Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas, F3 Correspondents
Valtteri Bottas crosses the finishes line more than 14 seconds ahead of rivals
Race Report – Round 26 (Race 2):
At Donington Park this morning on a damp slippery track Valtteri Bottas (Double R Racing) reminded everyone of his undoubted ability in an F3 car by blasting into the lead from 3rd and powering away from a squabbling pack to win the sprint race by a stunning 14 and a half seconds, aided by the ferocious infighting going on behind him which eventually saw pole sitter William Buller (Fortec Motorsport) finish 2nd by a cat’s whisker from Menasheh Idafar (T-Sport), the Bahraini charging through the field from 11th to a well-deserved podium. There was no Rookie Class winner after the only runner, Kotaro Sakurai (Hitech Racing), got caught up in an early incident and had to retire from the race.
At the start, with clouds lurking over Leicestershire, and a shower having just soaked the track, there was much uncertainty in the pits as to which tyres to run with. The race was declared wet but the track was drying. However, with only 20 minutes of race to play with it would be a brave driver – or one with nothing to lose – who would start on slicks. That man was Felipe Nasr (Carlin), the Brazilian starting from the back after a clash in yesterday’s race with team-mate Kevin Magnussen. It remained to be seen how sensible that decision would be. Interestingly after the formation lap Magnussen dived straight into the pit lane to also change to slicks, presumably convinced that the track would dry fast enough for him to capitalise on the choice.
At the start, Bottas rocketed off the line, threading the needle between Buller and Harry Tincknell (Fortec Motorsport) to claim the lead before they even got close to Redgate. Nasr was also on the move, taking off from the back like a rocket but to little avail as it turned out. Ahead of him Bart Hylkema (T-Sport) was propelled into the gravel at Redgate, and the lack of grip meant the Brazilian slipped back to the penultimate slot as he and Magnussen tried to keep pace with the more suitably shod cars ahead. In the melee Idafar (despite a slightly embarrassing spin on the warm up lap) had got the bit firmly between his teeth and was setting about Carlos Huertas (Carlin) for 6th place. He was aided in this by Jack Harvey (Carlin) who seemed to be going backwards at this point. It didn’t take long to dispose of Huertas and he was soon chasing down Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin) for 5th, showing that yesterday’s pace was no fluke.
At the front, Buller couldn’t stay with Bottas no matter how hard he tried and the Finn was becoming a disappearing dot in the distance in no time at all. Buller couldn’t really do much about it either, because he had Scott Pye (Double R Racing) breathing down his neck, and needed to focus on defending his second place slot if he wanted to keep it for the full race distance. Behind the two of the Tincknell was holding station and watching closely while Idafar tried to find a way past Jaafar. Max Snegirev (Fortec Motorsport) who had started from 9th, had plummeted out if the top ten to no one’s great surprise, which left Harvey coming under pressure from Pietro Fantin (Hitech Racing) for 8th, while Adderly Fong (Sino Vision Racing) was a slightly unlikely 10th after arriving late at the start as he’d pitted for changes during the two lap warm up.
While Bottas rattled off fastest lap after fastest lap, the chasing battle intensified to something like Defcon 1. Idafar was now 5th and revelling in the conditions as he chased down Tincknell for 4th. With Fong now being challenged by Pipo Derani (Double R Racing) for 10th, Idafar was also upping the pace and was now the second fastest driver on the track, only Bottas able to go quicker at this point. Certainly the two slick-shod runners at the back were significantly slower, although they had little trouble powering past Sakurai to move back into something approaching contention. The problem seemed to be that a twenty minute race was going to be too short for them to come up to speed and start gaining ground. Shortly afterwards Sakurai pulled into the pits to retire with suspension damage.
Six laps in and Bottas was getting on for 5 seconds clear of the pack. A long way behind him Pye was now catching Buller hand over fist for 2nd and only needed a mistake from the 2nd placed man to be through. Fantin, meanwhile, had dealt with Fong and was now scrapping with Derani for 9th. Others making progress included Lucas Foresti (Fortec Motorsport) who was up to 12th despite Rupert Svendsen-Cook’s (Carlin) best efforts and Fong had dropped out of the points chase and was 14th. Idafar was absolutely flying as he chased down Tincknell, and Pye took a good look at Buller as they went into the Hairpin but couldn’t quite get close enough to make it stick. He immediately had another go, edging alongside Buller and getting ahead but in the process causing both of them to run wide. Tincknell saw his opportunity then and nipped through, dropping Pye to 3rd and Buller to 4th. Buller wasn’t finished yet though and was able to reclaim 3rd and then 2nd into Redgate, towing Tincknell with him. Pye almost lost another place to Idafar as they all scrabbled for positions.
Bottas continued ahead blissfully unaware of all the bumping, barging, elbowing and possibly eye-gouging going on behind him. A lap later Tincknell went deep into the hairpin and Pye took another look only to get the door slammed in his face.
On lap 9 it all happened. Magnussen fell off at Goddards, although the tyres seemed to have finally come into their own, certainly if Nasr now setting the fastest first sector of the race was any indicator anyway. He dragged himself back on, while further up the order Fantin and Derani got into a tangle which ended with Derani in the gravel at Goddards and Fantin falling back to 14th letting Foresti into the top 10. At the same time Tincknell and Pye had come to grief, Pye ending up out of the race at McLeans (though he managed to limp back to the pits eventually) while Tincknell continued in 5th after Idafar and Jaafar both nipped through while he recovered.
After the reshuffle then, Bottas still led by an ever increasing margin, while Buller now had Idafar looming large in his mirror, with Jaafar, Tincknell, Huertas, Harvey, Foresti, Svendsen-Cook, and Fong rounding out the top 10. Towards the back though, something was stirring. Nasr was now running faster than anyone else on the track by a large margin, and although he was 14th with only a couple of laps left, he was flying in his pursuit of points. Sure enough, he set about overtaking Fantin, Hywel Lloyd (Sino Vision Racing), Fong, and Yann Cunha (T-Sport) to end the race in 10th, with a point for that and two for the fastest lap. If the race had only been 5 or 10 minutes longer he might well have moved further up. Harvey also lost out in the closing laps with both Foresti and Svendsen-Cook fighting their way past him in the closing stages.
Up at the front it wasn’t over either. As they started the penultimate lap Idafar was all over Buller for 2nd and as they crossed the line on the final lap he made one more attempt to claim the runner-up slot. Buller resisted for all he was worth and as they finished the race Idafar was 0.182 seconds off Buller. It had been quite a drive from both of them and the T-Sport guys (after a desperately disappointing season) had every reason to smile for once. Behind the two of them, Jaafar got the drop on Tincknell for 4th while Huertas was 6th ahead of Foresti, Svendsen-Cook, Harvey and Nasr. 11th was Cunha, from Fong, Lloyd, Fantin, Snegirev, Magnussen and Fahmi Ilyas (Fortec Motorsport).
Fastest race laps went to Nasr and Sakurai.
Weather: Cold, damp, cloudy.