We were starting the race with only 20 runners after both Basil Shaaban (Comtec) and Martin Kudzak (Fluid Motorsport) were left without driveable cars as a result of separate incidents in qualifying on Saturday. In addition, Rodolfo Avila (Performance Racing) was driving a very second- hand looking Dallara with bits of what appeared to be Salvador Duran's Hitech Racing car - or at least spares for that car - pressed into service and taped down after Avila too crashed heavily in qualifying. After three red flag stoppages in each session on Saturday, one could only hope that calmer heads would prevail today and there wouldn't be any outbreaks of silliness, especially at Westfield, which was where most of the casualties occurred.
Anyway, in warm, sunny conditions they all lined up on the grid for the start of Round 15 of this year's British F3 International Series. As the lights went out on the gantry, pole man Mike Conway (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) made a rather hesitant start, while behind him, Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) made a terrific start and pulled past both James Jakes (Hitech Racing) and team-mate Bruno Senna on the outside to improve his position. Birthday boy Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport) was even more hesitant than Conway and so failed to capitalise on the better starting slot on the grid and remained 2nd, while Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport) was charging hard at the beginning but couldn't get past Engel or Conway. He remained 3rd, while Senna, seemingly unsettled by being demoted by Jelley, also lost out to Jakes, before seeming to recover his equilibrium a little. He wasn't being helped by the fact that he didn't have a full set of matching tyres after his Saturday shunt, when he joined the long list of those who underestimated Westfield and paid heavily for it.
Oliver Jarvis (Carlin Motorsport) in 4th was having a good look at Buurman, but couldn't quite find a way round, and back in the National Class Juho Annala (Performance Racing) had lost out to Rodolfo Gonzalez (T- Sport), the series leader snatching the lead as they headed down through Paddock Hill bend.
At the front Conway and Engel were pulling away from the pack, while Senna was taking some very odd lines along the pit straight as he attempted to catch up with Jakes and regain some ground. It wasn't really working, and Jakes was getting away as he tried to catch the high-speed train that was Buurman, Jarvis and Jelley. They looked set to run like that for some time, which wasn't what the large crowd of spectators were hoping for. With Jelley also starting to take a pretty strange line, a little further back Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport) was making up for a bad start and had reclaimed a place from Karl Reindler (Alan Docking Racing) and was now on the trail of Duran and a point for 10th place.
While Bakkerud tried to fight his way back into the points, Engel was busy trying to claw back the gap to Conway, setting the fastest lap of the race as a reward for his efforts. The trouble was, Conway seemed always able to respond, and would then start to open the gap up again. It was as well that they were providing some entertainment because the race very quickly became very processional, even though Senna was trying his best to get back at Jakes, despite a car that wasn't behaving the way he wanted it to, and Bakkerud was giving Duran a really hard time for 10th. Elsewhere, Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing) was looking incredibly ragged and a trip through one of the gravel traps really didn't help him any. A lap later he pulled into the pits for grass and gravel clearance, going back out dead last and a lap down.
While the front runners were becoming increasingly distant from the pack, Senna had another go at Jakes, trying to get round the outside into Paddock. The attempt failed, and he had to settle back in again and wait. Not so Bakkerud, who was now all over Duran, taking a look whenever the opportunity presented itself. Duran, by this point, was looking even more ragged than Kennard, and passing him was not going to be easy. That said, Bakkerud was clearly game to try it. Engel was also pushing hard at the front, again reducing the gap between himself and Conway, but it just wasn't enough. The German driver clearly had the speed, but as demonstrated on previous visits to this track, there are not many places where passing is possible.
The group behind Jakes was now getting a bit lively too, with Senna trying to pass Jakes, and Hall, James Walker (Hitech Racing), Duran and Bakkerud running in close formation. When Duran locked up badly on his way up to Druids, Bakkerud almost made it through, but the Mexican slammed the door in his face, and that was that, at least for that lap. A lap later and the Dane made no mistake. In a very robust manoeuvre he barged his way up the inside of the Mexican going into Druids, and was well ahead by the time they headed down towards Graham Hill Bend. It was a brave move, and apart from Jelley's first lap heroics, one of only a handful of overtaking moves in the race. There were a couple of changes of position, however, and they happened not far behind Duran. Alberto Valerio (Cesarioi Formula UK) got it all wrong at Druids, leaving the unfortunate Karl Reinlder (Alan Docking Racing) with no place to go. They both lost places, Valerio rejoining quite quickly ahead of the National Class runners, while Reindler took a while to get sorted out and pointing the right way again and was 16th by the time he was able to slot back in.
With Bakkerud now in the points, he promptly set about hunting down Walker and trying to find a way past him, but it wasn't too be. They were running out of time, with the leaders now catching Alex Waters (Promatecme F3), and Avila.
It allowed Engel to catch right up to Conway, probably giving both the lead pair a couple of worrying moments. However, both Waters and Avila behaved impeccably, and Conway and Engel got through without problems. Conway immediately managed to open up the gap again, despite everything Engel could do, and the two of them crossed the finish line well ahead of the rest of the field.
It wasn't a classic race by any stretch of the imagination, but at least Jelley and Bakkerud had provided some entertainment. Conway's win consolidated his championship lead, and Engel celebrated being 21 by claiming an extra point for fastest lap, as well as the 15 allocated to 2nd place finishers. Buurman was a lonely 3rd after Jarvis couldn't quite match his pace, and 5th went to Jelley, ahead of Jakes, Senna, Stuart Hall (T- Sport), Walker and Bakkerud. Duran was 11th, just out of the points, ahead of Valerio, the almost inevitable National Class winner (for the 12th time this yeas) Gonzalez, Annala, Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport), Reindler, Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport), Avila, Waters (finding the hardest part of his series debut to be the start) and a very distant Kennard.
The extra point for fastest lap in the National Class went to Gonzalez.