Race Report - Round 6:
Weather: Mild, broken cloud.
The start of Round 6 was somewhat delayed, largely because the earlier Mini and TVR races had caused as much chaos as usual. Anyway, somewhat later than planned, the field lined up, without Danny Watts (Hitech Tacing), after a fuel mix-up caused his disqualification, but with Alex Pozzobon (Essencial Motorsport), whose engine was now working again.
Even before the race started there were problems, as Jesse Mason (Performance Racing) managed to stall at the Hairpin because field was going so slowly by then. He had to be push-started so that he could rejoin in time for the start. Once the lights did go green, Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) made a far better start than he had in Round 5, and was well ahead of Will Davison (Alan Docking Racing), Jamie Green (Carlin) and Richard Antinucci (Carlin) by the time they reached the first corner. Ahead was quite clearly the best place to be by then, as it all started to go off the rails in the middle of the pack. Davison and Green were wheel-banging their way through the next corner. Further back Ernani Judice (Promatecme F3) went out while attempting to avoid someone else's accident, and Tor Graves fell victim to a spinning Rizal Ramli (Team SYR). Ramli got away with it, but Graves was out of the race immediately.
While the Dallaras of Judice and Graves were being cleared away there was further trouble. The next time round Davison went straight off, presumably as a result of damage sustained when he and Green banged wheels, while at the Complex, Clivio Piccione (Manor Motorsport) arrived to find Fairuz Fauzy (Team SYR) blocking the track. The resulting crash took both of them out, and left Clivio furious though personally unscathed. It also left the officials with no choice but to put the Safety Car out while the debris was cleared away. And so, with three laps completed, they all lined up behind the Seat Cupra. At this point the top ten order was van der Merwe, Green, Antinucci, Michael Keohane (Promatecme F3), Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport), Ronnie Bremer (Carlin), Robert Dahlgren (Fortec Motorsport), Scholarship Class leader Karun Chandhok (T-Sport), Steven Kane (T-Sport) and Billy Asaro (P1 Motorsport). Next up were Scott Speed (Alan Docking Racing), Stefano Fabi (Manor), Christian England (Promatecme), Ivor McCullough (Meritus Racing), Ernesto Viso (Sweeney Racing), Justin Sherwood (Performance), Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing), Eric Salignon (Hitech Racing), Nelson Piquet Jr. (Piquet Sports), Pozzobon, Mason, Farriz Fauzy (SYR) and Ramli. And that was how they would stay for the next four laps, until the lights finally went out on the Safety Car and racing could resume.
What happened next takes a bit of explaining away. After the lights went out, but before the restart, rather than staying with van der Merwe, with the exception of Green, the rest of them just dropped back. That meant that van der Merwe made a clean getaway as the race resumed. It sometimes makes you wonder if drivers ever learn anything!
With van der Merwe pulling away from Green, and Green leaving Antinucci behind, the real action was further back with Chandhok and Kane battling for the Scholarship Class lead, and Asaro and Speed getting caught up with them. It wasn't long before this foursome was augmented when Fabi, England and Viso all joined in as well. Asaro seemed to be enjoying himself - as he said, he needed someone to fight with - but the potential for catastrophe seemed rather high all the same!
Further back, Pozzobon, Mason, Farriz Fauzy and Ramli were trying to avoid being last, when Pozzobon was pushed into the dirt at Clervaux by a wildly over-optimistic move from Farriz. They both survived but Pozzobon's car now sounded very sick again, and that really was the end of anything he could do about it. Speed was also in some sort of mechanical trouble and started to fall back down the order, while Mason went missing after 8 laps. Meanwhile, England and Viso both got the better of Fabi, although Stefano may just have thought better of playing with the Scholarship Class boys when he was in his second points-scoring position of the day, having scored no points at all in the first four rounds of the series. Whatever the cause, this now left Asaro stuck in the middle of a fight for the Scholarship Class lead, with no real choice but to hope they all realised that as a Championship Class runner he wasn't involved! Even more bizarrely, Piquet was stuck behind Sherwood, with Salignon (who was supposedly just testing the car) right on his wing, and it took several laps for the Brazilian to find a way past, to Justin's obvious delight.
England was on the attack now, trying to overtake Asaro, but he couldn't take too many chances because Viso was pushing him hard, hoping for a mistake. A lunge by England failed, and Viso was through and into 3rd in class, and just to make England's day complete, Fabi took a look at passing him. The Italian was fended off, but getting Viso was another matter. The class lead was still being fiercely contested too, with Kane trying everything he could think of to pass Chandhok, even setting fastest lap in pursuit of his teammate.
At the front, the Carlin steamroller of van der Merwe, Green and Antinucci motored serenely on, while just behind them Keohane was in a quiet 4th place. Austin was having trouble with Bremer, who was trying to get past to join his teammates at the front, but the Menu Motorsport driver never looked under too much threat from the Dane. Dahlgren was another having a quiet time, though he could probably see Chandhok and Kane in his mirrors. If he could, what happened on the last lap would have made him doubt his eyes. With the flag in sight, they came haring out of the Complex and onto the Start/Finish straight, before Kane made a serious error of judgement. The one thing you really don't want to do in any race is run into your teammate. Unfortunately, Kane did just that. Making a final bid for the class victory, he put himself and Chandhok out with less than 200 metres to go! The one thing team boss Russell Eacott had told the pair of them before the race was "don't hit each other". Victory went to Viso, the little Venezuelan having crossed the line just ahead of England. He didn't get to keep it however. A penalty for overtaking under yellows shoved him down to 3rd in class and England was a somewhat surprised Scholarship Class winner.
The Championship Class victory had never been in any doubt, from the moment van der Merwe had taken the lead at the start. He had cemented his lead in the championship points table, and taken the extra point for fastest lap and he had also given Carlin their 50th victory. What's more he had made it all look so easy. This was also the first time a team had taken a clean sweep of a British F3 podium. It had given Trevor Carlin the result that he had been waiting for since 1989, when his team, Bowman Racing, had been set to do the same thing at Brands Hatch, until two of his drivers (Steve Robertson and David Brabham) had crashed into each other. The mood at Carlin was emotional, especially as the entire top six was composed of Carlin drivers, past or present, with Keohane, Austin and Bremer completing the set. Dahlgren was a lonely 7th, from Asaro, scoring points despite the fact that the car was not at all to his liking. Fabi was 9th, in the points again, and Thompson, despite getting his wheels in the dirt more than once, claimed the final point.
The Scholarship Class went to England, with McCullough 2nd, and Viso demoted to 3rd. Sherwood was 4th and Pozzobon 5th. There were no other finishers in the class and all Kane had to show for his efforts was a point for fastest lap, and the knowledge that the team are probably never going to let him live it down!
-Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite, Guest Writers