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.
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.