Weather: Wet but drying out during the race.
After rain had fallen steadily during the Formula Ford race, the F3 boys were given two laps to go out and investigate the track conditions. In theory this was supposed to help them decide what tyres to put on for the race. In practice it just seemed to throw everyone into more confusion than before, maybe because they were all remembering the bizarre second race at Silverstone, when Marcus Marshall (Fortec Motorsport) ended up as the surprise race winner because he made the right call to go one slick tyres when almost everyone else was on wet weather tyres. While most people were pondering this quandary, Will Power (Alan Docking Racing) was worrying about disintegrating bodywork; the engine cover came lose from his Dallara, and didn't exactly do his rear wing a power of good. He wobbled round to the grid, where it was fixed back, but it must have been a slightly unnerving experience nonetheless. Meanwhile no one else seemed able to decide what to do; it looked to the casual observer as if slicks would be the way to go, but as it turned out that might not have been the wisest choice. Certainly Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) didn't think much of slicks and had opted for wets, as did Danilo Dirani (Carlin Motorsport), James Walker (Hitech Racing), Lars Sexton (Planet Racing) and possibly Lucas di Grassi (Hitech Racing). Everyone else put slicks on, probably because they all remembered what happened at Silverstone when they didn't.
And so, they all set off on the formation lap. James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport) seemed to be more than a bit aggressive at this point, and nearly ran up the gearbox of pole sitter Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports). His attack made the Brazilian youngster go round to take his place on the grid much faster perhaps than he would have done under normal circumstances. With the championship up for grabs, Piquet didn't want to take any unnecessary chances, but he also didn't like Rossiter treating him like that. Behind the two of them, Clivio Piccione (Carlin Motorsport) was taking his own sweet time leading the rest of the field round to the grid, but eventually they all made it, lining up in good order. The lights on the starting gantry came on, and then went out and the race was on. Piquet made a good start, but Rossiter, starting from what has always been the better position at Brands Hatch, made a better one to snatch the lead from the Brazilian. Piccione went after them, but had to slot into 3rd, while Danny Watts (Promatecme F3) was in 4th and looking determined. As they all streamed out of Graham Hill Bend for the first time, it got very messy in the middle of the field. Austin skittered off onto the grass, while Power went off in avoidance, and a number of others, including James Walker (Hitech Racing) and his teammate Lucas di Grassi both tripped over the pair of them. Power was out on the spot, while Austin was able to scrabble back on and into the race, though he was dead last after his little excursion. This was going to be interesting, especially if it turned out he had made the right tyre choice. Meanwhile di Grassi limped into retirement at the end of the next lap.
At the front, Rossiter and Piquet were already breaking away from the pack, and despite everything Piccione could do, it didn't look as if he'd be catching them anytime soon. Meanwhile, an infuriated Austin was positively seething as he carved his way past the rear end runners. It was beginning to look like he would end in the points or in the gravel, and you had the feeling he didn't care which. A lap later, it looked as if Piccione would be the next to retire, when he too slid off at Graham Hill Bend. It was proving to be quite a dangerous place. Like Austin, Piccione was able to scramble back onto the track, and just as Austin had been, he was now last. And also just like Austin he wasn't best pleased with the result. While Piccione was pulling himself together, the next to fall victim to the conditions was Ronayne O'Mahony (Performance Racing), the Irish youngster missing a gear at Paddock Hill Bend. Before he could react, the car had gone straight on and he was deep in the gravel and out of the race. About the only word he would utter afterwards was "disastrous!" Just for good measure, Scholarship Class leader Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) made a mistake, which was enough to let Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing) through into the lead.
Rossiter and Piquet were still leading, but Piccione's abrupt removal had left Watts in third place, a place he had to vigorously defend from Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing). Behind them, Fairuz Fauzy (P1 Motorsport) was preventing his teammate, Adam Carroll, from getting on terms with anyone else and thus spoiling his chances of trying to prevent Piquet from claiming the title. Carroll wasn't being aided at all by Dirani, whose wet weather tyres were now proving to have been the correct choice, and the Brazilian was all over the Belfast lad as they came up to Druids. And as if that wasn't enough, Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport) was in there as well, with Walker beginning to show signs of joining in. It was getting a bit unseemly now, with Dirani squeezing alongside Carroll as soon as he got a sniff of an opening. And then he was through, and onto Fauzy's gearbox. Austin, meanwhile, was still progressing in his quest to regain lost ground, and was now past Ivor McCullough (Menu Motorsport) and onto the tail of Lewis and Jelley. Piccione was picking his way through the Scholarship Class runners too, and had already dispatched Vasilije Calasan (Promatecme F3) and now had his eye on Sexton.
