At Portimao this morning Daniel Ricciardo (Carlin Motorsport) moved to with a hand's grasp of the title with an unexpected class win over Renger van der Zande (Hitech Racing) with Carlos Huertas (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) 3rd. The overall race...
At Portimao this morning Daniel Ricciardo (Carlin Motorsport) moved to with a hand's grasp of the title with an unexpected class win over Renger van der Zande (Hitech Racing) with Carlos Huertas (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) 3rd. The overall race victory went to the Invitation Class man, Jules Bianchi (ART Grand Prix) from his team-mate Esteban Gutierrez. The National Class win went to Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport) who also has one hand on the champion's trophy now, needing a single point from this afternoon's race to clinch the title. 2nd in class was F3 newcomer Joe Ghanem (Carlin Motorsport), ahead of the only serious challenger to McKenzie, Gabriel Dias (T-Sport).
We would be starting the full field of 30 cars despite Victor Correa (Litespeed F3) having missed qualifying because of a driveshaft failure, and his team-mate Adil "Satrio" Hermanto would also take part after ART Grand Prix sportingly made six of their team available to help rebuild the gearbox on Hermanto's car last night. In a very sporting gesture, the guys stayed at their post till almost midnight, leaving Litespeed with only a couple of hours work still to do after that to make the car race worthy.
At the start there was a certain amount of chaos when the lights didn't work as expected, and the result was that van der Zande made what was a poor start for him. It wasn't as poor as Chilton's mind, as he plummeted from the front row to 8th in the course of the first lap. All of that insanity let Bianchi into the lead, while Ricciardo - driving a conservative race knowing that points matter to him at this stage - was 4th overall and 2nd in class. Meanwhile, at the Hairpin, Max Snegirev (Team West-Tec) slithered over the gravel and lost any ground he'd made up, while his team-mate Mathieu Maurage was punted out of the race there and then. The National Class was being led by McKenzie, who had got the drop on Dias in the melee of the first corner and was hanging onto it for all he was worth. His team-mate, the supposedly faster Invitation Class driver Victor Garcia, meanwhile, was in last place until Roberto Merhi (Manor Motorsport) suffered an engine failure and dropped right back before retiring in the pits a lap later.
At the front van der Zande came back at Bianchi and made short work of him, while Chilton started trying to make amends for yet another abysmal start, and did so by immediately overtaking Huertas, while Grubmuller was losing ground to Adrien Tambay (ART Grand Prix) of all people. However, that was the end of any progress anyone looked likely to make for a while. Valtteri Bottas (ART Grand Prix) was missing, and he hadn't gone alone. Having made a mistake, the Finn spun and ended up in the middle of the track. Sam Bird (Fortec Motorsport) arrived and found he had nowhere to go. He piled into the ART car, and then Daisuke Nakajima (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) cannoned into him. With three wrecked cars out on the track there was no alternative but to scramble the Safety Car.
The order at this point was van der Zande, from Bianchi, Ricciardo, Gutierrez, Huertas, Chilton, Riki Christodoulou (Fortec Motorsport), Tambay, Wayne Boyd (T-Sport) and Pedro Enrique (Manor Motorsport). 11th was Henry Arundel (Carlin Motorsport), leading Adriano Buzaid (T-Sport), McKenzie, Dias, Philip Major (Carlin Motorsport), Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing), Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3/Bridger Motorsport), Correa, Ghanem and Kevin Chen (Raikkonen Robertson Racing). In 21st was Snegirev, from Hermanto and Grubmuller while Victor Garcia (Fortec Motorsport) and Stephane Richelmi (Barazi Epsilon) were two laps down, the latter having stalled at the start when Bridger didn't move off as expected. And that should have been how they remained except that one or two individuals seemed to have left their brains at the hotel instead of bringing them to the track.
