Race Report - Round 5:
Weather: Mild, broken cloud.
There was drama even before the green light. Alex Pozzobon (Essencial Motorsport) was unable to take the start. The explanation from his team boss was quite simple: "Engine is brokken! Race is finish!" This wasn't entirely surprising, since he'd ended the previous day's practice session with what sounded like a very sick car. This also meant that Christian England (Promatecme F3) would get to start the race, albeit from the back of the field. England's car had failed a noise test on Saturday morning, which meant he hadn't participated in practice. He was first reserve, on what he regards as his home circuit, which must have been rather galling.
Pole position man Will Davison (Alan Docking Racing) was getting ever more nervous as the start approached but was determined to make the most of his first F3 pole. Despite the butterflies, Davison didn't make a single mistake when the lights turned green. He simply took off and was well ahead by the time they reached Hawthorne Bend (or Clervaux as some of us know it). Behind him Michael Keohane (Promatecme F3) also made what would have been a good start had Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) not been occupying the space he tried to slot into. Keohane leaned hard on the championship leader, who leaned back. The result was an early exit from the race for the Irishman, while van der Merwe lived to fight another day, although he lost a place in the process. Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) needed no second invitation and took advantage of van der Merwe's problems to snatch 2nd place and slot in behind the flying Aussie at the front. Van der Merwe was followed immediately by his teammate Ronnie Bremer, while Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing) was in 5th, despite the fact that the wind had changed direction from the previous day and he wasn't at all happy with the handling of his Dallara as a result. Trawling slowly round at the back was his teammate, Eric Salignon. The Frenchman had been in trouble most of the weekend, and had decided that the best thing to do with the race was treat it as a test session. This would allow the team to carry out some work towards setting the car up for Knockhill next weekend. However, Salignon seemed to have temporarily forgotten his intentions, and was motoring on at quite a pace, despite being such a long way back.
Also at the other end of the grid, the Scholarship Class front-runners were trying to figure out how to pass the two slow Championship Class Malaysians, Rizal Ramli and Farriz Fauzy (Team SYR), who were at the back of their section of the grid. Perhaps suggestions that they should pull over and let the others go had been heeded, because by the time the main of the field had gone by, Farriz was dead last. Ramli, on the other hand, was in the way of Steven Kane (T-Sport), while his teammate Karun Chandhok got away into the class lead, followed by Ernesto Viso (Sweeney Racing). All Kane could do was sit behind the yellow car till he could find a safe way past - not always an easy task with Farriz.
In the middle of the field, two drivers who should have been nearer the front were also engaged in quite a tussle. Jamie Green (Carlin Motorsport) and Nelson Piquet Jr. (Piquet Sports) were both looking to improve on their dismal start positions, which culminated in Piquet passing Green as they both headed into the Complex for the second time. A couple of laps later, Ivor McCullough (Meritus Racing) was able to get by Tor Graves (Manor Motorsport), only to lose that place again at Tower, followed in sharp succession by several more. A lap or two later Kane finally found a way past Ramli, who then started to fall back rapidly and spent most of the rest of the race circulating near the back of the field, his car making some hideous noises.
At the front, Davison was still cruising round and making it look easy, while Austin was a clear 2nd, from van der Merwe. It was all rather processional at the front. The excitement was all further back, as Richard Antinucci (Carlin Motorsport) closed inexorably on Thompson, while Ernani Judice (Promatecme F3) and Danny Watts (Hitech Motorsport) were embroiled in their own battle for 7th. Behind them, waiting patiently to see what would happen, was Stefano Fabi (Manor Motorsport), the Italian running in the points for a change, while the real struggle was for 10th place. Piquet was still ahead of Green, but was trying to find a way round Scott Speed (Alan Docking Racing). The American was looking more than a little wild, suffering from "extra arm syndrome" and generally holding up Piquet, who was having to fend of Green. The only thing saving Piquet was that Green was having an equal amount of trouble holding back Robert Dahlgren (Fortec Motorsport). It would take another two laps for Piquet to despatch Speed, although he took a quick trip across the grass as he tried to hang keep control. Dahlgren went through as well, while Green went into the tyre wall! At the same time, Clivio Piccione (Manor Motorsport) was having a weekend to forget as he tried to avoid the chaos ahead, losing places to his own teammate Graves, as well as having to give way to Chandhok and Viso. The Monegasque should have been much further forward, and nothing he did seemed to be helping. He was now committed to a recovery drive, though it would ultimately end with him back behind Speed, pretty much where he'd started in 14th place and out of the points. It was an awful lot of effort for nothing really.
With the race becoming ever more processional, it was left to Antinucci and Salignon to create some interest, the former because he was now gaining on Thompson at a rate that suggested the Scot had better get ready to defend himself, the latter sliding his Dallara around the track and getting the tail seriously out of line. You don't often see that in Formula 3. Finally Thompson had to face the inevitable; Antinucci was coming through whether he liked it or not. That let Judice and Watts catch Thompson too, and now life was really not fun anymore for Andrew! For the next five laps the two of them were breathing down the Hitech driver's neck. Something had to give.
At the very front things had not changed at all. Davison was still leading by a convincing margin, from Austin, van der Merwe and Bremer. That would not change, and nor would anything else much until the last two laps. First, Billy Asaro tripped up in the middle of the Scholarship Class, and took a trip though the gravel at Clervaux and Ramli crashed out terminally at the same corner. In addition, Graves coasted to a halt with a dead engine. The order got really shuffled, though, a lap later when Thompson and Judice tangled, Thompson falling back dramatically from 5th, to 11th, while Judice could no longer hold off Piquet and fell back to 10th. Watts, who seems to be a very lucky man, was the main beneficiary of these shenanigans, and was quick to claim the place. This also meant that Fabi claimed his best ever finish, coming home in 6th place.
Meanwhile, in the Scholarship Class, Chandhok held off Viso, despite the latter's determined efforts, while Kane claimed 3rd place and an extra point for fastest lap, his fourth such record in five races. England made the most of the chance he had been given by finishing 4th, ahead of Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing) and McCullough. There were no other finishers in the Scholarship Class.
-Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite, Guest Writers