 1:53.2522
19. Sergio Canamasas Caterham + 2m00.2572
20. Rio Haryanto Addax + 1 lap
21. Ma Qing Hua Caterham + 1 lap
Driver Team Laps
Nathanael Berthon Trident 19
Daniel Abt ART 9
Daniel De Jong MP Motorsport 3
Adrian Quaife-Hobbs MP Motorsport 3
Marcus Ericsson DAMS 0