Mikhail Aleshin has claimed his breakthrough victory in the World Series by Renault at the opening round in Monza
The Russian was the class of the field in qualifying and the early part of the race, but came under intense pressure from Alvaro Parente in the closing stages after hitting brake trouble.
Marco Bonanomi took a controversial third after a fraught battle with Fairuz Fauzy ended with the Malaysian being edged onto the grass and into a spin on the outside of the approach to the 140mph Curva di Biassono.
Fauzy was delayed but able to continue, his luck only bettered by former GP2 winner Clivio Piccione, who performed a spectacular series of somersaults into Turn 1.
Remarkably the Monegasque was unscathed, but left the following drivers who witnessed the shunt ashen-faced.
Formula Renault Eurocup winner Filipe Albuquerque stayed the course to finish fourth ahead of Sebastian Vettel who recovered to fifth having spun down to 22nd at Turn 1 at the start of the second lap.
Aleshin made a clean start from pole, moving into the middle of the road to cover himself. Behind, front row starter Marco Bonanomi was unable to offer any kind of challenge, preoccupied fending off the attentions of Giedo van der Garde and Sebastian Vettel.
Squeezed down the inside, the man from Lecco elected to keep it sensible, dropping two places as van der Garde and Vettel cut around his outside into the first chicane.
Having retained his composure, Bonanomi swiftly applied the pressure to Vettel, first making a lunge into the second Lesmo before battling ahead entering the Ascari chicane.
Vettel fought every inch of the way, but he soon had Belgian KTR driver Bertrand Baguette and Parente breathing down his neck.
"They were very close," said Vettel, "and entering the chicane I wanted to make every effort to avoid contact. I braked at the normal place, before easing the pressure (on the pedal) to create a space.
"I was not on the ideal line on the outside, and when I turned in the back did break away a little, but I am sure I had some contact from one of them before I spun."
Giedo van der Garde was hampered by a severe lack of straightline speed and rapidly tumbled down the order.
Parente disposed of him for third on lap three before van der Garde dropped a further two places on the following tour. Baguette out-braked the Victory car into the first corner, followed by an opportunistic Alvaro Barba.
By lap seven Parente had closed the gap to Bonanomi in second and made it past the Italian in a sublime move into Ascari.
The Portuguese was then thrown a break in his pursuit of Aleshin, when the safety car was called out on lap eight after Italian Davide Valsecchi beached his Epsilon Euskadi car on the exit of the Parabolica.
The restart proved chaotic. Piccione in seventh tagged the back of Baguette's team-mate Guillaume Moreau under braking for Turn 1. The red RC car landed nose down in the grass runoff and flipped end-over-end before coming to rest upside-down.
Piccione was helped to his feet and walked away intact, as Moreau drove back to the pits to retire, his KTR crew unable to replace his rear wing.
Inevitably the safety-car was required, with the second restart taking place on lap 13. Aleshin led from Parente, Bonanomi in third and Baguette.
A big gap opened to Alvaro Barba who appeared caught unawares. Barba only made it to Turn 1 before spinning in a failed attempt to keep a feisty Fairuz Fauzy at bay.
Fauzy was up to fourth on the next lap, as Bertrand Baguette suffered a puncture in Turn 1, possibly as a result of running over debris.
The Monza crowd were treated to two duels in the closing stages. Aleshin and Parente scrapping with locked wheels for the lead and, two seconds in arrears, Bonanomi and Fauzy for third.
There were nervous faces on the Carlin pit wall, until Aleshin was finally given some respite.
"I made a little mistake with four laps to go," said Parente. "It gave Mikhail the breathing space he needed, but I'll be going for it tomorrow."
Aleshin's team boss Trevor Carlin added: "I was really worried about Alvaro because he won for us in F3 at Monza in 2005, and I know just how good he is around here."
There were no hard feelings from Fauzy towards Bonanomi, despite the Malaysian being left in no doubt that the Italian knew what he was doing.
"We were side-by-side, he must have seen me, but I'm happy the car was quick after two wasted years in GP2," he said. "With (engineer) Roly Vincini I've got the direction now."
Fauzy's Cram team's spirits were lifted by Pippa Mann who came home tenth, picking up a point and, more importantly, pole-position for tomorrow's reverse grid race.
"I was hoping for a top 20 today, this wasn't supposed to happen for at least another three or four races," said Mann. "When I saw the pit-board saying 'P12', 'P11' I thought they were joking! I think it's my first pole since Formula A karting."
Pos Driver Team Time 1. Mikhail Aleshin Carlin Motorsport 46:17.806 2. Alvaro Parente Tech 1 Racing + 1.393 3. Marco Bonanomi RC Motorsport + 5.262 4. F.Albuquerque Epsilon Euskadi + 9.909 5. Sebastian Vettel Carlin Motorsport + 13.174 6. Milos Pavlovic Draco Racing + 15.704 7. Celso Miguez EuroInternational + 18.793 8. Miguel Molina Pons Racing + 20.774 9. Salvador Duran Interwetten.com + 21.135 10. Pippa Mann Cram Competition + 27.454 11. Jaap van Lagen Red Devil Team Comtec + 29.557 12. Fairuz Fauzy Cram Competition + 31.170 13. Carlos Iaconelli Pons Racing + 32.360 14. A.Ciompi EuroInternational + 33.895 15. Daniel Move Interwetten.com + 41.661 16. Julien Jousse Tech 1 Racing + 52.870 17. Richard Philippe Fortec Motorsport + 1 lap 18. B.Baguette KTR + 1 lap 19. G.van der Garde Victory Engineering SpA + 3 laps RETIREMENTS James Walker Fortec Motorsport 19 laps Guillaume Moreau KTR 15 laps Alejandro Nunez Red Devil Team Comtec 14 laps Alvaro Barba Draco Racing 14 laps Charlie Kimball Victory Engineering SpA 13 laps Clivio Piccione RC Motorsport 11 laps Benjamin Hanley Prema Powerteam 10 laps Ricardo Risatti GD Racing 6 laps Davide Valsecchi Epsilon Euskadi 6 laps P.Di Sabatino GD Racing 3 laps
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