Esteban Gutiérrez has shrugged off the pressure of a slow start with a superb win in an action packed feature race in Valencia, adding his first feature win in the Series at the location of his first sprint win as he held his nerve to lead home Marcus Ericsson and Luiz Razia under the scorching Spanish sun this afternoon.
The race, which looked for a long time to belong to Lotus teammate James Calado, was broken up by three safety car periods as the extreme heat seemed to be affecting everyone adversely, although the start was smooth enough with poleman Calado easing away while fellow front row starter Felipe Nasr dropped back into the pack, handing a clean line through for Giedo van der Garde and Gutiérrez.
Behind them though, Davide Valsecchi had almost stalled at the start, with the pack bunching up into turn 2. Fabio Leimer and Jolyon Palmer came together at the next turn, with the Briton spun around and losing his front wing in the process while the Swiss driver continued on in P5, behind Nasr but in front of Ericsson and Razia, but the Brazilian from DAMS clearly had some mechanical gremlins and he was soon falling backwards.
Calado was looking untouchable out front, but the battle for second was intense, and soon spilled over when Gutiérrez and van der Garde came together at the hairpin: both men ran wide and continued, but not until Leimer and Ericsson had snuck through. The Dutchman's misfortunes continued when he pitted next time through, when his right rear gun stuck to the wheelnut, and he very nearly hit a mechanic crossing the pitlane when he was finally released.
Two laps later and most of the field had pitted when Rodolfo Gonzalez ran over a rival's rear wing endplate left in the middle of the circuit, breaking his own front wing and sending carbon fibre shards across the track: the inevitable safety car period saw everyone pit except for Calado, who was now out of sync with his rivals and would need a miraculous performance to salvage the rest of his race.
The race ran live on lap 17, but Nasr's gremlins struck again as he lost drive on the bridge, scattering his rivals as they looked for a path by the Brazilian: Palmer went inside as his rivals went outside, and he met Fabrizio Crestani on the other side of the bridge, pitching the Italian into a roll that saw both drivers out on the spot, with the safety car returning once more to the circuit.
The order at the front was now Calado, Leimer, Gutiérrez, Ericsson, Razia when the race went live again 4 laps later, but Gutiérrez got inside his Swiss rival at the final turn as they looked to start the lap: the pair clashed and ran wide, with Leimer struggling to get back onto the circuit as his rivals beared down on him and the Mexican disposing of Razia, who briefly took the opportunity to pass the pair, at turn 2 with Ericsson following behind at the next corner.
Further back the action was just as hot, as Gonzalez and Giancarlo Serenelli came together at the chicane: the latter was pitched into a spin which saw the safety car return yet again, and Calado had no choice with the clock ticking down but to pit and give away his win.
Gutiérrez made a hasty getaway when the race went live once more, and although Ericsson gave it his all the Mexican was not to be denied, claiming his second victory in fine form ahead of the Swede and Razia, who had Leimer all over his rear wing as they crossed the line together.
Rio Haryanto held on behind them for a fine fifth position ahead of Nathanaël Berthon, with Max Chilton and Valsecchi crossing the line in P7 and 8 respectively, ahead of the unlucky Calado, and Stefano Coletti. The win promoted Gutiérrez to third place in the championship on 87 points, behind Valsecchi (145) and Razia (125) but ahead of van der Garde and Chilton (85) and teammate Calado (81) ahead of tomorrow's sprint race.