James Thompson became the fifth different winner in five World Touring Car races after romping to a resounding victory from pole position in the latest round of the championship at Valencia.
Taking the N.Technology Alfa Romeo 156 back to the top of the podium to join main rivals BMW, SEAT and Chevrolet as featuring on the winner's list this season, the victory is the first for Thompson since he made his debut with the team back at the first round of the 2005 season at Monza.
Defying the age of a car that, by his own admission, 'is not being developed', Thompson simply drove away from the pack in the early stages of the race, maintaining his advantage to the chequered flag to run out 2.8secs winner from Nicola Larini and Yvan Muller.
The big news of the race however occurred at the very start with a pile-up that managed to wipe out six of the leading runners, including Tiago Monteiro, Gabriele Tarquini, Alex Zanardi, Felix Porteiro, Roberto Colciago and Rob Huff.
With the crowded rolling start of 28 cars all leading into a sweeping left-hander, the prospect of a crash at the first-corner – as has occurred in other years – was arguably high, the mid-field not disappointing when team-mates Monteiro and Tarquini rather controversially came together, sending each other sideways in opposite directions.
Monteiro went on to clip Olivier Tielemans, who in turn hit the pit-lane wall, even if he was able to collect it and continue. Tarquini though came together with Porteiro, pushing the Spaniard onto the grass before the BMW slid back across the circuit, tagging Colciago and slamming hard into team-mate Zanardi. Huff meanwhile had also been turned round by Tarquini and was then hit again by Monteiro as they slid off. What emerged from the dust was an expensive wreckers yard, the two Team Italy-Spain BMWs particularly badly damaged by their collisions, even if all six failed to get away unscathed.
Unsurprisingly, the safety car was deployed to bunch up the field, revealing Thompson as the leader from pole position, ahead of Nicola Larini, who made the most of the bustle to jump from sixth to second by the end of the first lap.
Yvan Muller had slipped to third ahead of SEAT team-mate Jordi Gene, while Andy Priaulx, Michel Jourdain, Stefano D'Aste – up from 21st on the grid – and Pierre-Yves Corthals rounded out the early provisional point scorers.
The melee of the first corner meanwhile had also caught championship leader Augusto Farfus out, the Brazilian attempting to sneak past Jourdain, only for the Mexican to clip the BMW when he got out of shape on the kerbs exiting turn three. Tipping him into a spin, Farfus tumbled down the order, where he was joined Alain Menu, another driver forced to the back of the field by the turn one pile-up.