2007 British F3 International Series champion Marko Asmer (Hitech Motorsport) took yet another victory at Rockingham this morning, while behind him a largely processional race saw Sam Bird (Carlin Motorsport) clinch the Rookie of the Year title despite not actually finishing the race. The event also narrowed the battle for the runner-up slot down to two men, Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport) and Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing). In the somewhat depleted National Class, this year's champion Sergio Perez (T-Sport) won yet another trophy for his ever-increasing collection of silverware.
At the start, Asmer made a superb getaway while Mario Moraes (Carlin Motorsport) was swamped by just about everyone. Meanwhile, Jonathan Kennard (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) was off at Deene and had gone into the tyre wall. Elsewhere Bird was 4th, while John Martin (Alan Docking Racing) who has started 3rd was now 6th and dropping down the order. In the mayhem, Atte Mustonen (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) shot through to 2nd and Rodolfo Gonzalez (T-Sport) tried to go with the Finn, while Hamad Al Fardan (Performance Racing) was in the lead of the National Class, which made a change from the ubiquitous Perez.
The best start was probably that of Esteban Guerrieri (Ultimate Motorsport), however, the Argentinean starting 25th after a trip into the boonies on Saturday. Be that as it may, by the end of the first lap, he was ten places further up the order. He wasn't far off his team-mate Michael Devaney, who was embroiled in a battle for 11th place with Alberto Valerio (Carlin Motorsport). The trouble was that Valerio was also trying to attack Engel, which wasn't making life easy for the lanky Brazilian. A desperate lunge and he was through into 10th, while at the front Asmer was simply streaking away from Mustonen. In last place was newcomer Richard Singleton (Promatecme F3), the youngster a very, very long way back.
It didn't take very long before the National Class started to look as if it might all change. A determined effort from Perez saw the Mexican catch up with Al Fardan, and he was soon through and into the lead. There was little Al Fardan could do, and in fact a brief off course excursion dropped him to the back, behind even Singleton.
They were quite settled now, with Asmer leading by the proverbial country mile from Mustonen, Gonzalez, Bird, Moraes, Sebastian Hohenthal (Fortec Motorsport), Martin, Niall Breen (Carlin Motorsport), Jelley and Valerio. Engel was hanging on to his team-mate now, while Devaney and Greg Mansell (Fortec Motorsport) were fighting over 12th.
Needless to say it didn't take long for Asmer to set a series of fastest race laps, while behind him Mustonen must have been wondering how on earth the Estonian could disappear quite so fast and so far. At least he was having a quiet time. Gonzalez now had Bird all over him, while Hohenthal and Moraes disputed 5th, and Greg Mansell dropped a place to Devaney, only for Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing) to go through to. That pushed Mansell back to 15th.
He - and most of the others - would all gain a place when Bird limped to the pit entrance with a broken half shaft, his race over, the Englishman wondering what he could have done to deserve this sort of bad luck. Actually, it turns out he's using Christian Bakkerud's kit from last year, and obviously some of the Dane's appalling luck has remained behind. Exorcism before Macau may be the solution.
He wasn't the only one having a bad morning. After three separate spins, Singleton, who was going round very slowly, was shown the driving standards flag. The only thing to be said in his favour was that he wasn't dead last. That dubious honour went to Al Fardan, who was busy trying to recover some ground. Greg Mansell was also trying to recover, but he was stuck behind Grubmuller and Guerrieri, both of whom were giving Devaney a really tough time for 11th. However, the real interest lay in what Hohenthal was doing as he caught up with Gonzalez. He was gaining rapidly, and by lap 12 looked to be within shouting distance.
Al Fardan, meanwhile, pulled a neat move on the other newbie, Mihai Marinescu (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), passing the Romanian to claim 22nd by going up the inside at the Deene hairpin. A lap later Hohenthal was 0.4 seconds behind Gonzalez, when he was able to execute a very similar manoeuvre round the outside at Deene, apparently catching Gonzalez by surprise. Once it all calmed down, Greg Mansell was the next to provide something to look at when he pitted and the team adjusted the front and rear of the Dallara before sending him back out. He wasn't the only one in the pit lane either - Singleton also came in to report a problem with the power shift. Team owner Chris Weller reckoned he could manage without it and sent him back out to do just that.
In the mid field there was a little interest with Perez and Max Chilton (Arena International Motorsport) scrapping more than seemed reasonable considering they are running in different classes. If they weren't careful, they'd also end up with the leader to contend with, because with five laps left, the Estonian was now lapping the back markers. The backmarkers were also having an effect on the other front runners, with Mustonen being caught by Hohenthal as they tried to pick their way through the slower runners.
And then it got a bit weird. The countdown on the timing screen stopped, though we still had more laps to run of the advertised distance. However, as the flag wasn't readied it looked as if the organisers didn't intend to stop the race any time soon. Odd, but it's been that sort of year in many ways. Hohenthal went right on catching Mustonen, while Moraes was catching Gonzalez too, just as the pair of them came up behind Marinescu. However, it was too late for Moraes to do anything, it seemed. And that was indeed the case. Asmer won his 11th race of the year, with Mustonen a distant 2nd, harassed most of the way by the terrier-like Hohenthal, while Gonzalez held off Moraes for 4th. 6th was Breen, ahead of Martin, Valerio, Jelley and Engel. 11th was Grubmuller, leading home Devaney, Guerrieri, Perez (taking his 13th National Class victory of the year), Chilton, Alistair Jackson (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing), Leo Mansell (Fortec Motorsport), Salman Al Khalifa (T- Sport) and Al Fardan. 21st was Francesco Castellacci (Alan Docking), with the final three finishers, Marinescu, Greg Mansell and Singleton.
Fastest laps were set by Asmer and Perez.
Weather: Hot, clear, sunny.