Spa-Francorchamps has moved several hundred miles south, and acquired a far pleasanter clime in the last three months. Yes folks, this is the race that never was (Part I) from Spa - postponed when fog made racing impossible - relocated...
Spa-Francorchamps has moved several hundred miles south, and acquired a far pleasanter clime in the last three months. Yes folks, this is the race that never was (Part I) from Spa - postponed when fog made racing impossible - relocated and crammed into two and a half days of unbelievably exciting racing at the spectacular Italian Grand Prix circuit just outside Milan. And because this was such an impressive race, we'll split this report into two and deal with the Championship Class first.
For the third time Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport) was on pole, and he had every intention of making the most of it. Unfortunately, it didn't quite pan out for the personable Portuguese. He made a less than perfect start and, arriving at the first corner, he was shoved roughly aside by Tim Bridgman (Hitech Motorsport). Bridgman then managed to whack his team-mate Marko Asmer into the gravel and out of the race. As Asmer is a championship front-runner, and Bridgman has thus far scored points only once, the Estonian was understandably furious. Meanwhile, Bridgman was in the lead, ahead of Charlie Kimball (Carlin Motorsport) and Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport). Daniel Clarke (Double R Racing), possibly in reaction to the chaos ahead, cut the Chicane and came back on again, while Parente did a rapid doughnut to try and get pointing the right way; by the time he was able to continue, he was down in 14th. Nothing daunted, he began a storming recovery drive back through the pack, clawing back three places by the time the first lap was over. Also by the end of the first lap, the Stewards, having disqualified Bridgman for Chicane cutting the day before, had decided he deserved a drive-through penalty for punting Asmer off. They awarded a matching penalty to Clarke for his short-cut, and the black and white flags and numbers were duly hung out.
The penalty for Bridgman meant Kimball was leading. The trouble was on the road he couldn't get past, because every time he did Bridgman just slipstreamed straight back at him, eventually backing the American - who seemed to have made the mistake of thinking everyone is as intelligent as he is - back into the charging pack. Bridgman had apparently decided he would pay no attention to what his team and the officials were telling him, and would later claim not to have seen the flags, because they weren't being shown where he'd expected them to be. He also said he had no radio contact with the team, but was unable to explain why he couldn't see the word "IN" on his pit board while he was in the lead on the road, and thus had a clear view of the pit wall. For Kimball, this was all very bad news.
Bakkerud was having an interesting time too, with four cars on his exhaust pipes, while trying not to vomit into his crash helmet. He'd been taken ill overnight and spent the morning unable to keep anything down and running a fever. He looked extremely unwell, and not at all his usual bouncy self, but he'd got a sniff of a podium, and was driving as if his life depended on it; with Clarke, Mike Conway (Fortec Motorsport), James Walker (Fortec Motorsport), Danilo Dirani (P1 Motorsport) and Ryan Lewis (T- Sport) all over him just looking for an opportunity to slipstream past, perhaps it did. Of course, Clarke still had to serve his penalty, but that still left four of them to try and hold off. Meanwhile, like a shark in a turbulent ocean, Parente was carving his way ever upwards, having easily despatched Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport) and Ronayne O'Mahony (Fortec Motorsport) - who fell off shortly afterwards and ended up stuck in the gravel - before making equally short work of Lewis before the T-Sport driver had even registered he was there. It was the end of lap 2 and he was already back to 8th. It began to look as if something could be salvaged from this. Asmer was also steadily tracking through the field, though he'd had to come back from dead last after being assaulted by Bridgman.
However, the battle for 3rd was drawing all eyes, despite the scrap at the front between Bridgman and Kimball. As Walker, Lewis and Clarke ran side by side down the straight, it was obvious they wouldn't all get through the next corner unless someone backed off. No one did, and Walker went off, ending his race in the gravel on lap 5. That left Lewis and Clarke fighting to get on terms with Bakkerud, Conway and Dirani. They were so busy with each other that Parente was able to come up behind them and nip through before they could think about stopping him. He was now 6th, and he looked as if that wasn't going to be the end of it either. He gained another place when Clarke called into the pit lane on lap 8 to serve his drive through penalty, through Bridgman was showing no sign of doing the same. In fact he was still giving Kimball a very hard time, so much so that after slicing through the gaggle of cars behind Bakkerud, Parente was through and into the lead a lap later. Although he wouldn't let Kimball get ahead, Bridgman seemed disinclined to hold up the Championship leader, which was a bit odd to say the least. In fact it was beginning to look as if Bridgman wanted to lose his license, because he was well outside the window available to serve his penalty and had now been shown the black flag, which he was also apparently ignoring. You had to wonder if he'd lost his mind or something, considering he already had one disqualification to his name this weekend. He was certainly not making friends out there, Kimball in particular feeling he had just been robbed of a potential race win. In fact, he finally decided to back off a little, because Bakkerud and company were far enough behind not to be a threat, and he wasn't about to lose a guaranteed 15 points trying to get past someone who shouldn't even have been there.
His decision was further justified when Bakkerud suddenly found himself alone. He, Dirani and Conway had been three abreast into the second Variante when Dirani managed to outbrake both himself and Conway, punting both of them into the wall. It was a shame because it had been a fine battle up to that point, though the Dane was probably glad to see the back of both of them, given that he was "heaving down the straights" by now. That left the battle for 5th place on the road to Lewis and Bruno Senna (Double R Racing), the two of them having spent a great deal of this weekend engaged in a tremendous on-track battle. In their mirrors, they now had Asmer, who had at least managed to salvage something from the day, though it was too late for him to catch them now. And then Bridgman vanished from the timing screens, disqualified by the stewards who had understandably taken exception to their decisions being ignored. The two and a half thousand Euro fine imposed on him was considered by many to be pretty lenient punishment, and he should consider himself lucky to still be in possession of his racing license.
If Bridgman had failed to impress anyone, Parente had impressed everyone with the most amazing comeback drive to win the race and claim fastest lap. With a maximum 63 points score possible over the weekend, he'd claimed 62 of them, moving into a substantial lead in the championship, while Kimball is now 2nd after three fine 2nd places.
Parente was having difficulties putting it into words afterwards: "I overtook everyone and took first place!" When pressed to elaborate, he said: "My start was not very good, so straight away I got passed by Asmer and Christian Bakkerud. But then in the first corner it all went wrong, and I touched a little bit with Christian and spun. I hit the throttle and did a 360