James Toseland has won a dramatic first race of the 2004 WSBK season, held at a damp - but drying - Valencia, the Brit overcoming a poor start, then avoiding a turn two accident for team-mate Regis Laconi to build a larg mid-race lead... only to come under further pressure in the closing stages.
The action began even before the green lights had gone out with Clementi, Laconi and Haga falling on the slick track on their way to the grid, although all but Clementi would make the start on time.
Then, when the green lights went out, it was pole siter Laconi who led Chris Vermeulen and the rest of the field into turn one, before he lost control of his 999 and sent the pack scattering.
Meanwhile, Toseland had made a poor start after wheelspinning, but Laconi's fall helped him catch back up and he would lead local hero Fuertes and series hero Haga by the end of lap one - the Spaniard and Japanese also excelling in the slippery conditions.
Carl Fogarty's day got off to a bad start as Troy Corser, fourteenth at the end of lap one, fell from his FP1 a lap later. However, by that time new team rider Chris Walker had carved his way up to fifth after a fast start - the Brit taking no prisoners as he and second placed Fuertes were clearly the quickest riders on track, a point proven when Fuertes took the lead for two laps from Toseland, before slipping gradually back to a eventual eighth.
Haga's race would end on lap six as he pulled into the pits with presumed technical problems, leaving Martin, Chili, Walker and Nannelli to battle for the two remaining podium places. As they did, so Toseland was able to rack up a 13+secs lead, but having found confidence in their tyres, Martin and Chili ( the latter still riding last year's 998) were soon the class of the field, working their way into second and third - and soon taking a second a lap out of Toseland.
Martin held a one second lead over Chili right up to lap 19 of 23, by which time Toseland's lead had shrunk to 6.6secs, when he was outbraked by Chili into turn one. The PSG-1 rider then set fastest laps on almost every circulation to close to 3.8secs from the Ducati Fila by the penultimate lap.
But missing by then was DFX rider Martin, whose 999 began blowing smoke soon after he was passed by Chili - it would expire with two laps left, denying the furious Aussie of a podium.
However, Martin's retirement put the ever fighting Chris Walker into a podum position and the former HM Plant Ducati star duly took Foggy's first ever top three finish two laps later - a delighted Carl Fogarty even jumping over the pit wall and onto the edge of the circuit to punch the air as his rider crossed the line!
But 22secs previously, Toseland had taken his second ever WSBK victory after holding off Chili by 4.698secs at the flag. For a man who was left trailing his team-mate by over a second in Superpole, Toseland's win was clearly a massive relief for the young Brit, while Chili's twelfth to second was also another superb ride.
Further back, Garry McCoy finished his first SBK race in seventh, while Vermeulen was left twelfth after a pit stop.
With the sun now shining after the earlier rain, race two is expected to be a fully dry affair.
Full results to follow...