America's Alexander Rossi won the opening Formula Renault 3.5 race of the season at Motorland Aragon. The Fortec driver fought an intense battle for the lead with Daniil Move, after polesitter Robert Wickens (Carlin) locked up his left-front wheel and ran wide into Turn 1 at the start.
Entering his fifth season in the category, Move (P1) used all of his experienced to offer a stiff defence of the lead. The Russian was bidding to register his first victory in the series, and determinedly covered the inside line into Motorland's Turn 1 and Turn 16 hairpin on repeated occasions.
Rossi upped the pressure on lap 10, but an exploratory run on the outside of Move into Turn 1 resulted in a spectacular sideways moment on the exit of the corner. Two laps later, Rossi beat Move in the race for the inside line onto the pit straight and grabbed the lead in dramatic fashion.
The American elected to squeeze between Move's P1 Motorsport car and the pit wall, forcing several teams to hastily withdraw their pit-boards in fear of contact.
"Well, I was really hoping they would move [the pit boards]," said Rossi. "It was a bit dicey for a second, but Daniil hadn't made any mistakes up until then so I had to force the issue. Once I was alongside, I thought Daniil was very clean."
Wickens would force his way into second at the hairpin a lap later. The Carlin car decisively forced a recovering Move wide at the exit of Turn 17. The Russian's compromised speed onto the pit straight allowed KMP Racing's Nelson Panciatici into third, and EPIC Racing's Albert Costa to slip through into fourth.
"I made a stupid mistake at the start," said Wickens. "I had already made a good launch away from the line, but I just misjudged my braking. I expected there to be more grip, I guess."
Once up into second, Wickens was unable to make inroads into a 4.5-second deficit to Rossi, and would concede an 8.5s margin of victory at the checkered flag.
The race was disrupted briefly by a safety car period. Panciatici's KMP Racing team-mate Anton Nebylitskiy was sent into a roll after contact with Tech 1's Arthur Pic on the opening lap. Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup graduate Pic had found himself wrong-footed by Jean-Eric Vergne, and ran wide at Turn 17. On rejoining the circuit, Pic moved into Nebylitskiy's path with the resulting impact sending the KMP car flying.
British Formula 3 champion Vergne continued unaffected to finish a provisional sixth for Carlin. The Frenchman's weekend in Spain was compromised after missing practice due to Toro Rosso Formula 1 commitments and starting from 15th on the grid.
Results - 25 laps:
Pos Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Alexander Rossi Fortec 46m29.465s
2. Robert Wickens Carlin + 8.521s
3. Nelson Panciatici KMP + 9.647s
4. Albert Costa EPIC + 15.130s
5. Daniil Move P1 + 26.564s
6. Jean-Eric Vergne Carlin + 27.052s
7. Walter Grubmuller P1 + 27.536s
8. Chris van der Drift Mofaz + 27.869s
9. Daniel Zampieri Target + 28.754s
10. Sten Pentus EPIC + 30.042s
11. Oliver Webb Pons + 34.402s
12. Nathanael Berthon ISR + 36.211s
13. Jake Rosenzweig Mofaz + 36.598s
14. Andre Negrao Draco + 37.040s
15. Lewis Williamson ISR + 38.300s
16. Stephane Richelmi Draco + 39.081s
17. Jan Charouz Gravity-Charouz + 40.126s
18. Daniel McKenzie Comtec + 40.321s
19. Daniel de Jong Comtec + 45.265s
20. Dominic Storey Pons + 45.883s
21. Brendon Hartley Gravity-Charouz + 48.426s
22. Sergio Canamasas Target + 52.307s
23. Cesar Ramos Fortec + 1m05.278s
Kevin Korjus Tech 1 15 laps
Arthur Pic Tech 1 0 laps
Anton Nebylitskiy KMP 0 laps