Michel Nykjaer resisted race-long pressure from James Nash to capture his second World Touring Car win of 2013 in a massively jumbled Salzburgring opener
Yvan Muller, whose provisional pole became 13th on the grid following a spate of post-qualifying penalties, meanwhile completed a remarkable charge through the field to finish third.
The Frenchman almost got himself involved in the lead scrap, finishing just six tenths of a second off Nykjaer at the flag.
Muller's move through the field was just one of the stories generated by a remarkable grid, formed after 12 drivers were penalised following a farcical end to qualifying.
Alex MacDowall, Tom Chilton, Rob Huff and Tom Coronel all made similarly impressive progress to secure top 10 spots despite starting way down the order.
The early laps set the tone for the race, with Nykjaer, Nash and Mehdi Bennani stretching off into the distance as MacDowall, Muller and Huff fought their way through to sit fifth, sixth and 10th respectively at the end of the second tour.
MacDowall's charge was halted when he caught Freddy Barth and, while trying to pick a way through, fell victim to an opportunistic move from Muller.
The Frenchman quickly picked off Barth and, two laps from the end, also got by Bennani to move onto the podium.
He almost improved upon that, closing onto Nash's bumper through the final sequence of turns, but eventually had to settle for third.
Muller's progress at least allowed Nykjaer some breathing space, the NIKA Chevrolet man having been forced onto the defensive for much of the second half of the race by Nash.
Bennani took fourth ahead of MacDowall and Barth, the trio helped by a fantastic battle that developed between Huff, Chilton and Lada's James Thompson.
It was Chilton who eventually got the better of it, beating Huff to eighth place. Thompson had to settle for ninth ahead of Tom Coronel, who had started 19th.
All three Honda Civics had been forced to start from the back of the grid but came through to claim 11th to 13th, with Gabriele Tarquini leading works team-mate Tiago Monteiro and the Zengo-run Civic of Norbert Michelisz.
Results - 12 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Michel Nykjaer Nika Chevrolet 17m41.335s 2. James Nash Bamboo Chevrolet + 0.298s 3. Yvan Muller RML Chevrolet + 0.645s 4. Mehdi Bennani Proteam BMW + 1.586s 5. Alex MacDowall Bamboo Chevrolet + 4.374s 6. Fredy Barth Wiechers BMW + 5.121s 7. Tom Chilton RML Chevrolet + 7.114s 8. Rob Huff Munnich SEAT + 11.711s 9. James Thompson Lada + 15.758s 10. Tom Coronel ROAL BMW + 15.812s 11. Pepe Oriola Tuenti SEAT + 16.000s 12. Gabriele Tarquini Honda + 18.388s 13. Tiago Monteiro Honda + 19.097s 14. Norbert Michelisz Zengo Honda + 19.604s 15. Stefano D'Aste PB BMW + 20.117s 16. Mikhail Kozlovskiy Lada + 23.511s 17. Rene Munnich Munnich SEAT + 27.793s 18. Charles Ng Engstler BMW + 32.141s 19. Franz Engstler Engstler BMW + 3 laps 20. Darryl O'Young ROAL BMW + 3 laps
Retirements: Hugo Valente Campos SEAT 8 laps Marc Basseng Munnich SEAT 8 laps Fernando Monje Campos SEAT 3 laps
Volvo gave the World Touring Car Championship a major boost when it announced it would enter the series, but its ambitions don't stop there. JACK COZENS examines its programme, the S60 and what its arrival means for the WTCC
The 2012 World Touring Car champion says he never had the money to race cars. Yet 2015 is his 11th season in the WTCC. He talks STUART CODLING through his journey from motorsport fan to paid professional - for little more than £100,000