Buzaid was the initial guilty party, running straight up the rear of Arundel and effectively ending both their races. Arundel was out on the spot while Buzaid tracked around for a few more laps until the handling became too badly compromised. At the restart it was Dias' turn to display stupidity, the Brazilian passing McKenzie well before the start/finish line, and thus laying himself open for a penalty or even disqualification. At the front, things were much more controlled, though Gutierrez got the drop on Ricciardo and Chilton and Huertas were fighting over 5th, Chilton also having to try and hold off 7th-placed man Christodoulou, which was hampering his efforts somewhat, especially when Christodoulou came past him. Meanwhile Bridger hacked past McKenzie and then made short work of Dias as well.
A lap later and Boyd was out, having had the door slammed in his face by an apparently oblivious Tambay. That damaged the suspension, and a corner later Tambay barged across Boyd again, taking the corner off completely. While the Frenchman continued apparently unscathed, Boyd was forced into retirement. Strike two for T-Sport. At the front van der Zande started to press ahead again, setting a new fastest lap, unhampered by the need to assist his team-mate yet again - after all Grubmuller was way back and even though he'd recovered to climb to 16th overall his championship chances were rapidly evaporating.
Things were now settling down, though Chilton managed to get back ahead of Christodoulou and then bottle everyone else up behind him. Meanwhile, McKenzie was right on Dias' tail, and was trying everything to get past to reclaim the Class lead that was rightfully his. Dias was resisting with everything he had, even forcing McKenzie onto the track at times, thus adding to his already quite serious offence behind the Safety Car and not earning any friendship from McKenzie either. A desperate lunge at the hairpin didn't succeed either, and McKenzie settled in to play a waiting game.
Elsewhere Lloyd was running uncommonly well and passed Major to claim 10th overall, while Hermanto went missing on lap 8 - scant reward for the effort put in to get him out there in this race, but perhaps not too surprising. McKenzie had to drop a place in the overall standing when Grubmuller came through for 14th and behind him Ghanem was now 3rd in the National Class and snapping at his heels after passing Correa. McKenzie continued to wait, though Dias was having to work very hard to hold off both him and Ghanem, especially on the slower parts of the track. He got a bit of a breather when the pursuing pair both had to let Garcia through as the Spaniard attempted to unlap himself. However, what happened next was entirely to McKenzie's benefit. Garcia caught Dias easily and attempted to go past and the Brazilian presumably thought it was McKenzie (the two cars do look very similar). He fought back and when it all went wrong, McKenzie was through and into the lead, towing Ghanem with him.
Further up, Lloyd had gained another place, this time at the expense of Enrique, though it didn't take Enrique long to get the place back. At the very front, meanwhile, van der Zande was absorbing an enormous amount of pressure from Bianchi and Gutierrez, the two of them running in very close formation right behind the Dutchman. All of that left Ricciardo as an interested observer, ready to pounce if the opportunity arose, but not about to take a stupid risk at this stage in his title chase.
As the race drew to a close, Gutierrez set a new fastest lap, while Grubmuller hauled past Bridger in what could only be regarded as a damage limitation exercise now. And just to compound Hitech's misery, with a lap still to run, van der Zande was in trouble. The leader had picked up a rear puncture that meant his rear tyre was now almost completely flat and he could no longer hold off Bianchi or Gutierrez. That dropped him to 3rd and on the very last lap Ricciardo got a run on him as they approached the line for the last time, beating him to the finish by 0.08 seconds to claim 20 points for the class victory.
So Bianchi won the Invitation Class and the race overall, from Gutierrez, International Class winner Ricciardo, a very angry van der Zande, Huertas, Chilton, Tambay, Enrique and Lloyd. 11th was Major, heading home Grubmuller, Bridger, National Class victor McKenzie, Ghanem, Chen, Dias, Correa, Snegirev and Garcia (2 laps down). 21st - and also 2 laps down - was Richelmi.
With three races left, Ricciardo needs just 7 points to wrap up the International Class title and starts this afternoon's race from the front row. McKenzie is also close to finishing with his challenge, and may in fact already be champion if Dias is penalised for overtaking during the Safety Car period. If no penalty is applied to Dias, McKenzie needs just two points to claim the National Class trophy.
Fastest laps of the race went to van der Zande, Gutierrez and McKenzie.
Weather: Warm, sunny.