A lap later and Dirani was past Fauzy, the Malaysian again suffering the attentions of Carroll who really, really wanted to get past. The only thing was, he had to hold off Walker as well, which didn't make it easy. Parente, on the other hand, didn't seem to be a threat any longer and was having a series of very wobbly moments as the dry line failed to develop as fast as might have been expected. In theory, it shouldn't have been possible to run especially fast on slicks. It just seemed that no one had told the two at the front - who were still close together but a very long way from everyone else - or for that matter Piccione, who was running almost as fast as the wet-shod Austin. It's amazing what adrenaline will make you do.
Proof that slicks were not the way to go after all, came when Walker barged his way past Carroll, and a lap later got the drop on Fauzy. Dirani, meanwhile, was giving Asmer a very difficult time, and the fact that he couldn't find a way past says a lot for the way the Estonian has developed as a driver this year. When Walker joined Dirani it started to get more than a bit alarming. And with all this excitement at the front, it was almost possible to overlook the fact that Austin was now past both Lewis and Jelley and was still going faster than anyone else out there. And just for good measure, Jelley and Lewis, who were trying to settle down to their own battle, having got rid of Austin, now found they had Piccione attempting to muscle his way past. Some days you just can't win.
The P1 internecine strife settled itself when Fauzy went straight on at Paddock Hill Bend, thus allowing Carroll free rein. It did him no good though, as he couldn't catch the charging pair of Dirani and Walker, and so couldn't prevent what looked likely to be the decisive race in the championship chase giving the title to Piquet. Dirani was still charging too, and was now determined to get Asmer, whatever it took. He had a go at around the one-third mark, but had to back off, and then a lap later he saw an opportunity. As they came into Paddock he got alongside the Estonian, but had to back off because of the yellow flags that resulted from Fauzy's off. However, he was now close enough, and as they went up towards Druids, he was able to edge up the inside of t he Hitech driver. And that was it; he was through and gone.
By the time we'd reached the halfway point, Piquet was still trailing Rossiter, while Watts had his mirrors full of Dirani, while Asmer was now holding off Walker. Carroll had lost out to the recovering Austin, who was the man of the race without a doubt. Parente was hanging on, but didn't look at all comfortable, and behind him Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing) was running a very quite race (apart from having seen Austin appear out of nowhere and scythe past him a few moments previously). Jelley was holding his class lead from Lewis, while Piccione tried to find a way past the battling pair, while McCullough was also alone, ahead of Sexton who was running 3rd in class, and Calasan who had already been lapped.
Things settled down for the second half of the race, though Austin was now harassing Walker, while Dirani was making regular attacks on Watts. Austin had to back off for a while as the track finally started to dry out properly, which allowed Walker to return to his attack on Asmer. Asmer was still having none of it however, regardless of tyre choices. There was simply no way his teammate was coming through. In the end it was Austin that got Walker when the came up to lap Calasan; that it had started trying to rain again probably helped Austin no end as the race laps counted down. At the same time Dirani was trying to get round the outside of Watts, but Watts is too wily for that to work, and eventually Dirani ran out of ideas. And with a less than a lap to go, Jelley threw away his class win; making a mistake at Graham Hill Bend - a favourite this time out it seemed - by the time he'd sorted himself out, Lewis was through and into the lead yet again. Jelley was annoyed with himself afterwards, unable to believe he'd just gifted a win to his archrival. It would have made no difference to Jelley's 2nd place in the championship, but all the difference to his pride.
And so, the title fight was decided. Piquet's second place in the race was more than enough to wrap up the title. Rossiter may have won the race, but the man waving frantically to all and sundry as he celebrated was Piquet. Watts held third from Dirani, while Asmer spent the last couple of laps frustrating Austin (who set the fastest lap of the race by a healthy margin). Austin was 6th, with Walker 7th, just ahead of Parente, Carroll and Thompson. Piccione finished just outside the points in 11th (and was the fastest of the slick-shod runners by a large margin), while in 12th overall and winner of the Scholarship Class was Lewis. He was just ahead of Jelley, who was more than a little frustrated, while McCullough came home in front of Sexton and Calasan, who were both lapped.
Finally we had a Champion - and about time too!
By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite