Oli Webb claimed a brilliant maiden Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series win in the seventh round of the season at Magny-Cours, with the Fortec driver moving to within one point of the championship lead as a result.
Title race leader Jean-Eric Vergne had been expected to run away with the race after a dominant qualifying performance for Carlin but botched his start and had to battle through the pack to claim fourth. Hitech duo Gabriel Dias and Will Buller completed the podium, with Menasheh Idafar the National class victor.
Webb lined up second on the grid and was perfectly placed to profit when Vergne bogged down as the lights went out. Webb's Fortec team-mate Daniel McKenzie was less fortunate: his best-yet third on the grid meant starting right behind Vergne, and he was delayed by the tardy Frenchman.
That meant it was Brazilian Dias, from P4 on the grid, who slotted into second place behind Webb, with Buller third.
Vergne got away eventually, with only five or so of the 21-strong grid behind him, but he drove a storming opening lap to complete it in seventh spot. He soon picked off the cars of Hywel Lloyd and Carlos Huertas to move into fifth, but his passing of team-mate Jazeman Jaafar for fourth, on lap seven, led to contact which saw the Malaysian drop to seventh.
Webb's Mercedes-powered Dallara was in a class of its own at the head of the field. By the fourth lap the Knutsford driver was two seconds in front and leaving Dias well behind en-route to victory.
"I knew Jean-Eric hadn't stalled off the line, because he still had a bit of momentum," he said. "But I got much the better start to take the lead. From that point on I knew I was quicker than anyone else. We knew that even if Vergne got back behind me that we had the pace to beat him. I just concentrated on banging out quick lap times, then backed off and concentrated on saving my tyres. It all went pretty much to plan, so I'm really happy."
Dias was more than happy with second, 5.9s behind, and grateful to his team-mate Buller for hanging on to third and keeping the determined Vergne at bay in the closing laps.
"When Jean-Eric stalled he held up McKenzie," said Gabriel, "so Webb and I had a free run. I tried to make a move on Oli on the first lap but it did not happen, and after that he was much quicker than me."
Huertas made steady progress from eighth on the grid after a disappointing qualifying performance in his Raikkonen Robertson Racing Dallara, and held off James Calado to secure fifth. James had started even further back - 11th - and had had to battle past team-mates Adriano Buzaid and Jaafar to climb the finishing order. Jaafar, Buzaid, RR's Daisuke Nakajima and Litespeed driver Jay Bridger completed the top ten.
Idafar was another to throw away his qualifying advantage with a poor start; he got away a long distance behind team-mate and class rival James Cole but found a way past Cole with five laps to go to take his fourth National class victory of the season.
Idafar placed eleventh overall with Cole just seven-tenths behind in twelfth. McKenzie recovered from his first-lap baulking, and an opening-lap clash with another car, to take 13th.
Lloyd meanwhile spun from sixth three laps from home and wound up 14th.