With both titles in the British F3 International Series now very close to being decided, it was always going to be an interesting afternoon at Croft. Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) and Sergio Perez (T-Sport) could both claim their respective ...
With both titles in the British F3 International Series now very close to being decided, it was always going to be an interesting afternoon at Croft. Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) and Sergio Perez (T-Sport) could both claim their respective championships. In Perez's case, he needed to finish 3rd or higher, regardless of what "Frankie" Cheng did. While Asmer needed to finish ahead of Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport) to put the Championship Class beyond reach. Things didn't quite work out as planned, with neither of them actually finishing the race, though it did mean that Asmer is the 2007 Champion, while Perez was 2nd in the National Class, which made his this year's National Class winner.
Before the start Asmer, who was on pole, already seemed very focussed, and it would have been a brave person who would bet against the Estonian. However, the grid duly line up, taking a mighty long time to get there, and the lights went out. Heading down to Clervaux, Asmer made a superb start, and Engel tried to slot in behind him. The German reckoned without team- mate Niall Breen, however. The Irishman was determined to get into Clervaux first, but would have found it easier if he'd actually bothered to brake. He got alongside Engel, locked his wheels up, and went straight on. With Engel on the outside of the corner, the pair of them had nowhere to go. It was Breen's accident, a rookie mistake, because at Croft, there's no way you're coming back from that sort of move. There were two Carlin cars in the gravel at the corner, and the championship battle was over. Oddly, the team seemed inclined to blame Engel, which was ridiculous given Breen's manoeuvre. Still, it's not exactly a clear view of the track when you're standing in the pit lane.
That let Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) into 2nd, from Sam Bird (Carlin Motorsport), and Greg Mansell (Fortec Motorsport). Asmer settled down and began to open an enormous gap, but even then he knew he was in trouble. The dashboard was flashing warnings at him, and a lap later the engine started to emit plumes of white smoke. He decided to ignore it and press on as long as he could.
He wasn't the only one in trouble. Jonathan Kennard (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) had dropped a long way back and was tangling with Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing), and Perez, and a lap later he'd gone missing altogether. The retirements were coming thick and fast now. Next one to go was Tom Chilton (Arena International Motorsport), the teenager pitting with what looked like rear suspension damage after being attacked by Kennard as the older man took himself out of contention.
A couple of laps into the race, and Asmer's car was starting to sound rough, with the smoke become more prevalent with each corner he took. However, it didn't seem to be slowing him up any. Someone else showing an interesting turn of speed was Esteban Guerrieri (Ultimate Motorsport), the Argentinean having a scrap with Alberto Valerio (Carlin Motorsport) that would run for some time. Once he got through, he then set off after Sebastian Hohenthal (Fortec Motorsport), a pursuit that ended with both of then going off and retiring from the race. It wasn't the only battle going on. Perez had fallen back in the chaos of the start and was now trying to recover and get on terms with his main rival Cheng. The Mexican wasn't about to give up the opportunity to clinch the title without a fight and proved it by setting some blistering lap times as he tried to catch the Chinese.
Meanwhile, John Martin (Alan Docking Racing) was skittering through the gravel while he tried to sort out Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing) for 12th place, the battle getting more than a little fraught. As that was right in front of Cheng, it must have given the Chinese driver a few worrying moments. Further back, Francesco Castellacci (Alan Docking Racing) seemed to have found himself a new friend. He was all over Ernesto Otero (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), the two of them not exactly fast but nonetheless hair-raising. The person getting a bird's eye view of it all was Juan Pablo Garcia Samano (Fluid Motorsport) and it wasn't long before he found himself embroiled in the scrap too. It wouldn't be long before it all went pear-shaped, perhaps not surprisingly. Meanwhile, there was contact at the Hairpin, when Michael Meadows (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) also got involved with them as well, Meadows vanishing from the race immediately. A couple of laps later, and Garcia and Castellacci both went off at Tower, though Garcia Samano was at least able to rejoin, a long way down, but then he'd been a long way down to start with.
In addition, the battle at the front was hotting up a bit. Asmer still led the race, but back in 4th Greg Mansell was being harassed at every turn by Atte Mustonen (Raikkonen Roberson Racing), though the Finn just couldn't quite find the speed he needed to see off the Englishman. That at least stopped anyone from causing Bird too much grief, though he didn't seem to be able to do much about Jelley either. Jelley, meanwhile, was watching as Asmer slowly cooked his engine, the Estonian finally pulling off at Tower, the engine now completely blown.
The mid-field, by contrast, was quite calm, with the exception of Martin who was now having a really good go at Grubmuller this time round. Perez was also in action, still moving forward, still in pursuit of Cheng. He would get what he needed when Viktor Jensen (Alan Docking Racing) had to retire and he pulled into the pits, though it didn't stop the Mexican taking the Hairpin on two wheels at one point, just before he hacked his way past Salman Al Khalifa (T-Sport).
Elsewhere, it was all a bit strung out, apart from the Leo Mansell (Fortec Motorsport)/Alistair Jackson (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) scrap, which was getting very fierce now.
And then, on lap 13, the inevitable happened and Asmer finally ground to a smoky halt out at Tower, which was a popular place to stop. He'd refused all requests by the team to come in and had simply kept going till it was no longer possible. No one should have expected anything else from him really. That handed the lead to Jelley, who wouldn't have been too surprised either, always assuming that he could actually see Asmer smoking. The Estonian had been so far ahead he'd likely been invisible. Anyway, Jelley needed no further invitation. He was in the lead and he planned on staying there. That meant Bird was now busy defending 2nd from Mansell and Mustonen, which at least took some of the pressure off the tiny Carlin driver. Jelley, meanwhile, started to pull out an ever larger lead, only to find he'd been wasting his efforts. The Garcia Samano/Castellacci set-to ended in gravel, and thus in a Safety Car while the marshals tried to clear
They all settled in, though the Safety Car picked up the wrong car to start with. The order, then, was Jelley, Bird, Greg Mansell, Mustonen, Hohenthal, Guerrieri, Valerio, Devaney, Moraes and Gonzalez. 11th was Grubmuller, then came Martin, Jackson, Leo Mansell, Perez, Al Khalifa, Al Fardan, Otero and Garcia, who'd got going again.
A lap later and the Safety Car was pulling off. Jelley controlled the restart neatly, despite Bird having a good luck as they reached Clervaux. It wasn't enough of a look and he had to settle for 2nd. The interesting battle now was that between Guerrieri and Hohenthal. It had been fraught to start with, and now it was getting even more heated. Unfortunately, it ended when they both fell off, after Guerrieri decided that under the Swede's rear wing was where he wanted to be. Luckily, there was only a few minutes left at that point, and after Grubmuller went off on the final lap, there were no further incidents. Jelley came home to his second win of the year and Bird was a delighted 2nd, from Greg Mansell, Mustonen, Valerio, Moraes, Devaney (despite a very gravely moment from the Irishman), Gonzalez, National Class winner Cheng, and Leo Mansell. 11th was Perez, from Martin, Al Khalifa, Al Fardan, Otero and Garcia Samano. There were no other finishers.
Fastest laps were set by Asmer and Cheng.
Weather: Cold, cloudy.