Jon Kirkham became the fifth different race-winner in five races as the dramatic start to the 2011 British Superbike Championship continued in race one at Croft.
The Derby rider coped best with constantly changing conditions to lead home a Crescent Suzuki 1-2 ahead of John Hopkins.
A maiden BSB victory seemed unthinkable from 16th on the grid but wet conditions, varied tyre choices, and a mid-race safety car period threw the race wide open.
Rain fell on the formation lap forcing a delayed start, but when the race did get underway, slick-shod Shane Byrne led away from pole position ahead of Michael Rutter with Michael Laverty, who started on wets, down to third.
The rain held off in the early stages and the Swan Yamaha rider plummeted down the order, with Hopkins taking up the challenge to race-leader Byrne with Rutter just behind in third and Gary Mason up to fourth.
Rutter's victory hopes disappeared on lap six when he was forced to retire with a broken gear lever, but things would take another dramatic turn two laps later, when the race leader was forced out with a blown engine.
With flames flickering under the body of the Honda Fireblade, and the possibility of oil on the circuit, the safety car was deployed. Hopkins had established a comfortable lead over Mason but the stoppage brought the MSS Kawasaki onto his tail. Kirkham had made his way up to third with EVO runners Glen Richards and Alex Lowes up in the top five for WFR Honda.
At the restart, Kirkham made short work of Mason to take second and even had time to demote his teammate before the lap was completed. Alex Lowes also took the opportunity to make progress when the safety car pulled in and took the EVO class lead from his teammate.
The 20-year-old from Lincoln even showed signs of securing an outright podium and ran ahead of Mason for a brief spell, but fell back behind soon after.
At the front, Kirkham cruised home for an unchallenged victory with Hopkins and Mason completing the podium. The race-winner completed a perfect race by setting the fastest lap on the final tour, securing pole position for race two.
French youngster Loris Baz was forced to recover from a poor start but got ahead of Alex Lowes on the final lap to finish fourth, while Stuart Easton's early consistency continued with sixth place.
Peter Hickman and Josh Brookes both made late progress to relegate Glen Richards to ninth, with Tommy Bridewell getting into the top ten for Tyco Honda.
Ryuichi Kiyonari's nightmare weekend continued after wrongly choosing to start the race on wet tyres. The Japanese rider limped home two laps down in 25th, and his poor choice of rubber will also hamper him in today's second race, with his fastest lap only good enough for 28th on the race two grid.
Race One Result (18 Laps):
- Jon KIRKHAM (Samsung Crescent Racing) 26:41.827
- John HOPKINS (Samsung Crescent Racing) +2.940
- Gary MASON (MSS Colchester Kawasaki) +3.715
- Loris BAZ (Motorpoint Yamaha) +13.335
- Alex LOWES (EVO) (WFR Honda) +14.699
- Stuart EASTON (MSS Colchester Kawasaki) +19.433
- Peter HICKMAN (Tyco Honda) +22.455
- Josh BROOKES (Relentless Suzuki) +24.297
- Glen RICHARDS (EVO) (WFR Honda) +26.063
- Tommy BRIDEWELL (Tyco Honda) +27.747
Mirror.co.uk EVO Class Result:
- Alex LOWES (WFR Honda) 26:56.526
- Glen RICHARDS (WFR Honda) +11.364
- Tom TUNSTALL (Doodson Motorsport) +51.120
Jon KIRKHAM (Samsung Crescent Racing) 1:23.860