Winner of the first race in Sentul, Alesi took pole position ahead of Herbert, Mathias Lauda, David Terrien, Uwe Alzen and Ananda Mikola. Former F1 stars Ukyo Katayama, Gianni Morbidelli and Stefan Johansson were eighth to 10th, while at the back were series rookies Christian Danner, Alex Yoong and JJ Lehto, all of whom had very little time to get used to the car.
Among those who came to visit the cars on the grid were three-time World Champion Niki Lauda, and Toro Rosso boss Gerhard Berger, who was keen to wish his old pal Alesi well.
There was drama even before the start as Katayama and Morbidelli clashed as the field came through the corner onto the pits. The Italian spun, while Katayama retired to the pits with front end damage.
At the front Alesi held on to his advantage ahead of Herbert and Lauda. There was more excitement behind when Alzen nudged Terrien into a high speed spin and claimed fourth, while further back Danner and Yoong tangled, and the local hero spun.
Alesi and Herbert soon pulled away from the rest, and circulated nose to tail as Herbert sized up possible passing opportunities. Meanwhile Alzen closed in on Lauda, and began pushing him for third place. Mikola, Johansson and Nicolas Navarro were next, while behind that group the recovering Terrien was hassling fellow Frenchman Fabien Giroix.
There was no change at the front until lap 11, when Herbert passed Alesi for the lead with a mighty effort at the penultimate corner of the lap. The Frenchman didn't give up however, and was close enough to have a big go at the start of the final lap. He didn't make it at that attempt, but snuck by later round the lap.
Herbert very nearly got him back straight away, but tucked in behind and readied himself for a last corner effort. However, Alesi kept the door closed and despite a nudge from Johnny that left dents in both cars Jean crossed the line just ahead, to cheers from watching F1 folk. Many of the BMW Sauber mechanics came along to the podium to cheer their former drivers.
"It was really down to racing, and I lost again!," joked Herbert. "In the last couple of laps I started struggling with the back end, especially at the hairpin and coming out of the last corner. I was aware of it, and maybe Jean saw that and that's what he went for. At the last corner we were level I knew I had to go a bit wider. I thought I had a run on him, but I nudged him and had to ease off, so I didn't get the win that I truly deserved!"
Behind the two pacesetters Alzen relieved Lauda of third on the ninth lap, but the Austrian repaid the compliment with two laps to go, and thus claimed his fourth podium finish in five starts. His proud father watched as he took his trophy.
Alzen had to settle for fourth, ahead of Mikola, Johansson, Navarro and Terrien. Giroix retired from the fraught battle with a flat front tire. Morbidelli, who won the two Dubai races, had recovered to ninth by the flag.
The top eight grid spots will be reversed for the second race on Sunday morning, so Terrien and Navarro will be on the front row, and Herbert and Alesi on the fourth.
Race 3 results
|10||H. Al Maktoum||19||46.177|
|15||U. Katayama||17||2 laps|
Fastest lap J. Alesi|2:12.234 on lap 7
Speedcar Series positions after race 3