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.
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.