SEAT Sport's Yvan Muller took the first race win World Touring Car Championship race win at Imola having overtaken his team-mate and pole sitter Rickard Rydell into the first corner.
Following this move the pair led the whole race, although Rydell had to defend his position from the Chevrolet cars. Robert Huff came up to third after having a strong start and jumping ahead of his team-mate Alain Menu.
“It was an important win for the championship, but it is still not enough as we must keep trying,” Muller said. “The qualifying and start were important – we knew whoever went into the first corner first should win. I had to drive fast and not make any mistakes as the Chevrolet cars were pushing us. Our tyres were not an issue in the race, but the brakes were, and with the other cars pushing we had to driver well out of the corners. We drove as one effort today as we had agreed not to fight with one another, I believe we may not have won had we not helped each other.”
However James Thompson produced a fine drive after he fell back from fifth to eighth at the start, but then started battling his way back up the order.
First on his list were the BMWs of Jörg Müller and Augusto Farfus, then he put in a brilliant move to take Nicola Larini at Rivazza 1, and soon after that Gabriele Tarquini. His most controversial move was on Alain Menu, with the pair clashing braking into Tamburello and the contact sent the Chevrolet driver into a spin, and into the gravel trap. Thompson's last move was in the final lap when he overtook Huff; his fellow countryman desperately defended the final podium position, but it was to no avail and Thompson finished a remarkable race on the podium.
“The podium place is a testament to the team never giving up – I am overjoyed for them,” the Briton admitted. “I am disappointed that we had the incident going into the first corner, which meant I went down the field. However I overtook a few cars and was able to recover my race. I enjoy fighting during races, but the incident with Menu was quite bad – he was protecting Huff and so did not want to let me through, knowing I was probably faster. We are one of the fastest cars, and although we lost out in qualifying due to tyres we made up for it today, I am overjoyed.”
Huff settled for fourth and some vital Championship points, ahead of Tarquini and his team mate Larini. Farfus and Müller took seventh and eighth positions respectively and they will start from the front row for race two.
Sergio Hernández began the Independents' race from pole position, and remained there, taking the win. However he also finished a brilliant ninth overall, ahead of several factory cars including Porteiro, Priaulx and Zanardi.
Behind the top ten drivers there were some competitive fights for the positions throughout the race. Priaulx and Gené had a few scuffles, before Coronel got involved. The Dutchman overtook Gené, and then tried to jump over the kerb to take Priaulx. Later in the race Gené had more problems as D'Aste fought with him for seventeenth position. Zanardi and Monteiro had a clash in the last lap while fighting for the ninth place.
Okyay failed to finish the race, as he had to abandon the car on the side of the racetrack, while LADA drivers Ladygin and Shapovalov were stopped by technical failures.