James Courtney secured victory in an exciting opening leg to the 50th Macau Grand Prix, but many of his main rivals fell foul of incidents and accidents in a race punctuated by crashes and safety car periods.

Despite not starting from pole position, the TOM'S driver kept his head to grab the lead from eventual runner-up Nicolas Lapierre on lap six, securing pole position for the second heat in the process.

Front row starter - and Courtney's Australian rival - Ryan Briscoe made the best start and, after banging wheels with pole man Fabio Carbone, edged inside the Brazilian at the first corner. Despite taking the lead, however, the new Euroseries champion carried too much speed into Lisboa and ran wide, dropping to third. This let Carbone, who was now racing with a broken front wing following the contact with Briscoe, through to take the lead, with Frenchman Lapierre in second place.

However, any thoughts the Signature Plus duo might have had of breaking away from the pack were soon dashed, as the safety car was called out to help clear up the aftermath of a typical first lap Macau accident.

German race veteran Pierre Kaffer had hit the wall at San Francisco Bend whilst attempting to dive inside the equally experienced Paolo Montin and, as he bounced back onto the track, several drivers collided in avoidance. Nico Rosberg was the worst affected, rolling his Carlin Motorsport Dallara-Mugen, while temporary team-mate Alvaro Parente also crashed. Britain's Danny Watts was also involved in the collision and became a retirement after limping back to the pits. Montin, Kaffer, Rosberg and Parente were all out on the spot.

The safety car withdrew at the beginning of the third lap and, as Carbone's broken front wing flew off almost immediately after the restart, the Brazilian found himself outdragged by both Lapierre and Courtney into Lisboa. The leading duo then steadily pulled clear of the field, before Courtney dived past his French rival around the outside at Lisboa in a thrilling sixth lap move.

From there, the Australian, who clinched this year's Japanese F3 title after switching from the British series, did not put a foot wrong, despite his car jumping into neutral on one lap and costing him time. He eventually came home 4.6secs ahead of Lapierre to claim pole for race two.

"I really wanted to be pole for the second race," a delighted Courtney admitted.

While the fight at the front was relatively straightforward, however, there was a thrilling contest behind, as Carbone battled for all he was worth despite struggling for pace thanks to the missing right front wing element.

Briscoe, frustrated at his early mistake, was particularly eager to get past but, as the Euroseries rivals battled for third place on lap seven, they collided at Lisboa and, although Carbone was able to continue after losing a place to eventual third placed finisher Richard Antinucci, Briscoe spun and dropped down the order to eventually finish 15th.

"Fabio braked 30 metres earlier than normal and I had nowhere to go," he admitted ruefully.

Carbone bravely held on to fourth place, but an equally impressive drive came from young Briton Lewis Hamilton, who had started 17th on the grid but avoided the carnage at San Francisco to be ninth at the end of the first lap. He then took Robert Kubica on lap six and Robert Doornbos on lap nine before losing fifth place to the Dutchman on the final lap, However, Doornbos' Menu Motorsport Dallara then suffered a broken driveshaft, which slowed him enough for Hamilton and others to get past on the run to the flag, and forced him to limp home 14th.

Behind Hamilton, who now secures a third row start for race two, Kubica, Fairuz Fauzy and Andrew Thompson completed the top eight, with Ronnie Quintarelli and Katsuyuki Hiranaka rounding out the leading ten.

Rob Austin held on for eleventh in the second Menu car, fending off Promatecme's Ernesto Viso and Hiroki Yoshimoto to the flag. Doornbos had enough in his car to come home ahead of the recovering Briscoe, with Macau racer Michael Ho, Marco Bonanomi, Lei Kit Meng, Joe Merszei and Pedro Barral rounding out the list of finishers.

Tatsuya Kataoka, Nelson Piquet Jr and Cesar Campanico joined those forced into retirement after succumbing to Macau's unforgiving walls, but will be able to start race two if their machinery is up to the task.

 

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