2000 Green Flag British Formula Three Championship Round 6 -Brands Hatch, June 3rd/4th.
Report by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite
Marcel Romanio (Team Meritus) would not take part this weekend, the problem being a very badly overused engine and "My budget is too short!" He would sit this one out while the engine is being rebuilt and will return at Donington in four weeks time.
Also sitting this one out was Phillip Hopkins (Phillip Hopkins Motorsport). He was missing because his father, Reg, has been taken ill.
Weather: Hot, humid.
This was the first time (aside from testing) that many of this year's drivers have been confronted with the full Brands Hatch circuit, complete with the infamous Dingle Dell. This is a test of anyone's nerve and some would find it more trying than others. However, the session began quietly enough, with the currently on form Carlin team drivers, Ben Collins and Takuma Sato setting the early pace. Sato certainly seemed to be benefiting from the time he had spent on Thursday investigating the track at the wheel of a Formula Ford, even if Trevor Carlin quickly decided that he couldn't bear to watch! Needless to say, it wasn't long before they were joined at the front by Antonio Pizzonia (Manor Motorsport). The Brazilian had been languishing down in 21st for a while. Maybe he was just sandbagging; maybe he was getting over the shock of being back in an F3 after his time testing for Benetton. "It's very difficult to come back. It's worse to get back into an F3 after an F1 than the other way round!"
And then came the first interruption. Gianmaria Bruni (Fortec Motorsport) had gone off in a big way and was having to be rescued. The red flags came out and everyone then settled down to wait for the Italian to be brought back.
Just for good measure, at the restart Narain Karthikeyan (Stewart Racing) promptly went off in his now traditional practice session move, but was able to scrabble his way back on again. He was certainly in better shape than his teammate even so. Somehow, Tomas Scheckter seemed unable to get to grips with this tricky circuit to begin with and was stuck back in an unaccustomed 12th place for a very long time and by the end of the morning 7th was the best he could manage. He wasn't looking at all happy. Of course, it's not the first time that Stewart have had trouble with this circuit and it could prove to be an expensive problem when the points are added up at the end of the season.
Of course, if people would persist in going off, it was going to be difficult for anyone to get the hang of things. With Takuma Sato looking well set to take a front row place, he was suddenly missing, having thrown the car at Paddock Hill Bend and finished up deep in the gravel. He wasn't going to get out of there in a hurry, but at least the car was far enough up the hill to not pose a problem for the others. The session could continue uninterrupted. It said much for the time that Sato had managed to set that he was still 3rd when the session ended, only Pizzonia managing to find enough speed to depose him.
In 4th was Narain Karthikeyan, the Indian driver again almost losing it at Graham Hill Bend en route to that time. He didn't look at all happy. This, after all, is the man who was so dominant at this track last year (when he drove for Carlin) but he doesn't look like the same driver this season. By his own admission he is having "A nightmare season," and those who feared that he would prove to be temperamentally unsuited to the environment at Stewart may well be being proved right. Unfortunately, if your sponsor wants you to drive for Stewart it is difficult to argue with them. Still, 4th on the grid was at least an improvement.
A refugee from last year's Stewart team was occupying the 5th slot. Andrew Kirkaldy (Avanti) is now driving a car that seems to have faded in the sun. For the first two outings his new Dallara had been black, but that was simply because the team had not had the time to get it painted. Now it's a rather fetching shade of blue although it makes it difficult to distinguish between this and the ADR cars. Back on the pace again too was Michael Bentwood (Fortec Motorsport). The Englishman was no longer suffering from the vibration that had plagued his Dallara at Silverstone; the problem had been traced to a damaged brake pipe, and at least the car was now handling more to his liking. He was 6th at the end of the morning.
In 8th, and also looking fairly unhappy with the state of affairs, was Andy Priaulx. He and Matt Davies seem to spend more than their fair share of their time grappling with what are quite obviously seriously under performing power units. Both of them are better drivers than 8th and 10th places suggest, but this seems to be a perennial problem at the Renault team. Maybe it's down to French management style. Maybe it's something else. Who knows? But they need to solve it soon, or they will never lift this title.
In between the two Promatecme cars was Nicholas Kiesa (RC Motorsport). The Dane was struggling a little round this circuit and the Opel engine, like the Renault, is probably not what you want on this track. He was separated from his teammate, Milos Pavlovic, by Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing), Westley Barber (Alan Docking Racing) and Gianmaria Bruni. O'Connell was still struggling to find his form this year, whereas Bruni had simply run out of time after his earlier off. Barber, on the other hand, was just as unhappy with his car as he had been the race before. The team need to settle down to some serious investigations. At least now they will have time with 4 weeks before the next race.
