The race got off to a latish start because there was some difficulty in clearing away the GT cars from parc ferme, which meant a whole load of very twitchy people wondering if they'd get away in time to catch their evening flights (some...
The race got off to a latish start because there was some difficulty in clearing away the GT cars from parc ferme, which meant a whole load of very twitchy people wondering if they'd get away in time to catch their evening flights (some of us had more sense and don't travel back till tomorrow). When the lights on the gantry did finally go out, however, there seemed to be a general reluctance to move. The front three rows pretty much bogged down, while further back Mario Moraes (Carlin Motorsport) suddenly appeared, tearing up the inside to move from 9th to 2nd in one of racing's more obvious jump starts. Meanwhile, Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport) got away into the lead while Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), who had been beside Engel on the front row, got punted off by his own team- mate, Atte Mustonen. This caused chaos in the middle of the pack, with both Jelley and Mustonen losing massive amounts of ground, and shaking up the order as Alex Waters (Promatecme F3) found himself momentarily airborne, and Alberto Valerio (Carlin Motorsport) ended up narrowly avoiding being squeezed into the pit wall.
Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) was the one to benefit most from the mayhem, as he was now 3rd and in with a good chance of moving up at least one place, assuming the officials had seen Moraes make his premature move. Jelley, on the other hand, was down in 17th and Mustonen was last. In the National Class, "Frankie" Cheng (Performance Racing) was leading from Sergio Perez (T-Sport), and others making progress included Rodolfo Gonzalez (T-Sport) who was 7th, and Sebastian Hohenthal (Fortec Motorsport), who managed to find a way past Valerio before setting off in pursuit of the leaders. Just behind the two of them, Esteban Guerrieri (Ultimate Motorsport) and Sam Bird (Carlin Motorsport) were fighting it out for 6th, the pocket-sized Carlin driver determined to get past the Argentinean. All attention switched to Dominick Muermans (Swiss Racing Team) a lap later though. Caught up in a battle with Viktor Jensen (Alan Docking Racing) and Juan Pablo Garcia Samano (Fluid Motorsport), something went badly wrong causing the Invitation Class Dutchman to go off in a very, very big way as the car rolled and ended up upside down in the gravel. Thankfully Muermans emerged apparently unhurt, and Jensen staggered round to the pits to have some damage looked at. He wasn't the only one in the pits - shortly before that Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing) had pitted with electrical problems.
Meanwhile Valerio was also having problems, and was first overtaken by Niall Breen (Carlin Motorsport) and then started to plummet down the order, before he too had to pit. That left Bird and Guerrieri fighting for 5th, with Hohenthal also getting embroiled in the scuffle. Hohenthal managed to get through but Bird tagged his rear wing, which let Guerrieri get a run on Bird. The Argentinean went round the outside of the Englishman, but then Hohenthal slammed the door on him. He wasn't about to give up 4th place to anyone, especially as it was highly likely to become 3rd before long, and it wasn't long before there was a massive train of cars behind the Swede. That all let Engel, Moraes and Asmer break away, unaware of all the drama occurring behind them, with the Estonian hunting down the Brazilian with intent to go after the leader as soon as possible.
Almost unnoticed, given the fun and games further up the order, Jelley had recovered and was back up to 11th behind Gonzalez and Breen, while Mustonen was also trying to make his way back up the order. And then there was the second flying display of the race, after Gonzalez tried to squeeze past Breen in a fairly forceful manner, only to have Jelley try and take him in turn. There was a clash of wheels and the Venezuelan found himself rolling. As with Muermans, the car landed upside down and the marshals had right the tub before they could help Gonzalez out. He seemed to be OK, but Jelley was later awarded a drive through penalty for causing an avoidable collision. It was all very out-of-character for Jelley, who is usually impeccably behaved on the track, but then he's been having a seriously character-building season this year, and luck seems to be emphatically not on his side right now.
Before that, however, the survivors all got moved up a place when Moraes was awarded a drive through penalty for his over-optimistic start. It clearly didn't come as a surprise to him or the team because he pulled into the pits immediately he was able to. He was quickly back out again, but that was the end of his hopes of a win. Meanwhile, Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing) was another pulling out of the race, as he pitted and didn't re-emerge. Perhaps it was mechanical, perhaps it wasn't, but he wasn't in a points position anyway.
