Nicolas Kiesa was a surprise - and surprised - recipient of an unexpected gift in the annual Monaco F3000 event, after being handed his first FIA series victory on a plate by points leader, and dominant force, Bjorn Wirdheim.
The Swede had controlled the event from the start, but his focus wavered a crucial few yards from the finishing line, where he slowed to share what he believed to be his third career win with his mechanics and allowed the fast closing Kiesa to sprint past and take the chequered flag. It was a bizarre end to a fractious race and, while Wirdheim and his Arden team will not be on the best of terms for a few hours, the result does little to hinder the Swede's path to the crown.
Starting on pole position, Wirdheim capitalised on tense battles in his wake to open up a commanding mid-race lead, pulling out almost 20 seconds on second placed Giorgio Pantano as the Italian struggled to find a clear road. The Barcelona race winner found himself bottled up behind the other front row starter, Ricardo Sperafico, and, running out of patience as he saw championship leader Wirdheim racing away, ushered the Brazilian aside in order to continue his pursuit.
Sperafico was clearly battling his Coloni entry even before the contact between the two cars tied for second spot after three races, and eventually gave up the unequal struggle to track down the problem. This cost him a full lap in the pits, but he eventually rejoined in an effort to capitalise on the renowned attrition rate and score valuable points.
Remarkably, almost everyone survived the first lap unscathed, the only casualty being rookie Phil Giebler who spun to a halt in a solo accident at Tabac, while fellow Americans Derek Hill and Will Langhorne were penalised - along with Astromega team-mates Tony Schmidt and Jeffrey van Hoyden - for cutting the new pit exit blend line and kerb at Ste Devote in an attempt to make up early places.
With Pantano now pulling clear of the chasing pack, and Sperafico pit-bound, the battle for podium honours boiled down to a close scrap between two more Italians, Enrico Toccacelo and Vitantonio Liuzzi. The Red Bull Junior driver had shown well on his first visit to the Principality, but chose to make an ill-judged move on his more experienced countryman entering Casino Square and was launched into instant retirement. Toccacelo's car was also damaged in the assault and took no further part in proceedings. Shortly before the clash, Toccacelo had been given notice to serve a penalty for cutting the chicane in his defence of third, and the ensuing tangle with Liuzzi naturally sparked a brief war of words.
It proved to a black afternoon for the Super Nova team, with Toccacelo's team-mate Hill also being penalised for receiving assistance after running out of road at Mirabeau, leaving three of David Sears' cars on the sidelines.
Fortunately for the Super Nova and Den Bla Avis owner, hi still had Kiesa in the race and, having started sixth, the Dane was poised to take advantage of any retirements ahead of him. With Sperafico out of the way, and both Liuzzi and Toccacelo removed from the equation, the former F3 race winner was now chasing only Pantano and Wirdheim, and received the first of his lucky breaks when debris from the all-Italian clash at Casino prompted the appearance of the safety car.
This was particularly cruel to Wirdheim, who appeared to have the race in his pocket, but also gave Kiesa the chance to climb one more place - and all but onto the tail of the Swede when Sperafico, back in the fray after his unplanned stop, found himself in close company with early assailant Pantano. Although, again, the story of events differed according to which awning you happened to be standing under, Pantano duly found himself in the barriers and Sperafico up before the stewards to explain matters of a physical nature.
Kiesa, meanwhile, found himself in second place - with the red-and-white Arden car of Wirdheim not too far in front.
Behind the leading pair, the attrition of various sorts had elevated Raffaele Giammaria from ninth to third, with Jaroslav Janis and Zsolt Baumgartner again running in close company ahead of remaining American Townsend Bell. Yannick Schroeder ensured that the ISR Charouz team had two cars in the points, albeit trailing Bell's Arden Lola by ten seconds after the restart, wile van Hooydonk, having served his penalty, rounded out the top eight. The only other finishers were Red Bull newcomer Bernhard Auinger and American rookie Will Langhorne, who both trailed the stragglers by a lap after being delayed during the race.
And so all seemed set for Bjorn Wirdheim to become the year's first double winner, following a win apiece for the Swede, Pantano and Sperafico in the opening three rounds. Wirdheim evidently felt the same way, and pulled over to the pit-wall to begin celebrating with his pit crew. Perhaps mistaking their frantic hand gestures as waves of support and triumph, he was too late to realise that Kiesa had stolen his thunder....