In beautiful summer weather the 7th race of the British F3 International series got underway without Sean Petterson (Fluid Motorsport) who was in the pit lane instead of on the grid and who was clearly the victim of some sort...
In beautiful summer weather the 7th race of the British F3 International series got underway without Sean Petterson (Fluid Motorsport) who was in the pit lane instead of on the grid and who was clearly the victim of some sort of mechanical trouble, apparently related to the fuel pump.
Of the remaining 30 competitors, the one all eyes were drawn to at the start was Sam Bird (Carlin Motorsport), the rookie taking off from the line like a rocket. He went from 5th to 2nd in one impressive move. He couldn't quite snatch the lead, because that was now in the hands of Niall Breen (Carlin Motorsport), who got the jump on poleman Atte Mustonen (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), when the latter bogged down badly at the start when his clutch started to act up. To complete the Carlin lockout, Alberto Valerio was 3rd by the time they reached the first corner. Mustonen, meanwhile, was plummeting down the order like a stone and was dead last by the time the field had all got away. In the middle of the field another of the Alan Docking Racing cars was off at Riches; this time it was Francesco Castellacci who was in the scenery, while Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing) and Leo Mansell (Fortec Motorsport) got involved in some sort of incident that dropped both of them back down the order.
In the National Class the lead was firmly in the grip of Sergio Perez (T-Sport), his nearest rival, Alastair Jackson (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), being a lot further down the overall order. Just behind him, the two Bahraini drivers, Salman Al Khalifa (Promatecme F3) and Hamad Al Fardan (Performance Racing) were scrapping over 3rd in the class, Al Khalifa having the upper hand at the moment.
Series leader Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) was up to 4th, but the Carlin 1-2-3 in front of him looked very solid at this point, with Valerio setting the first fastest lap of the race. Even with the yellows still out at Riches, a lap later he did it again. Someone else having trouble with Riches was Rodolfo Gonzalez (T-Sport), who ran wide letting Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) through to claim 7th.
At the front, the Carlin trio were pressing on, with Bird getting a fastest lap only to lose it to Asmer, who was starting to push very hard indeed. That seemed to spur Valerio on, and he promptly speeded up, setting another fastest lap. The threat of the Estonian evaporated a lap later, however, as he limped into the pits with a left rear puncture, picked up somewhere out in the boonies. With the top three glued together, that promoted Jonathan Kennard (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) to 4th, with his team mate, Jelley now 5th. It also let Michael Devaney (Ultimate Motorsport) in the Mygale up into the top 10.
Meanwhile, Mustonen was making painfully slow progress and was up to 27th after several laps stuck behind Alex Waters (Promatecme F3), who wasn't exactly going very fast. Someone else not going very fast was John Martin (Alan Docking Racing) who was off at Riches for the second time in the weekend. With Castellacci already in the wheatfield, the lads at ADR were threatening to park the truck out there instead of leaving it in the paddock! There was also a certain amount of muttering about "doc" circles rather than crop circles in Norfolk.
With yellows being waved furiously now, that was one place where overtaking could not be attempted. It was no help to Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport) who was looking very interested in finding a way past Gonzalez for 6th. The trouble was Rodolfo wasn't about to help him if he could avoid it. Just to add to the situation, Sebastian Hohenthal (Fortec Motorsport) was also on the tail of the pair, and he was towing Greg Mansell (Fortec Motorsport) with him. That all left the way clear for Jelley to set off after Kennard, because Gonzalez now had his hands full keeping everyone back. It also allowed Jelley to set a new fastest race lap, the first man to break into the 1:01s.
At the front, Breen was still holding off Bird, who was busy keeping Valerio at bay. The team refrained from telling the three of them anything, though no doubt they were all aware that whatever else they did, they must not hit their team-mates. Perhaps inevitably, Jelley finally found a way past Kennard, who promptly started to slip back into the clutches of Gonzalez, while Jelley set off in pursuit of Valerio, and a podium position.
In the National Class things were looking slightly fraught too, particularly as Grubmuller (in a Championship Class car) was now between Al Khalifa and Al Fardan, thus messing up their battle. Clearly he was recovering from whatever happened and was now trying to extract himself from the middle of the National Class battle.
At the front the elastic holding the Carlin trio together had stretched a bit again, and Bird had broken away from Valerio again, the Brazilian now seeing Jelley looming large in his mirrors. Meanwhile Gonzalez had got ahead of Kennard, who seemed to be running out of rubber or something, judging by the way he was unable to hold off the Venezuelan. There was a distinct possibility that Engel might be able to get by as well, and the German started trying to pile on the pressure again, especially as Hohenthal and Greg Mansell seemed to be about to try and join in. At the same time, Perez passed Esteban Guerrieri (Ultimate Motorsport). He didn't need to, but Guerrieri was having so much trouble that the Mexican had little option but to pass the Championship Class man.
Having Jelley close on him seemed to wake Valerio up again - perhaps he was afraid that Jelley might be looking to get his own back after Bucharest, perhaps he just felt he needed to push on after Bird again. Whatever, he suddenly started to try and pull away again, and all Jelley could do was follow him as closely as possible. It didn't help that the leaders were getting very close to lapping the back of the field, which included Mustonen.
As the Carlin formation team bore down on them, the National Class underwent a bit of a reshuffle anyway. Grubmuller passed Jackson, and Al Fardan, who had passed Al Khalifa, managed to go with him, taking Jackson by surprise. Someone else taken by surprise was Viktor Jensen (Alan Docking Racing), the sole surviving ADR team member getting seriously out of shape at Russell and going so far off that it looked as if his race would end right there. By some miracle he didn't hit anything and eventually got back on course, having lost quite a lot of ground. That let "Frankie" Cheng (Performance Racing) up into 4th, which would salvage something for the National Class series leader, though it wouldn't be enough to stop Perez taking that position from him.
In the mid-field there was still some action going on, with Mario Moraes (Carlin Motorsport) gaining a place from Guerrieri, while Grubmuller hacked his way past Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing).
And so the race came to an end with the Carlin team almost delirious with joy at their first 1-2-3 since Monza in 2005. Jelley was 4th, ahead of Gonzalez, Kennard, Engel, Hohenthal, Greg Mansell and Devaney. Max Chilton (Arena International Motorsport) was 11th, his best finish so far and impressive for a youngster in only his 5th single seater race, heading up Moraes, National Class winner Perez, Guerrieri, Grubmuller, Teixeira, Leo Mansell, Al Fardan, Jackson and Cheng. 21st was Al Khalifa, from Albert Costa (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Juan Pablo Garcia Samano (Fluid Motorsport), Michael Meadows (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Jensen, Waters and Mustonen.
The fastest laps were set by Jelley, Perez and Chilton.