At the front though, things were really hotting up, with Hohenthal now holding off a horde of Dallaras and Mygales all the way back to Michael Devaney (Ultimate Motorsport) in 10th place. The trouble with this was that a number of individuals were determined that he shouldn't keep doing that. Bird jinked out to one side to pass the Swede, and Breen saw his opportunity and let Sam tow him along though he couldn't make it stick. Guerrieri, meanwhile, was having trouble with Jelley, who was trying all sorts. It only took a mistake on the part of the Argentinean and Stephen was through. Except that he was then notified of his drive through penalty for "contact" with Muermans. That gave Guerrieri his place back,
At the front, too, there was excitement with Asmer chasing Engel down. The gap was closing with every lap and Asmer was busy setting fastest laps; he clearly wanted another win and thought he could get it. Engel's team- mates were also having a fine old time, with Bird now 3rd, from Hohenthal and Jelley (who appeared to be ignoring his penalty for as long as he thought he could). They kept swapping places, with Bird finally getting back ahead as Jelley pitted.
With the exit of Jelley from the equation Guerrieri now fell back a little into the clutches of his own team-mate, which also embroiled National Class leader Perez in a battle he wanted nothing to do with. Unfortunately for him, with Greg Mansell (Fortec Motorsport) just behind him, the Mexican didn't have much choice. Guerrieri came to the attention of the stewards because of the battle when the driving standards flag was shown to him for driving over the pitlane exit white line, which is a serious no-no at Monza for some reason.
11 laps into the race and fight for the lead was suddenly on. Engel had known it was coming and wasn't too surprised to find Asmer alongside him. The Estonian barged his way through and battle commenced in anger. The German wasn't going to take it lying down, and he fought back vigorously, despite Asmer's best efforts to break the tow. Asmer was now looking at 20 points and he wanted them. He looked unlikely to get a point for fastest lap because that now went to Valerio. Everything else was up for grabs though. Engel made an attempt to get his lead back at the first Chicane and went wide, having to settle back in and think again. He had plenty of ideas; the trouble was so did Asmer. At least there was no one behind to worry him, though Bird had now broken free of Hohenthal and Breen and was having a quiet breather in 3rd place, presumably while looking in his mirrors and being grateful not to be involved in the melee anymore. Meanwhile, the Ultimate duo had spent so much time fighting each other that they both lost out to Mansell and to Perez, who must have been relieved to get ahead of all three of them. He didn't want to jeopardize a possible second Class win of the day by getting tangled up with Championship Class runners fighting for 7th place. It wasn't worth it.
Someone else getting needlessly tangled up was Mustonen, who was stuck behind Glorioso a long way down the order, and who solved the problem by punting the Italian out of his way. Mustonen's speed is impressive; his race craft and common sense, on the other hand, are not in the least impressive, and he really needs to learn and learn fast if he intends sticking around. It was an unnecessary piece of aggression especially considering he was not even within sniffing distance of a point.
A long way ahead of the Finn and his troubles, Breen managed to tow past Hohenthal to grab 4th, and took Jonathan Kennard (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) with him, which didn't help Hohenthal's mood any, the Swede having earlier wistfully wondered why he's having such a bad year. Actually, in comparison with many of the others, he's not really having that bad a time, though it's fair to say he seems to be the victim of other people's idiocy rather more than seems random. At least he was still running.
With the race now in its closing stages, most people weren't even watching Hohenthal. They were too busy watching Asmer and Engel, as Engel tried a move on Asmer at every opportunity that presented itself (and possibly one or two that didn't). With two laps to go he was incredibly close to the Hitech car, and then they were side-by-side into the Chicane. Engel was through, but Asmer was still right there with him. As they went into the next bend, Asmer came right back at Engel, getting alongside on the inside and coming out ahead. Now they were all over the rumble strips and using as much track as they could get. Into the last lap they were still very close, with Engel again trying to edge through in the Chicane. Asmer's response, to the German's acute annoyance, was to squeeze Engel onto the dirt. Engel had two choices - he could crash, or back off. He's a sensible individual so he backed off, but afterwards at the press conference he made it perfectly clear that Asmer's tactics had upset him.
Asmer was obviously relieved to win after a less than stellar first race, while Engel was unhappy at being robbed (as he saw it) of victory by unfair driving. Bird was happy with 3rd, especially as he'd started from 4 rows back, and Breen, Kennard, Hohenthal, Perez (winning the National Class), Devaney, Mansell and Cheng rounded out the top ten. Guerrieri finished up 11th, ahead of Invitation Class winner Matteo Chinosi (Ombra Racing), while John Martin (Alan Docking Racing) was 13th. Moraes finished 14th, ahead of Hamad Al Fardan (Performance Racing), Max Chilton (Arena International Motorsport), Michael Meadows (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Jelley, Garcia Samano and Sean Petterson (Fluid Motorsport). Glorioso was 21st, despite Mustonen, leading home Waters, the offending Mustonen, Leo Mansell (Fortec Motorsport), Alistair Jackson (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Albert Costa (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Valerio and Viktor Jensen (Alan Docking Racing).
Fastest laps were set by Valerio, Perez and Chinosi.
Next meeting: Brands Hatch, Kent, 14th/15th July 2007.