Championship leader Vitantonio Liuzzi tightened his grip on the FIA F3000 title race with a commanding display that saw him romp away from the field on the streets of Monaco.

The Italian made the perfect start from pole position and, in tandem with season-long rival Enrico Toccacelo, pulled away from the pack, which was led at an increasing distance by Jose-Maria Lopez.

The Argentine was lucky to be holding down third spot on two counts, having only been given clearance to race on Saturday morning following a heavy crash in qualifying and then stalling on the dummy grid as the field moved off for its warm-up lap. However, as he gradually eased away from fourth-placed Jeffrey van Hooydonk, Lopez showed that there were few ill-effects from either incident.

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Behind the Coloni-mounted Belgian, Robert Doornbos and Patrick Friesacher mounted a spirited battle that would last until two-thirds distance, but the midfield took an early hit with a couple of typical Monaco incidents.

Although the entire 18-car pack made it through Ste Devote and Casino Square unscathed, Tomas Enge, held up behind Raffaele Giammaria, took exception to rookie Esteban Guerrieri's opportunist move around the outside of the former Loews hairpin and edged the Argentine towards the barrier. Guerrieri was tipped onto two wheels, and was lucky not to make helmet-to-barrier contact before returning to terra firma, while Enge's front wing lay stranded in the middle of the road.

The incident itself was not necessarily a problem, but the marshals had only succeeded in manhandling Guerrieri's BCN entry into roughly the same position as the wing when the field came around for a second time, leaving the remaining cars to filter either side of the stricken Lola - and dodge the marshals who themselves had little room for manoeuvre.

Among those not having to navigate a path between Guerrieri and the wall was Can Artam, who had made his own exit entering Casino Square for the second time. The Turk had managed to vault past both Nico Verdonck and Rodrigo Ribeiro at the start but, under pressure from both, lost control of his Coloni car and spun backwards into the barriers.

The safety car was deployed briefly while the mess was cleared away, but racing soon resumed with the field split into pockets. Liuzzi and Toccacelo quickly re-established their advantage at the front, with Lopez running just ahead of van Hooydonk. A little way removed, Doornbos and Friesacher began to make inroads on the Belgian, while Giammaria held seventh.

The Italian was among the very first to pit, stopping almost as soon as the pit-lane opened for the mandatory tyre changes, and the move paid off handsomely as, while others ran into problems, the AEZ team turned the green-and-white machine around smartly, gaining valuable track position.

With very few moves being attempted on the tight circuit, the pit-stops became more crucial than normal, and a number of drivers saw their races affected by sticking wheelnuts. Among them, van Hooydonk saw his position swapped with Giammaria, dropping from fourth to seventh, while Toccacelo and Lopez were both also momentarily delayed.

van Hooydonk had already been caught by Doornbos and Friesacher by the time he stopped, and the problems dropped him to the tail of the points battle. Lopez wasn't too badly affected, although his stop meant that he had little chance of catching Toccacelo for second, despite the Italian's own glitch.

As befits a man enjoying Michael Schumacher-esque luck and results, Liuzzi's Arden squad turned his car around perfectly, allowing him to more than double his lead in the closing stages. From that point on, it was merely a case of keeping his nose clean - something the Italian did comfortably over the remaining laps.

Toccacelo was similarly untroubled, despite Lopez closing in over the final few laps, and the so the attention switched to the scrap for the remaining points places. In particular, the three-way battle between Doornbos, Friesacher and recovering van Hooydonk caught the eye, with the Belgian homing in on the pair ahead of him, both of whom stopped later in the race.

While the Coloni man was ultimately unable to get past either of his rivals, the battle did produce the best overtaking move of the afternoon, as Friesacher dived past Doornbos exiting the tunnel. The Dutchman also suffered a slight delay in the pits which left him exiting right under Friesacher's nose. The Austrian, on warmer tyres, harried the Arden car for the first third of the lap, before superior traction through the covered section allowed him to catapult past Doornbos into the chicane. Doornbos had to lock up sharply to avoid collecting the Super Nova machine but, once through, Friesacher pulled away quickly, leaving the two Benelux drivers to fight among themselves.

Mathias Lauda crashed out at mid-distance after running out of road at Ste Devote but, surprisingly an off-colour Rodrigo Ribeiro was the only other retirement. Enge rejoined after his brush with Guerrieri but, having pitted outside the window, had to stop twice and came home as the final classified runner. With Yannick Schroeder starting down the grid and then compounding his position with a moment at Rascasse, it was left to rookie Jan Heylen to take the final point in eighth place.