BF3

Dirani sweeps Donington races

Again there was a lot of activity prior to the race start. Marko Asmer's Hitech Racing car needed a new flywheel. He'd discovered this early on in Round 1, when he'd failed to get off the line at the start, and had had to put in quite...

Again there was a lot of activity prior to the race start. Marko Asmer's Hitech Racing car needed a new flywheel. He'd discovered this early on in Round 1, when he'd failed to get off the line at the start, and had had to put in quite a recovery drive. "I had a clutch problem this morning. The clutch was slipping - actually it was - I don't know what they call in it English - but it was slipping for the first lap so I went to last. Then for the Safety Car period I managed to cool down the clutch and then it was OK. After that I had a good race." What he didn't want was a repeat of the problem. As it was, he nearly didn't get to start the race at all, sliding out of the pitlane all of five seconds before it closed. He tore round to take up his place on the grid, and the Hitech boys promptly swarmed all over the car, still trying to complete the rebuild. When the 30-second buzzer went off, they had to be swatted away and made to go back behind the pit wall, leaving the Estonian sitting there in a car that was apparently being held together by bits of tank tape and the odd cable wrap.

He wasn't the only one in trouble. Suk Sandher was another who only just made it out. His car had been heavily damaged in the Round 1 start line crash, and the lads at Performance had "worked flat out to get the car back together. I really didn't think we'd make it - the guys worked so hard, and it was ready literally at the last minute. They'd closed off the exit to the track so I had to find another one... We got there and at first the car was a little bit out of shape, just basically because it was all settling down again, but afterwards it felt pretty good."

Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport), who'd been ill during the week with some sort of stomach bug, was another who wasn't ready when he should have been, the scrawny Dane legging it back to the pitlane, presumably for an urgent toilet break. Anyway, finally everyone was ready, and lined up waiting for the lights to come on up on the starting gantry. At least this time no one stalled on the line, although Asmer was again very slow to get away. And once again Danilo Dirani (P1 Motorsport) was incredibly quick getting his Lola off the line and into the lead, getting the drop once again on Daniel Clarke (Double R Racing). Asmer would slot in behind Clarke, with Mike Conway (Fortec Motorsport) also getting a fine start, and hanging onto 4th. Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport) also made a good start to claim 6th, while his team-mate Charlie Kimball didn't. Perhaps the Dane can explain it to the American before we get to Spa-Francorchamps in two weeks time. Another man looking very good was Steven Kane, the Promatecme F3 driver making a lightning start, and slotting into 5th place. And this despite the fact that he'd spent an awful lot of the previous week surviving on very little sleep while he and the team attempted to get his Lola chassis ready.

And so, they all streamed through Redgate with no problems (though Kane took a good look to see if he could gain a place there), only for it all to go wrong at the Old Hairpin. What exactly happened seems a little uncertain, but Bruno Senna was at the heart of it, underestimating the coldness of his tyres on a British Spring day, but perhaps also underestimating his fellow racers. There was a suggestion that he was squeezed out by Susie Stoddart (Alan Docking Racing) when he tried to get alongside her and she fought back. Whatever the cause, the result was that he collected Charlie Hollings (Promatecme), and they were both out of the race there and then. Stoddart - if she was even involved - drove on. As did the Safety Car, which once again picked up the leaders at the end of lap 1. The thing you have to wonder about is this; why does this discovery that cold tyres don't work always seem to come as a big shock to the latest collection of South Americans every year, and why don't the ones who were here last year say something in advance. Do they find the resulting shunts funny, perhaps? National Class leader Barton Mawer (T-Sport) wasn't surprised, though he did get a bird's eye view of the whole thing. "Senna had the world's biggest spin at the Old Hairpin. He nearly took me off, but I could see what was going to happen so I backed down a bit. We've got the on-board camera and it was scary! He came past me sideways!""

And so, once again, Dirani settled down behind the Safety Car, intent on keeping control of the race again, much as he had in the morning's race. Behind him were Clarke, Asmer, Conway, Kane and Bakkerud. 7th was James Walker (Fortec Motorsport), Tim Bridgman (Hitech Racing), Stoddart and Mawer. Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) was behind his National Class team-mate, which wouldn't have made him very happy, while Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), Josh Fisher (Team SWR Pioneer) and Sandher were next up. Salvador Duran (P1 Motorsport), Juho Annala (Alan Docking Racing), Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport), Nick Jones (Team SWR Pioneer), Cheong Lou Meng (Edenbridge Racing), Ricardo Teixeira (Carlin Motorsport), Charlie Kimball (Carlin Motorsport), Jelley and Ronayne O'Mahony (Fortec Motorsport) completed the rest of the order.

The biggest difficulty was keeping tyres warm in the freezing cold conditions that prevailed all day. People were weaving desperately, especially if they'd been smart enough to work out that cold tyres were what had bitten young Senna. Anyway, for three laps they trailed slowly round, waiting for the lights on the Safety Car to go out again. And once again the Safety Car appeared with its lights off, pulled into the pitlane, and everyone stared into the distance, wondering where the leaders were. Dirani had slowed them right down this time, and was once again able to break away at the restart. The rookies seemed to be caught napping, because Asmer had a go at Clarke, while Kane sized up Bakkerud before pulling a classic overtaking manoeuvre on the youngster at Redgate. And so Kane was 4th, not where he'd expected to be if he was being honest. And this was despite the fact that the car was a long way from its optimum set up. It mostly looked nasty, especially to begin with. "At the start it wasn't too good, but after that it cooked up, and it was just a matter of getting used to it. I'm rusty, the car's rusty, the set up hasn't been touched. As soon as it picked up I was on it, and it was fine."

