Kovalainen Wins Race 1 at Monza

Heikki Kovalainen held his nerve under race-long pressure from Championship rival Nico Rosberg to take a win in race one at Monza, with Nelson Piquet Jr. taking a distant third place behind the pair

Kovalainen Wins Race 1 at Monza

The rivals filled the front row on the grid and led the pack away, with Rosberg surviving a collision with teammate Alex Premat on the second lap but unable to find a way past the Arden driver, after looking at his rear wing for almost the entire race.

At the start Kovalainen was the first man through the chicane, followed by Rosberg, Scott Speed, who banged wheels with Jose Maria Lopez but held his position, and a fast starting Piquet.

But behind them mayhem ensued, with Juan Cruz Alvarez crossing the track sharply at the start and colliding with Olivier Pla, who was slow away due to teammate Giorgio Mondini stalling in front of him. New driver Toni Vilander and Xandi Negrao stalled behind him, and the safety car was brought onto the track.

Pla's broken car was promptly removed and the field was immediately away one lap later. Kovalainen led away with Piquet cutting the chicane but rejoining the track second, while Rosberg looked for a way by his teammate, who had got the jump on him at the restart.

Unfortunately for the ART pair Rosberg caught Premat's right rear tyre and spun the Frenchman off track, narrowly missing a group of marshals and finishing his race on the opposite side of the track with a badly broken car.

A large group of drivers had taken what they thought would be an extended opportunity under yellows to pit, and were caught out by the prompt restart. Among their number was Speed, who never re-emerged from the pitlane after discovering a problem with his car.

At the front Kovalainen was promptly caught by Rosberg, who blew past Piquet for second place, but the German was unable to make any further headway. Ernesto Viso was up in a strong fourth position, but was off track shortly after in a racing incident as Sergio Hernandez tried to get by him at the chicane.

Just one lap later a hard charging Borja Garcia's race was over - he was looking to get past the lapped Negrao, but the pair tangled and both men joined the growing list of retirees.

By lap six the order at the front was starting to settle down - Kovalainen led from Rosberg, Piquet, Nicolas Lapierre, Giorgio Pantano and Clivio Piccione, with every other driver except last placed Vilander having pitted.

Two laps later the front runners started to come in: Rosberg pitted and came out in sixth, with Kovalainen in and out one lap later, retaining his lead over Rosberg. Piquet came in after leading for three laps, his first lead laps of the year, and re-emerged behind Rosberg once again.

Kovalainen seemed to have trouble lapping Vilander as he waited for the lead to come back to him, and after finding a way through his car looked quite a handful, sliding wide at almost every turn.

Rosberg was able to take chunks out of the gap to him and, with the lead pitstops finished on lap 19, Kovalainen led Rosberg by just one second, ahead of Piquet, Pantano, Lapierre and Neel Jani.

Vilander seemed to be giving a number of drivers a few headaches: on lap 22 Pantano was trying to lap the Finn and ran too deep under brakes into the chicane - he ran straight and set the fastest lap, which was later striped from him as he was handed a drive through penalty.

The move promoted Lapierre to fourth, who was now followed by Adam Carroll in an impressive fifth position from last on the grid. The Ulsterman had blown past Jani across the line, and the Swiss driver had no reply to his rival's speed.

Rosberg had scented blood and was pushing Kovalainen to the limit, but the Finn was somehow able to hold his errant car underneath him to take a vital win for his Championship prospects, just one second ahead of Rosberg.

Behind them Piquet was delighted to be back on the podium again, with Lapierre, Carroll and Pantano crossing the line well behind the Brazilian. Jani was able to hold on to seventh position ahead of an impressive drive from Ferdinando Monfardini, who will start tomorrow's race from pole position.

With Pantano losing his fastest lap the two points were handed to Rosberg and, combined with his eight points for second, he lost nothing out of his battle with Kovalainen: the pair remain separated by just nine points at the top of the Championship table.

CLASSIFIED: Pos Driver Team Time 1. Kovalainen Arden International 53:55.234 2. Rosberg ART Grand Prix + 1.163 3. Piquet Jr. Hitech Piquet Sports + 12.304 4. Lapierre Arden International + 29.980 5. Carroll Super Nova International + 35.951 6. Pantano Super Nova International + 37.920 7. Jani Racing Engineering + 45.949 8. Monfardini Durango + 53.315 9. Artam iSport International + 69.035 10. Yoshimoto BCN Competicion + 69.816 11. Piccione Durango + 71.614 12. Alvarez Campos Racing + 80.367 13. Lauda Coloni Motorsport + 91.089 14. Fauzy DAMS + 91.778 15. Vilander Coloni Motorsport + 2 Laps NOT CLASSIFIED/RETIREMENTS: Driver Team On Lap Viso BCN Competicion 5 Hernandez Campos Racing 5 Negrao Hitech Piquet Sports 4 Garcia Racing Engineering 4 Premat ART Grand Prix 2 Speed iSport International 2 Lopez DAMS 2 Mondini DPR 0 Pla DPR 0 Fastest lap: Pantano, 1:36.049 on lap 23 
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