Pasquale di Sabatino held his nerve to take a shock maiden Formula Renault 3.5 victory in a chaotic race at the Hungaroring.
Starting from 15th on the grid, the Italian was one of few drivers to opt for an early pitstop. He lucked in when a safety car period followed shortly afterwards, then pulled away from closest challenger Marco Barba over the final laps.
The result brought ecstasy to di Sabatino's RC Motorsport crew, who had to sit out all of the closed-season testing, and were only able to field a single entry in the opening two races.
Behind Barba, who repeated his runner-up position from Saturday, Colombian former Italian Formula 3000 champion Julian Leal took the final place on the podium, having been another to pit early.
"When I woke up this morning I thought, 'oh no, we're starting 15th,' even though our car was quite good I didn't expect to be on the podium," said di Sabatino. "We did no testing in the winter, really the first races for us were tests. I am extremely happy for the team, because they have worked so hard."
Chris van der Drift finished fourth on the road for Epsilon Euskadi, but the Formula Master champion's result is provisional as the Kiwi tipped Adrian Zaugg into a spin at Turn 10 on the opening lap. The gentle nudge had expensive consequences. Zaugg's Interwetten Dallara ended up broadside across the track, triggering a spectacular five car pile-up.
Among the retirees was Greg Mansell, who had the misfortune to be first on the scene and collect Zaugg. Mansell in turn sustained multiple impacts; first rammed by GP2 racer Edoardo Mortara; then the Epsilon car of Adrian Valles and finally Monaco winner Oliver Turvey who piled into Mansell head-on. Filip Salaquarda and Federico Leo took to the gravel in avoidance, but were able to resume.
Pole-sitter Marcos Martinez then led the field under caution from Mansell's Ultimate Motorsport team-mate Miguel Molina, while Bertrand Baguette had jumped up to third place following a tardy getaway by P1 Motorsport's James Walker.
The restart did not go to plan for the leaders. Championship leader Martinez's Pons mount expired on the approach to the Turn 12 hairpin on lap four. Molina unexpectedly inherited the honour of leading the field across the start finish line, but would hold the position for a matter of a few hundred metres before being out-braked by Baguette into Turn 1.
Pic and Walker held station behind Molina in third and fourth positions, but the next instalment of drama was imminent as former Carlin F3 team-mates Brendon Hartley and Jaime Alguersuari fought heatedly over fifth place. Entering Turn 2 on lap six, Alguersuari made an opportunistic move, and tagged the rear of the Tech 1 machine, sending the Kiwi off the road.
Race winner Di Sabatino, and Leal, pitted on the next tour, but the safety car was soon required again when James Walker crashed sideways into the pit entrance on lap eight.
Baguette stayed out in the lead until lap 16, when he received a new set of fronts in 5.5s. The Belgian rejoined in ninth place, ahead of Molina - who would later retire with gearbox related problems.
Martinez and Baguette are now tied on points at the head of the classification. The outcome of van der Drift's meeting with race control will determine who will receive the mid-season points leader's prize Renault R28 roadshow test at Silverstone next month.
Pos Driver Team Time 1. Pasquale di Sabatino RC 46m54.069s 2. Marco Barba Draco + 0.926s 3. Julian Leal Prema + 11.991s 4. Chris van der Drift Epsilon Euskadi + 12.445s 5. Michael Herck Interwetten + 15.306s 6. Bertrand Baguette Draco + 17.044s 7. Fairuz Fauzy Fortec + 17.346s 8. Charles Pic Tech 1 + 18.329s 9. Daniil Move P1 + 19.177s 10. Jaime Alguersuari Carlin + 19.622s 11. Jon Lancaster Comtec + 27.696s 12. Mihai Marinescu RC + 35.775s 13. Brendon Hartley Tech 1 + 36.273s 14. John Martin Comtec + 40.046s 15. Federico Leo Pons + 40.613s 16. Sten Pentus Fortec + 40.836s Retirements: Miguel Molina Ultimate 19 laps Filip Salaquarda Prema 18 laps Anton Nebylitskiy SG 15 laps James Walker P1 7 laps Edoardo Mortara SG 7 laps Marcos Martinez Pons 4 laps Oliver Turvey Carlin 1 lap Adrian Zaugg Interwetten 0 laps Greg Mansell Ultimate 0 laps Adrian Valles Epsilon Euskadi 0 laps