It wasn't just the Austrian scenery that came alive to the sound of F3000 music at the A1-Ring, as Nicolas Minassian's third win of the year wiped out Bruno Junqueira's early season points advantage

With just three races left in the series, the diminutive Frenchman has drawn level with a man many thought had wrapped the title up with a victory hat-trick of his own leading into the mid-season break. Junqueira's failure to score for the second successive race has seen his twenty point championship lead erased almost overnight, and sets the series up for a thrilling run-in.

Although he was not able to snatch pole for himself, Minassian got the first of several breaks when Junqueira qualified only 20th in a rain-affected session on Friday, and was then granted another when both front row starters jumped the lights at the start of the race.

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Pole-sitter Jeffrey van Hooydonk twitched first, and the lurch of his car was matched by that of fellow front row starter David Saelens, prompting a mass evacuation of the grid as their rivals sought to keep in touch. In reality, the front men were always going to be assessed a penalty, but they decided to make the most of the stewards' deliberation on the opening lap, with van Hooydonk retaking the initiative.

As the transgressors raced to get prime position for the inevitable stop-go call, Mark Webber got the jump on Minassian's Super Nova car and lead the Frenchman for the opening couple of laps. Perhaps realising that their battle was really for first place, Minassian wasted no time in making a decisive move on the Australian and, despite a brief touch as he bustled through, was never headed thereafter.

Behind him, however, there was action aplenty, particularly as Webber slipped down through the order with a mystery ailment after the contact with the new leader. A brief skirmish with third placed Darren Manning preceded the European Arrows car dropping out of the points at one stage, although Webber would slowly recover to be back with the front three as the race drew to a close.

As the Australian went one way, so Britain's Justin Wilson went the other. The Nordic driver - sporting new sponsorship from Coca-Cola for the event - had qualified outside the top ten, but quickly proved himself to be the fastest man on the track as he battled his way up to second behind Minassian.

His cause was then enhanced by the appearance of the Safety Car, following a twelfth lap tangle between Webber's European team-mate Christijan Albers and Andre Couto. Both cars were out on the spot, although the Dutchman almost saved his from retirement by traversing the last corner gravel trap, only to spin to a halt as he rejoined the track.

As he backed towards the pit-wall, he narrowly missed by one of Kid Jensen's two cars, before stalling in a blindspot, albeit one off the racing line. With marshals working frantically to remove the stricken Lola, the organisers had no option but to despatch the Mercedes pace car, allowing Wilson to close right onto the leader's gearbox.

When the field was unleashed again, the Briton was all over the back of his French rival, but Minassian held firm, and gradually re-established his advantage and, for a long period, the order at the front remained relatively static barring Webber's gradual re-appearance.

Sebastien Bourdais departed the top ten after a forceful move by Jaime Melo Jr saw the Magny-Cours pole-sitter run wide at the first corner, and sundry other skirmishes resulted in the sight of Junqueira's green-and-grey Petrobras car inching up to the point scoring places. His had been a tyre-wearing ride, however and, even at this relatively early stage, the Brazilian was sliding more than most, which made his job of catching and passing Bas Leinders - for seventh - and Fernando Alonso - for a point - all the more difficult.

At half distance, the Belgian was despatched with a neat inside move, but Alonso was to prove a harder target. Determined to score his first F3000 point after a largely fruitless season, the Spaniard kept up the pace in an attempt to thwart Junqueira's pursuit, but was eventually undone by the Safety Car's second outing of the afternoon.

The cause this time was another robust piece of driving from Soheil Ayari who, having survived his regulation brushes with several rivals, closed the door too late on Andrea Piccini and took both cars out of the race. With the Coloni car stranded in the gravel, the field was again bunched up to protect the rescue crews, allowing Junqueira to fasten himself to Alonso's rear wing.

Although the Brazilian was blocked on the restart by the backmarking Ricardo Mauricio, he was quickly back in touch with the top six and, in a move that could have been engineered in any technology centre, team-mate Melo slowed Alonso enough for both Petrobras machines to run in the top six.

His job done, Melo was then swiftly back into fifth and pulling away from his senior partner. This, unfortunately, was to prove Junqueira's undoing for, as Alonso retaliated, desperate to reclaim that point, the Brazilian locked up and ran wide on his tortured tyres, instantly relegating him back to a pointless seventh. This time Alonso was making no mistake, and pulled away to create a comfort zone by the flag.

The battle for sixth was just one of two to grab the attention in the closing stages, as Webber looked every which way for a route around Manning for third. The Australian had bided his time through the mid-part of the race but, with the disappearance of the Safety Car, decided that enough was enough. At every corner, the orange-and-black nose pulled alongside Manning's rear wheels, only to be rebuffed by a sterling defensive display from the Yorkshireman, as Webber was made to settle for fourth.

The pair were so engrossed in the four-lap battle that it allowed Wilson to take a comfortable second place. Likewise, the leader was seldom troubled, having positioned Mauricio between him and his pursuers at the second pace car intervention, and went on to take a relatively easy victory.

For others, life was a little more difficult. Tomas Enge, like Ayari, endured more than his fair share of incident, finally calling in for a new nose after collecting the wayward Frenchman when an ambitious out-braking move saw him sliding out of control The Czech eventually had to make do with fastest lap and sixteenth place, which is something his rookie team-mate would have settled for on his debut appearance.

Tomas Scheckter's maiden F3000 appearance appeared to have ended early, when he was spun around by Andreas Scheld on lap two but, after returning to the pits for attention, the young South African proceeded to undertake his first real test session in the higher formula, albeit with faster rivals still racing around him.

In a similar fashion, Mauricio spent the first half of the race kicking his heels in the Red Bull pit, after a gearbox failure precluded his lining up on the grid. The Brazilian finally appeared with 15 laps to go, got involved with the leaders at the second Safety Car, and then called it a day shortly before the chequer came out.

A1 test pace-setter Franck Montagny lost his nose on the opening lap, and spent the rest of the race playing catch-up, while jump-starters van Hooydonk and Saelens ended their races in twelfth and the gravel trap respectively. For the rest, it was a litany of spins and contact although, with pace car making two appearances, only Enge and Montagny were classified more than a lap down.

Minassian's win, allied to Junqueira's no score, now means that the point situation could not be closer going into the final three races of the year. If both continue to drive at their very best, and the Brazilian will have to improve to do so, it could be an interesting couple of months.