Martin Cao came out on top to claim his first win of the series.
At Thruxton this afternoon the somewhat sparse audience were treated to a far more exciting F3 race than they might have anticipated as Martin Cao and Matt Rao of Fortec Motorsport put on a superb fight for the lead that lasted for the greater part of the race. Eventually Cao came out on top to claim his first win of the series, with Rao in 2nd, from a distant Li Zhi Cong (Carlin).
There was drama from the start - or in fact before the start - when Max Marshall (Double R Racing) spun at the Chicane on the formation lap. The rookie was able to get going again and took his place on the grid, only to stall when the lights went out. He was collected by team-mate Camren Kaminsky, the American ripping a wheel off his own car and puncturing Marshall's left rear tyre in the process.
At the front Cao got the better of pole sitter Rao to take the lead, with Li just behind them. Marshall got away eventually and trailed round slowly to the pits to get a new wheel fitted. He was saved from having to run a lonely race when the Safety Car was mobilised as the snatch vehicle arrived to drag Kaminsky's car to a place of safety, which meant that Marshall was able to catch up with Cao, Rao and Li within the space of half a lap.
The opportunity came
The restart saw Cao controlling it nicely, but Rao was right with him and determined to find a way past. It took several laps of sitting right on the rear of the Chinese driver's car, but eventually the opportunity came. Into the Chicane, Rao slipped through on the inside, leaving Rao to follow in his wheeltracks instead.
All of this meant that Li was a lot closer than the lead pair would have preferred, but a couple of interesting lines through the Chicane saw Li begin to fall away, the challenge from him now over. Behind him, Marshall was busy trying to find the optimum lines and braking points, and would also eventually fall back, running a quiet 4th after a rather too exciting start to his F3 career.
Meanwhile, Cao had not given up and was not prepared to settle for 2nd yet again. He edged steadily closer to Rao over the next few laps and once again the action all happened at the Chicane as Cao saw his chance. A slightly wild moment saw him reclaim the lead, though not before Rao made contact with the rear of the other red and white Dallara.
His rear wing now listing from the horizontal, Rao tried to fight back but the handling was no longer as it should be and he gradually fell away as Cao pushed on to the finish, claiming his first victory of the season by just over a second. The one thing Cao didn't manage, though, was to wrest the fastest lap of the race from Rao. Li was 3rd from Marshall.
With the reverse grid system, Cao drew 4 from the bag on the podium afterwards, which means that 4th place for Marshall gives him pole for the first of tomorrow's two races.
Race 2 Grid:
1st – No. 18, Max Marshall, GBR, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes
2nd – No. 1, Li Zhi Cong, CHN, Carlin, Dallara F308, Volkswagen
3rd – No. 7, Matt Rao, GBR, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes
4th – No. 57, Martin Cao, CHN, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes
5th – No. 34, Camren Kaminsky, USA, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes
Race 1 Results:
1st – No. 57, Martin Cao, CHN, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 24 laps, 30:13.304
2nd – No. 7, Matt Rao, GBR, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, gap 1.070
3rd – No. 1, Li Zhi Cong, CHN, Carlin, Dallara F308, Volkswagen, gap 13.266
4th – No. 18, Max Marshall, GBR, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, gap 17.259
Not classified: No. 34, Camren Kaminsky, USA, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, lap 1
Fastest laps: No. 7, Matt Rao, GBR, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 1:08.811, lap 6, 123.25mph, 198.35kph