Alain Menu led from lights to flag in the first ever World Touring Car Championship race to be held on the streets of Porto, heading a Chevrolet 1-2-3 in an event blighted by a lengthy safety car period.
Although the field managed to use the rolling start to safely negotiate the opening corners on the tight Portuguese street circuit, championship leader Augusto Farfus showed the first sign of what was to come as he turned BMW stablemate Alex Zanardi around at turn ten, causing a break between the leading group and the chasing pack. Fortunately, Zanardi managed to get his car facing head on into the group behind, allowing the majority of the field to pass either side without serious delay.
Alfa Romeo's James Thompson was the only one to appear to suffer damage in the incident, the red 156 smoking from its front left wheel for the next couple of laps, but the Briton pressed on regardless.
Greater damage was inflicted next time around, however, as Emmett O'Brien ran wide in turn 13 and ploughed into the tyres. With the rear of his lime-green SEAT sticking out into the road, it was inevitable that someone would eventually tag it, but Sergio Hernandez made sure the job was done properly by ramming the GR Asia car squarely in the back.
Roberto Colciago also became embroiled in the wreck, the Italian catching Hernandez's BMW a heavy glancing blow with the right-front corner of his Castrol-Backed Leon and ripping the clashing wheels off each car. Colciago managed to keep running, however, limping the damaged SEAT back to the pits, no doubt regretting the ten-place penalty for another accident in qualifying - this time with Hernandez's fellow GP2 refugee Felix Porteiro - which condemned him to a 21st place start.
With debris strewn across the road at was already a tight turn, the organisers had no alternative but to deploy the safety car, bunching the field up behind Menu in the order Rob Huff, Nicola Larini, Gabriele Tarquini, Tom Coronel, Yvan Muller, Andy Priaulx and Jorg Muller, with Farfus - who remained under investigation for the Zanardi incident to the end - just outside the points positions. Stefano d'Aste's Weichers-Sport BMW headed the depleted privateer runners in eleventh place, with the cushion of Michel Jourdain Jr splitting him from second in class Pierre-Yves Corthals.
Having survived a side-by-side duel with team-mate Huff at the initial green light, which lasted through to turn three before the Briton finally yielded, Menu was confident that he could hold the advantage from a single-file restart, but the Swiss veteran was made to wait - and wait some more - as the clear-up operation dragged on.
With the race extended by two laps, to 13, the signal to restart finally came at the start of lap nine and, while Menu and Huff made good their escape, the more heavily laden Larini found his mirrors full of the eager Tarquini. The two Italians ducked and weaved for a couple of corners before the puff went out of Tarquini's challenge, effectively ending the battle for the podium, barring mistakes up front.
Another safety car period briefly threatened when Olivier Thielemans put the second Alfa into the wall approaching turn ten, but the efficient safety crews covered and cleared the damaged 156 with a local yellow, ensuring that the enthusiastic crowd got some extended racing for their money.