Meanwhile, further down the order, the series first ever Angolan driver, Ricardo Teixeira (Carlin Motorsport) was being very polite and getting out of the way of the front runners (and for that matter those who should have been front runners, like Jelley and O'Mahony), pulling over with a polite gesture. Someone who wasn't making polite gestures was Kennard. He'd managed to get entangled with Fisher and had received an impromptu flying lesson before landing on his head at the Chicane. The officials readied the Safety Car board in case they needed it again, but the ADR car was quickly moved to a place of safety, and the driver was found to be unhurt.

After that everyone seemed to calm down a little, which was probably just as well. Asmer was now awake and had passed Clarke, who also promptly lost out to Conway. The Estonian was pressing hard, trying to keep Dirani in his sights, while the Brazilian was trying equally hard to stay ahead of Asmer. It's possible that this may be the story of the season, except that Kane was also still pressing on regardless. Lewis was also showing that he should be regarded very seriously indeed, at least when he manages a better qualifying time, his pursuit of Bridgman occupying all his attention in the mid-stages of the race. Bridgman wasn't enjoying this one little bit, but there was nothing he could do apart from absorb the pressure as best he could, and try to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible. It didn't help and Lewis was soon through. He then set off after Walker, but it would take a lap or two before he could catch the Englishman. Meanwhile Conway set the fastest race lap, though he wouldn't keep it for long.

And for the leaders, life suddenly got a lot easier when Cheong had an off at the Hairpin, and followed it up by pulling into the pits complaining of a lack of fourth gear - the trouble was he didn't seem to have been going fast enough to actually need 4th. The fun, though, continued just behind the leaders, where it was becoming increasingly obvious that no one had told Lewis you can't overtake in F3.Or maybe they had but he just didn't believe them! With 8 laps to go, he was all over Walker. And if that wasn't enough to keep you interested, Asmer had Conway and Clarke right with him, and was having to really push to try and break away from the battling rookie pair. As a result, he managed the fastest race lap, thus earning himself an extra point at the end of the race. What he didn't manage was to get away from the pair of them, though he wasn't about to be passed by either of them if he had anything at all to do with it. With two laps to go, and Dirani progressing serenely towards the chequered flag, Conway saw what he thought was his chance. He made a lunge at Asmer, trying to get round the outside of the Estonian, but Asmer wasn't about to cooperate. A lap later, Conway tried again, and again resisted successfully, holding off the Englishman at some cost to himself. The two made contact, and though they both survived, Asmer suddenly noticed bits flying off his car. He was lucky there was only one lap left to run, though he had a couple of worrying moments before bringing his rather tattered car home for 2nd.

Both Dirani and Asmer were very pleased with their afternoon efforts. Dirani, in particular, seems very confident now. "Lola is doing a great job, just like Roly." (Vincini, Team Owner of P1 Motorsport). "We understand each other very much. I think in the beginning I was a bit . I needed to take the chance you know, to be able to race. And after today I think I made a good choice." There was, he warned, more to come. "We have a test on Wednesday, we have many things to try, and of course we find something so I'm pretty confident we'll be better at Spa. In the beginning - we never did a race start or a long test - and so our first race was like a testing, and we found some problems in the car, the balance, we fixed for the second race - it was much better and I was improving." As for Asmer, he knew he'd been lucky to actually make it into the race, but he too felt he'd had a good run. "I thought I could catch Dirani, and I wasn't having any trouble with anyone behind either. I don't know if you saw, but we pulled out from the pits very late five second before they closed the thing, so there was pieces missing from the car, and the car was no set up. They had to pull the throttle two times to make it work. Anyway we deserve this result, because I almost went off three times!"

Third was Conway, from a very impressive looking Kane. He too was very happy with his results, and also sounded a warning for anyone who thought he might not be a threat this year. "I was just glad to get some points today. I started to think if we could get in the top 10, it would be amazing. I never expected 4th. There's a lot more to come. We'll be testing at Thruxton on Wednesday and maybe a day at Pembrey, but that's it really, so we won't get a lot of running before Spa." In 5th was Bakkerud, who was being menaced by Lewis as the race ended. 7th was Walker, from Bridgman, Kimball and Stoddart. In 11th was Mawer, the National Class winner, who'd had a fairly quiet afternoon once he'd avoided being sucked into Senna's accident, which actually proved advantageous in the end. "It was good for me because it pushed everyone else back, and then we got the Safety Car and I got a good restart. I was sort of on the back of the pack, and stuck behind Stoddart, but there wasn't any advantage to trying to get through, so we just tootled around. We're still 11th overall, which is good." He was hopeful that the victory would help in his search for a budget back in Australia. "These races are being shown at home now, so I hope that'll help me get a budget hopefully. With all that combined - and with our good looks! - hopefully that'll help!"

In 12th overall, was Duran, who was delighted with his result. It made up for not getting past the first corner in the morning race. 13th was Jelley, having a weekend he'll want to forget. 14th was Ihara, then Sandher (3rd in class), Annala, O'Mahony, Jones and Teixeira.

The fastest laps were set by Asmer and Duran.
Weather: Cold, cloudy, windy.

Next Races: Rounds 3 & 4, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, April 15th/17th, 2005

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Series BF3