Polesitter Giorgio Pantano led the second round of the FIA F3000 Championship, at the Circuit de Catalunya, from lights to flag to re-establish himself as a potential title winner.
The Italian managed to fend off the attentions of fellow front row starter Bjorn Wirdheim (Arden), who sat glued to the rear wing of the Durango car for the entire race distance. In what could have been a cute twist on last year's race, when Pantano managed to out-psych Sebastien Bourdais on the final lap, Wirdheim tried whatever he could to find a way past the Italian, but found that the late addition to the championship roster was resolute in his defence.
Another Italian, Enrico Toccacelo, proved that his early qualifying form was no fluke by climbing from the fourth row of the grid to take third place at the flag, after driving on his own throughout the race. Czech driver Jaroslav Janis was fourth, earning his first points of the year.
Behind the lead quartet, and attracting just as much attention as the battle for the lead, was a four-way scrap over fifth place involving Rob Nguyen - driving for the local BCN Competicion team - Coloni's Zsolt Baumgartner, Tony Schmidt (Astromega) and Nicola Kiesa (Den Bla Avis). Baumgartner tried to overtake the Australian on the final lap, but missed his braking point and left a gap for his own pursuers to filter through. The Hungarian finished seventh while Nguyen, from 15th on the grid, took a career best fifth place. Schmidt opened his F3000 account in sixth, while Nguyen's latest BCN team-mate, Alessandro Piccolo, crowned his FIA series debut with a point for eighth.
The race started with a scuffle at the first corner that eventually went on to claim Imola runner-up Patrick Friesacher, who lost his rear wing and was unable to effect repairs when he stopped at the start of lap two. Schroeder was turned around before making a brave fightback through the field, while one of the Astromega cars also received hefty contact before the field sorted itself out.
The incidents did not abate there, however, as American rookie Phil Giebler made an optimistic move on Raffaele Giammaria at the start of the secodn tour that saw both the Den Bla Avis and Durango cars spearing into the rgavel. Yellow flags for the incident stayed out far longer than expected, and played some part in blunting Wirdheim's assault on the lead.
It was not a good day for the Red Bull Junior team, with the second car of Vitantonio Liuzzi retiring at mid-distance. The third Imola podium finisher, Ricardo Sperafico, joined Friesacher on the sidelines when his race ended on lap 25, allowing Toccacelo and Janis to progress into third and fourth respectively.