With the weather looking very unpredictable, the 22-strong field lined up on the grid at the Mugello circuit in Tuscany. This track, best known perhaps as a Ferrari test facility, has 15 corners and is very, very technically challenging, as many...
With the weather looking very unpredictable, the 22-strong field lined up on the grid at the Mugello circuit in Tuscany. This track, best known perhaps as a Ferrari test facility, has 15 corners and is very, very technically challenging, as many drivers discovered in practice, and several more were about to find out. It didn't make anyone's lives any easier because the track had been sodden and was not developing a dry line, but not everywhere. Anyway, the first man in trouble was Juho Annala (Performance Racing), the Finn setting off on the green flag lap only to find that the steering on his Dallara was no longer doing its job properly. He thought about calling in to the pits, but decided "it was somewhere deep inside the car" so he would attempt to keep going. It was certainly going to be an interesting race from the Finn's point of view.
He wasn't the only one having an interesting time as the starting gantry lights went out. Pole man Oliver Jarvis (Carlin Motorsport) made a serious nonsense of his start, not helped by the apparent non-existence of the normal 5 second board. By the time he'd got away, Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport) and Mike Conway (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) were tangling. Engel found himself out of control and Conway had to try and avoid him. Jarvis got walloped by Engel, and Conway went across the gravel. Once the dust had cleared, Conway was still running but the other two were out of contention. Jarvis drove round to the pits with a puncture, while Engel got no further. All of which let Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport) into the lead, much to his own surprise! Given Chris's luck in the past, you'd have expected to find him upside down in a gravel trap or something, especially as they were four abreast into the first corner before it all went pear-shaped. As it was he was over five seconds ahead of second-placed man Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport) by the time they completed the first lap of this sixteen lap race. At Carlin Jarvis was blaming Engel, Engel was indignant, and no one was blaming Conway. The championship leader, perhaps not surprisingly, was initially inclined to see conspiracy in what was actually idiocy, but as it was Carlin cars coming at him from all sides, you could kind of see his point.
Further back, the initial mayhem was creating all kinds of reactions, and "everyone on the wet line collected everyone on the dry line" as Annala saw it in his own cynical way. In the National Class, Rodolfo Gonzalez (T- Sport) was way up the order in 7th, after a narrow escape when his team- mate Stuart Hall got pitched into a spin and Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing) was out as well. That first lap was more of a demolition derby than a professional motor race, frankly. Meanwhile, Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport) was busy having to take avoiding action, and ended up off the track. That meant he had to pit and by the time he was back on track the rest of the field was long gone. That left Rodolfo Avila (Performance Racing) to try and get on terms with Gonzalez, but then he managed to lose it and dropped way back. Alex Waters took over the pursuit, but he was too far back to catch the Venezuelan, and decided that discretion was probably the best policy. In only his 3rd F3 race he was not about to do anything silly.
All the bumping and barging had benefited Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) in particular, and he was now 3rd, and climbing all over Buurman for 2nd, while Alberto Valerio (Cesario F3) was up in 4th, the highest he's been all year. Meanwhile, Conway had recovered enough to be within sniffing distance of at least one point, although he can't have been pleased to find himself stuck behind James Walker (Hitech Racing), the two of them both bottled up behind Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport), the Japanese being a very difficult driver to pass.
While Bakkerud motored on, imagining all sorts of things going wrong with the car now he was finally leading an F3 race, it wasn't calming down much behind him. Gonzalez was comfortably in the lead of the National Class, with Waters being chased down by Annala, who was pressing on despite the lack of proper steering. Needless to say Annala's day was about to go wrong as well. Pushed onto the kerbs, the Finn could not steer his way back, ending up in a gravel trap with nowhere else to go. Since the marshals gave him a bottle of water, he wasn't too unhappy. Buurman, on the other hand, was having an unhappy time in his quest to hold onto 2nd place. He had Jelley and Valerio stuck to him like limpets, and could not shake them off. Eventually, heading out from the start/finish line, Jelley was able to get past, and Valerio took advantage of the Dutchman's confusion by squeezing through as well.
Further back, Walker made a super move to pass Bruno Senna (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), while the Brazilian struggled to find a way past Gonzalez, the National Class leader clearly outpacing Senna on this track. Conway was right there too, and a lap later they were both past Gonzalez, while Senna still couldn't find the answer. And all the while Bakkerud was steadily easing away from Jelley, despite anything Jelley could do in response. Admittedly, he was sitting in the car worrying about every stray noise or twitch, torturing himself with the suspicion that it was all going to be taken away from him before the finish and that he still wouldn't get his first ever F3 win.
Meanwhile, Conway was battling to try and secure the championship if he possibly could. To that effect he caught Walker and passed him easily, and then set off in pursuit of Salvador Duran (Hitech Racing), catching the Mexican hand over fist as the race moved into its second half.
At the front the gap came down briefly but Bakkerud just kept his foot down and began to pull away again, gaining around a second a lap in direct contrast to the seconds that Jelley had managed to claw back. The front runners were now quite separate, with Valerio running an untroubled 3rd. The one man who wasn't untroubled was Duran, because Conway was looming ever larger in his mirrors. There was a brief moment when it looked as if Duran might resist being passed, the two of them running side-by-side, but then Conway managed to make it stick and was through one corner later. And that was pretty much the end of the excitement. Walker was still behind Duran, and James Jakes (Hitech Racing), who was Conway's next target, was just that bit too far ahead, though Conway was right on him for 5th place by the time they were shown the chequered flag. Conway's recovery drive had been most impressive, though it wasn't enough to give him the title just yet. All eyes were on Bakkerud however, the popular Dane finally getting the win that has eluded him all year. Afterwards, he was almost beside himself with joy, admitting that the win had come as a tremendous relief. "It's like the biggest monkey in the world is now off my back," he said. Behind him Jelley was a delighted 2nd, and Valerio was grinning fit to split his face in half at his first British F3 podium, admitting that the series had been a lot more difficult to get to grips with than he or his team could have anticipated. Buurman was a somewhat distant 4th, ahead of Jakes, Conway, Duran and Walker.
9th overall was National Class winner Gonzalez, who was more than pleased at beating Senna ("He's going to go to F1 and I beat him in a National Class car!"). Senna rounded out the top 10, and Karl Reindler (Alan Docking Racing) finished 11th overall to take the last point. 12th was Ihara, from Waters and Invitation Class winner Mauro Massironi (Passoli Racing), who just edged out Fabrizio Crestani (Corbetta) in the other Invitation Class entry. Avila was 3rd in class and Morgado finished two laps adrift after his initial dramas.
The extra points for fastest lap went to Bakkerud (Championship Class) and in the National Class to Gonzalez.