Provisional Scholarship Class pole went to Gary Paffett (Fred Goddard Racing), as if you couldn't guess. This keeps his clean sweep of the category intact. The fact that he was nearly a second and a half faster than the next man in the class says much for his ability and goes a very long way towards justifying his selection as Autosport Young Driver of the Year at the end of last season. He too would finish the session ahead of Pavlovic. In 16th was Juan Manuel Lopez (Manor Motorsport). While his teammate was provisionally on pole, Lopez was having a bit of trouble with this circuit, finding it rather more daunting than he had expected. It can't be easy having to partner Pizzonia either and it is to be hoped that his confidence doesn't suffer too badly as a result. In 17th, pretty much as usual, was Warren Carway (Rowan Racing), with the other Alan Docking Racing driver, Tor Sriachavanon beside him.
In 19th, despite going off and unfortunately destroying one of the only really good set of tyres he possessed, was Craig Fleming. The ME Motorsport driver was second in class, just ahead of Christian Colombo (Rowan Racing), while in 21st was Atsushi Katsumata (Team Meritus), who probably wasn't helped by falling off at Westfield close to the end of the session. There was a definite Zen garden feel to some of the Brands Hatch gravel traps on Saturday morning with both Japanese drivers sitting out a part of the session.
The final two places went to Ryan Walker (Diamond Racing) and his teammate Mark Mayall. There's a lot to be said for sticking together when neither of you know where you're going!
And then, just as the flag was about to come out and confirm Pizzonia in pole, Collins put in a blinder of a lap to demote the Brazilian. It was one hell of a lap and he admitted it hadn't been easy. But he knew Pizzonia was flying and he decide that he's better at least try for a faster time. For some time afterwards he just couldn't stop smiling!
Weather: Warm, cloudy. Spots of rain.
Rain started just as the session started although it didn't amount to much in the end. However, it seemed to lead to a bit of a do or die mentality on the part of a number of drivers. Among them was Takuma Sato who got into trouble at Dingle Dell this time. He got his wheels into the dirt and was never able to get back again, burying it deep in the gravel. This time the position of the car warranted a red flag and a long stop while he was dragged from the gravel bed and returned to his garage, no doubt there to try and explain himself to his engineer. It didn't help that this looked like being a faster session as the cloudy sky lead to a cooler track and an ambient temperature that was altogether more to the liking of an F3 engine. In addition, the session start had been seriously delayed by earlier incidents. At this rate, we were going to need headlights fitting. Perhaps that explained what happened next. The next man to really mess up Dingle Dell was Juan Manuel Lopez (Manor Motorsport). He got two wheels in the dirt and experienced a wildly scary moment as he kept his foot in and hoped he was going to get away with it. He did. Then Craig Fleming (ME Motorsport) dropped it. Although they didn't stop the session perhaps they should have done. The result was that there were waved yellows at that part of the circuit for most of the rest of the session. This should have caused the times of the other drivers to drop slightly but they didn't, at least not for everyone.
Someone who was decidedly less than happy about what he saw as disgraceful driving standards was Michael Bentwood (Fortec Motorsport). As one of the few drivers to have behaved at all well during the prolonged presence of waved yellows, Michael was furious at what he saw as the total irresponsibility of some of the others. Quite rightly too. As the only driver who actually clearly acknowledged the flag signals with a raised arm and slowed down he was probably better placed to have an opinion on this than the others. The Clerk of the Course certainly agreed with his reading of the situation. At the end of the day two drivers had had all their second session times disallowed, and four more of them had been officially reprimanded. That one of those with his times disallowed was Tomas Scheckter at least made things a lot simpler for Pizzonia. And as if all that wasn't enough, just to compound his misery, Tomas went off in a big way at Clark Curve just before the flag.
While the front row remained unchanged, the result of all of this was that Narain Karthikeyan was able to move up to 3rd, displacing Sato to 4th. Scheckter, who should have been up there too, was dropped back to 9th, which didn't make him at all happy, but as with Pizzonia at Silverstone, he really should have known better. Milos Pavlovic was another second session improver, getting up to 6th and pushing Michael Bentwood down to 7th. Matthew Davies lost a place to Martin O'Connell, while Westley Barber and Gianmaria Bruni also changed places and Gary Paffett lost out and ended up down in 15th overall, though still in Scholarship Class pole. He wasn't helped by the fact that he was summoned to the Clerk of the Course for speeding in the pit lane and had all his second session times set before the offence disallowed. Ryan Walker moved up dramatically too, while his team mate, Mark Mayall, ended up at the back of the grid having had his times disallowed for ignoring the yellow flags.
Four other drivers were officially reprimanded for not slowing down under yellow flags, but their times were allowed to stand. They were Matt Davies, Nicolas Kiesa, Martin O'Connell and Andrew Kirkaldy.