Epic Racing's Albert Costa ended two years of endeavor by scoring his first Formula Renault 3.5 victory at Barcelona, as Robert Wickens (LEFT) took Carlin's second consecutive drivers' championship in a dramatic season finale.
Neither Wickens nor Carlin's other title protagonist Jean-Eric Vergne finished the race following damage in a fraught opening sequence of corners.
Polesitter Costa was challenged on the run down to Turn 1 by KMP Racing's Anton Nebylitskiy. The Russian, who has been only an occasional frontrunner this season, took to the grass in his determination to take the lead. Wickens followed in close proximity, but thought better of challenging Nebylitskiy at Turn 1.
Vergne took advantage to lunge up his teammate's inside, and the Carlin pair made slight contact at the apex of the corner. The Frenchman appeared to come out of the maneuver with more momentum, and opted to dart around the outside of Wickens into the final part of the Elf chicane. There, a second, heavier, impact took place as Wickens' front wing clouted Vergne's rear wheel.
While Vergne continued, Wickens' suspension failed, leaving the Canadian unable to negotiate Turn 3. The luckless Nathanael Berthon (ISR) tripped over the wayward Wickens, and was sent flying upside down into gravel in a nasty accident. Several midfield men scattered in avoiding action, as at the rear of the pack Jan Charouz, Lewis Williamson, Cesar Ramos and Nelson Panciatici retired in the gravel.
The safety car was deployed until lap six. On the restart, Costa led an unfamiliar top six of Nebylitskiy, Pons Racing's new recruit Nick Yelloly, Vergne, Daniel Zampieri (BVM Target) and Draco's Stephane Richelmi.
Vergne required a fifth-place finish in order to overhaul his nine-point deficit to Wickens, but perhaps as a legacy of the collisions, struggled to produce anything near his usual pace. As he slipped down the order, his fading title chances were finally brought to an end on lap 18 when, running outside the top 12, he was knocked into retirement by Fairuz Fauzy at La Caixa.
Costa was left to establish a comfortable lead, while behind Yelloly overtook Nebylitskiy for second on the inside of Turn 1 on lap eight. The Briton held the position to the finish, reducing a seven-second margin to Costa down to just 4.4sec at the checkered flag.
Gravity-Charouz driver Brendon Hartley, who failed to start race one after a heavy impact with a curb knocked out his sump in Saturday's qualifying, clawed his way through from 13th on the grid to claim the final place on the podium.
Sergio Canamasas (BVM Target) gave added pleasure to the home fans with a composed run to fourth, the Spaniard finishing three seconds clear of Nebylitskiy.
Yelloly's Pons teammate Oliver Webb, who had been relegated to 17th on the grid after suffering a repeat of his Saturday gearbox problems in qualifying, took sixth.
Seventh place for Alexander Rossi (Fortec) sealed the American's third place in the drivers' standings, just five points ahead of Costa. The absent Daniel Ricciardo, competing in this weekend's clashing Japanese Grand Prix for HRT, slipped to fifth overall having missed two rounds.
Results - 26 laps:
Pos Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Albert Costa Epic 45m50.549s
2. Nick Yelloly Pons + 4.468s
3. Brendon Hartley Gravity-Charouz + 15.889s
4. Sergio Canamasas BVM Target + 17.538s
5. Anton Nebylitskiy KMP + 20.309s
6. Oliver Webb Pons + 20.945s
7. Alexander Rossi Fortec + 27.485s
8. Walter Grubmuller P1 + 31.486s
9. Daniel de Jong Comtec + 40.242s
10. Arthur Pic Tech 1 + 41.678s
11. Fairuz Fauzy Mofaz + 42.704s
12. Daniel McKenzie Comtec + 44.879s
13. Sten Pentus Epic + 50.451s
14. Daniil Move P1 + 54.630s
Jake Rosenzweig Mofaz 22 laps
Daniel Zampieri BVM Target 21 laps
Stephane Richelmi Draco 21 laps
Adrien Tambay Draco 18 laps
Jean-Eric Vergne Carlin 17 laps
Kevin Korjus Tech 1 7 laps
Robert Wickens Carlin 0 laps
Nelson Panciatici KMP 0 laps
Cesar Ramos Fortec 0 laps
Lewis Williamson ISR 0 laps
Jan Charouz Gravity-Charouz 0 laps
Nathanael Berthon ISR 0 laps