At Brands Hatch this afternoon weather conditions produced one of the weirdest F3 races anyone could remember, with James Calado (Carlin) eventually coming home the winner, from William Buller (Hitech Racing) and National Class winner Menasheh Idafar (T-Sport), the Bahraini finishing 3rd overall, just ahead of - and please suspend disbelief now - Adderly Fong (Sino Vision Racing). The result also confirmed Idafar as 2010 National Class champion, beating team-mate James Cole to the title by a mere 17 points.
At the start the weather was dark and cloudy looking, but not too bad, but as they lined up on the grid spots of rain started to fall. By the start of the formation lap umbrellas were being unfurled in the spectator area, and it was touch and go which way the conditions would go. Rupert Svendsen-Cook (Carlin), Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3), Idafar and Fong all opted to dive in to the pits (or were called by their teams) to change to wet weather tyres rather than start from the grid and risk the weather worsening. That left 17 drivers out there on slicks. It had the potential to be interesting, for a very odd value of "interesting". However, at the start Calado rocketed into the lead, after pole man Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport) made an awful start and bogged down, allowing team mate Oli Webb through for 2nd with Jean-Eric Vergne (Carlin) on his tail in 3rd. It wasn't long before Calado began to pull away, while Adriano Buzaid (Carlin), who was the only man able to stop Webb ending the season 3rd in the points, was 5th which was nowhere near enough. Meanwhile, as a result of Idafar's pit stop Cole was leading the National Class. At the sharp end of the order, however, Calado was busy getting very sideways but was holding his position, while Vergne was all over Webb - the Frenchman had a go at passing Webb at Surtees but couldn't quite do it, which meant Buller was now on his rear wing and looking threatening. Behind them McKenzie was responding now and trying to fight his way back from 6th. However, the weather was beginning to work against the Englishman, and in fact anyone else on slicks, as was demonstrated by the fact that Svendsen-Cook, on wets, was now up to 16th.
As Calado powered on, setting the fastest lap of the race, Webb got some breathing space while Buller swarmed all over Vergne. Svendsen-Cook, meanwhile, was still on the move and was now 13th. In the treacherous conditions it was getting very tricky, as was shown when Cole went off somewhere and came back on, then Alex Brundle (T-Sport) went off at Druids, nearly taking Svendsen-Cook with him. The Carlin driver managed to limp back to the pits, while Brundle was stuck in the kitty litter. To add to the sense of unreality Fong, the only driver to have scored no points at all this season so far, set a new fastest lap of the race, and then a lap later did it again. There was a definite sense of being in the twilight zone developing now.
The screen then flashed up a drive through for Lucas Foresti (Carlin) for starting out of position - he had apparently moved into the slot vacated by Bridger at the start of he race and was thus in need of a visit to the pits. That would resolve itself when he chose to ignore the call and was black-flagged into retirement. It was proving to be a bad day for another Brazilian too, with Pietro Fantin (Hitech Racing) going off and thus ensuring we wouldn't have an Invitation Class winner. While all that was happening Buller went for 3rd place at Clark Curve, only to find Vergne wasn't having it at all. Buller dropped back a little while Vergne started to catch Webb as he got some clear air.
The fastest lap saga was continuing too, but was now back in the hands of Calado as the rain briefly stopped altogether and it started to look as if slicks had been the right choice after all. With Webb, Vergne and Buller so close you could barely slide a piece of paper between them, Calado was making the most of the peace and quiet to pull out an ever increasing gap, setting a number of fastest laps as he did so. Behind him Webb went wide and "Jev" again looked to go through, and again couldn't quite make it stick, which again let Buller close him right down. And then on lap 10 the rain came back again, this time looking unlikely to stop anytime soon, just as Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing with Manor Motorsport), Gabriel Dias (Hitech Racing) and Daisuke Nakajima (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) went three abreast into Paddock! As they tried to sort themselves out, Vergne finally found the opening he was looking for, keeping his foot in and going round the outside at Hawthorn in a very brave move. Buller took advantage of Webb's wobble to go too which dropped Webb within reach of Buzaid. Behind them, a lap later, Lloyd came back ahead of Nakajima and Dias, the Welshman finding the conditions more to his liking than the Japanese and the Brazilian it seemed. Meanwhile, Webb now had Buzaid with him, while Buller was again eying up Vergne with intent to demote him, and on the same lap Nakajima ran wide at Druids, letting Dias through for 11th.
