Fortec's Alexander Rossi won a breathless Formula Renault 3.5 race at Paul Ricard to draw an end his recent run of misfortune, while a disaster for championship leader Robert Wickens means he will go to the Catalunya finale just two points ahead of rival Jean-Eric Vergne.
From the outside of the front row, Rossi made a strong start to challenge polesitter Vergne closely into Turn 1. Unable to find an opening, Rossi utilized his fresh tires to harry Saturday winner Vergne over the early laps. Vergne handed Rossi the lead by pitting at the conclusion of lap eight, but the Frenchman's Carlin mechanics encountered trouble changing the right-rear wheel, gifting Air Asia young driver Rossi control of the race and ISR's Daniel Ricciardo second position.
In clean air, Rossi set some stirring lap times to emerge from his own mandatory pit call on lap 12 in sixth place on the road. The next driver to have stopped, Ricciardo, was some two seconds adrift, but unable to match the leader's pace.
Behind Rossi, HRT Formula 1 driver Ricciardo and fellow Red Bull Junior racer Vergne staged an epic fight to the checkered flag.
Vergne attempted to pass Ricciardo on the inside of Turn 1 on lap 14, but only succeeded in tagging the rear of the ISR machine. Both men continued, but Vergne had further adventures; including clattering the curbs at Chicane Nord on the Mistral straight and losing three seconds by running very wide at Signes on the last lap.
Informed by radio that teammate and championship leader Wickens was having an even worse afternoon, the Frenchman reluctantly settled for third.
"I had a really good car," said a disappointed Vergne. "In this kind of race, when you know you can win by far and for some reason don't, it's hard. I came out behind Daniel but I think he has been to the school for learning how to block."
In a wet qualifying session, Wickens had struggled to get a lap in when his tires were at their optimum. The Virgin F1 third driver recovered from his seventh place starting position to run fourth into Turn 1, helped by a committed late-braking move on Jake Rosenzweig. On lap five, Wickens ran off the road after suffering from unexpected mid-corner oversteer, and four laps later came in for a change of rears.
The Canadian rejoined the track with Vergne bearing down on him, and in a heart-stopping moment for the Carlin pitwall continued moving across the road to try, unsuccessfully, to cover the inside line for Turn 1. Vergne just squeezed ahead, and Wickens' race later came undone when he picked up a rear puncture – indeed, his tire's sidewall was split open – after suspected contact from BVM Target's Sergio Canamasas.
Rosenzweig repeated his Saturday result of fourth for Mofaz, ahead of impressive GP3 graduate Nick Yelloly (Pons). Draco's Andre Negrao produced one of the drives of the race by storming through the field from 18th to complete the top six.
In a day of ill luck for the home drivers, KMP Racing's Nelson Panciatici had a short-lived race at the front of the field. The Frenchman locked up at Turn 1, as chaos ensued behind. Gravity-Charouz racer Jan Charouz was the most spectacular retirement, being launched over Comtec's Daniel McKenzie.
Entering the final round at Barcelona, the fight for the drivers' title is set to be an all-Carlin affair. Wickens leads the standings on 216 points, Vergne is second on 214 and Ricciardo, who will miss the race owing to the clashing Japanese Grand Prix, third on 144.
Results - 23 laps:
Pos Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Alexander Rossi Fortec 47m12.356s
2. Daniel Ricciardo ISR + 4.416s
3. Jean-Eric Vergne Carlin + 5.800s
4. Jake Rosenzweig Mofaz + 14.463s
5. Nick Yelloly Pons + 15.505s
6. Andre Negrao Draco + 15.603s
7. Albert Costa Epic + 17.235s
8. Daniel Zampieri BVM Target + 17.591s
9. Cesar Ramos Fortec + 18.566s
10. Oliver Webb Pons + 20.247s
11. Nelson Panciatici KMP + 27.340s
12. Daniel de Jong Comtec + 28.844s
13. Stephane Richelmi Draco + 29.229s
14. Nathanael Berthon ISR + 39.272s
15. Fairuz Fauzy Mofaz + 39.904s
16. Anton Nebylitskiy KMP + 40.835s
17. Sergio Canamasas BVM Target + 41.181s
18. Kevin Korjus Tech 1 + 41.771s
19. Robert Wickens Carlin + 43.385s
20. Brendon Hartley Gravity-Charouz + 1 lap
Arthur Pic Tech 1 15 laps
Walter Grubmuller P1 13 laps
Sten Pentus Epic 4 laps
Daniil Move P1 1 lap
Daniel McKenzie Comtec 0 laps
Jan Charouz Gravity-Charouz 0 laps