As the weather began to worsen various teams started to ready tyres in case they needed to do a pitstop. Cole was first to blink, and came in for wets. Perhaps Vergne should also have done, but that was now academic as he was off in the gravel at Druids, letting Buller up to 2nd. The rain was now coming down in bucketfuls, but most of them were still on slicks with 18 minutes of the race left to run. At this point Nasr decided to come in, as did Max Snegirev (Fortec Motorsport), and Calado, who had built up a 15 second lead by now. Luckily Buller also chose to come in, while Webb kept right on going, inheriting the lead and pulling Buzaid with him, while McKenzie was 3rd.
Two very effective pit stops followed for Calado and Buller, the latter getting all sideways as he tried and failed to beat Calado back out. The resulting reshuffle meant that Webb was leading Buzaid, McKenzie, Carlos Huertas (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing), Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin), Lloyd, Dias, Nakajima, Calado and Buller.
A lap later and Jaafar pitted, as did Dias, and all the while Calado was suddenly the fastest man on the track, overhauling people with dizzying regularity. He was now the leading wet-shod car from Buller, Idafar and Fong. The next to choose to come in was Webb, who thus handed the lead to McKenzie, with Huertas, Buzaid and Nakajima occupying the next places. By the time Webb got out again he was a very long way back, and anyway wets weren't necessarily the answer, as demonstrated when Snegirev landed in the gravel at Druids despite being on wets. McKenzie was showing no inclination to pit, seemingly to the surprise of Fortec, and he wasn't alone. Huertas was staying out too, as was Buzaid though he really didn't have a choice, needing to take the gamble if he wanted to keep his championship hope alive.
Back in the pack Nasr had an off at Surtees, trundled across the grass and came back on, but no one was watching that. Everyone's attention was on Calado as he caught and passed Huertas to claim 2nd, Buller also following through again. And shortly after that he was on McKenzie for the lead, going through at Surtees. Buller was able to pass too, leaving McKenzie hanging on to 3rd, with Huertas, Buzaid, Idafar, Fong, Nakajima, Bridger, Lloyd, Dias, Nasr and Webb completing the top ten.
Calado was still holding on to the lead despite Buller's best efforts and finally made the break after Buller went through the gravel at Paddock and gave himself a bit of a scare. To general disbelief, meanwhile, Fong passed Buzaid, just as Nakajima had a moment and plummeted down the order. It didn't take long for Idafar to climb to 5th overall, while Fong was now 7th. With the slick runners now struggling to get any grip, McKenzie was still 3rd but behind him Idafar had charged past Huertas, and a corner later Fong went through too. Lloyd, in the mean time, had gone off at Druids in company with Dias (the latter making it to the bottom of Graham Hill bend before he coasted to a halt).
With the clock ticking down towards 40 minutes, McKenzie was being mobbed by Idafar and it wasn't long before the National Class man was through to claim 3rd overall, a major achievement for a man in a 2-year old car with a Mugen-Honda power unit in the back. McKenzie wasn't alone in having problems, needless to say, and Nakajima was now in real trouble too, being rapidly caught by Nasr. On the penultimate lap, Fong took a run at McKenzie, McKenzie briefly got it back ahead, but he couldn't hold the Chinese driver back.
And so, one of the oddest races anyone could remember ended with Calado winning from Buller, Idafar, Fong, Bridger (who passed McKenzie on the last lap), McKenzie, Nasr, Huertas, Buzaid and Webb. 11th was Jaafar, with Cole coming home as the final finisher (in 12th despite being a lap down).
Fastest laps went to Calado, Cole and Fantin.
Weather: Changeable in the extreme.
Next Rounds: 2011
See also: McKenzie Sprints to Brands Hatch win