BF3

Dirani takes opening round in Donington

Predictions of mayhem were widespread before the start of Round 1 of the British F3 International series. Partly this was down to the nature of the track (a very long run to the first corner, Redgate, which is pretty unforgiving), partly...

Predictions of mayhem were widespread before the start of Round 1 of the British F3 International series. Partly this was down to the nature of the track (a very long run to the first corner, Redgate, which is pretty unforgiving), partly it was down to the fact that there were so many rookies in the field, and a lot of them were very near the front of the grid. And the front row itself might prove of questionable speed when it came to getting off the line; Danilo Dirani (P1 Motorsport) has won races from pole position before, but Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) isn't quite so used to being up at the sharp end. In addition, the start was delayed after the Ginetta race left the marshals with quite a lot of broken barriers to replace. So everyone lined up, and then settled down to wait until word came back that the damage was fixed.

Someone else whose damage had been fixed was Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport), the local man having had a thoroughly dreadful time in qualifying. The problem was eventually traced back to part of the Bosch ignition system, but not before everything else had been taken apart and rebuilt in a marathon session on Saturday night. At least now when he tried to accelerate things happened instantly. This would later turn out to be a bad thing, but no one knew that at the time. In more immediate trouble was Nick Jones (Team SWR Pioneer), the Welsh-American's car being pushed off the grid and into the pits. He would start the race from the end of the pit lane after the others had all gone; at least that was the theory. On the green flag lap, there was a lot of desperate weaving as people attempted to get some heat into their tyres, and it took a long time to get all 24 remaining runners lined up to the satisfaction of the start line officials. So what happened next may well have had a touch of the inevitable about it. At the front, Dirani got away neatly, while Asmer didn't. Later he would blame it on the clutch, but whatever the reason, the results were felt immediately. Asmer's team-mate, Tim Bridgman, bogged down, and was collected by Suk Sandher (Performance Racing), after the Indian made a stunning start only to find himself with no place to go. With the wheels off Sandher's Dallara, the ripple effect also took out Salvador Duran (P1 Motorsport), the unfortunate Mexican getting halfway to Redgate before slowing to a complete halt and abandoning ship. Ronayne O'Mahony (Fortec Motorsport) also got involved and would pit at the end of the lap, emerging shortly afterwards at the back of the field, just behind Asmer, who'd managed to lose about 22 places in one fell swoop.

With bits of wreckage all over the place, a Safety Car period was inevitable. It duly came out at the end of the first lap, picking up the field smoothly. The driver was going to get a whole lot of practice as the day wore on. Dirani settled in behind the car, with Mike Conway (Fortec Motorsport) right behind him, the Englishman having gone with the Brazilian the minute the starting lights went out. Further back, Jelley had made one hell of a start, though he nearly got squeezed into the wall on his way up. He got away with it though. In the midst of all this, Bruno Senna (Double R Racing) managed to go backwards, though admittedly nowhere near as badly as Asmer had done, while Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport) took off like a rocket, and was 4th by the time they'd reached the first corner, which was impressive considering he'd started from 9th.

And so everyone still running settled in behind the Safety Car for several laps. Dirani led, from Conway, who had Daniel Clarke (Double R Racing) just behind him. Bakkerud was 4th, with Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) in 5th, just ahead of Jelley and Senna. Leading the National Class was Josh Fisher (Team SWR Pioneer), while Steven Kane (Promatecme F3) was next up in 9th. 10th was Susie Stoddart (Alan Docking Racing), with James Walker (Fortec Motorsport), Barton Mawer (T-Sport), Juho Annala (Alan Docking Racing), and Charlie Kimball (Carlin Motorsport) in the next three places, the American trying to make up for his abysmal qualifying (he'd spent most of it in the gravel). Kimball's team-mate, Keiko Ihara was 15th, ahead of Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), Charlie Hollings (Promatecme), Cheong Lou Meng (Edenbridge Racing), and Ricardo Teixeira (Carlin Motorsport). In 20th was Asmer, with Jones and O'Mahony bringing up the rear. And that was how they stayed until lap 4, when the Safety Car pulled in and the race went live again.

Dirani had things very much under control, and he slowed right down as the Safety Car pulled in, only flooring it as he crossed the start/finish line. Conway tried to stay with him, but he had Clarke to worry about too. Mind, Clark seemed to have gone to sleep as they circulated slowly during the first few laps. He certainly didn't get much of a move on. For real movement, you had to look further back, where both Asmer and Kimball were attempting to make up lost ground, with Asmer being the more successful of the two in that regard. In fact, he was absolutely charging, and seemed determined to get back into the points if he possibly could.

A lap later, it looked as if we might get another Safety Car if we weren't very careful. Jelley was coming under pressure for 6th place from Senna, the Brazilian trying to get up the inside at the Schwantz curves, despite Jelley resisting staunchly. Eventually he was able to slam the door in Senna's face, but the respite would be brief. A lap later, Senna tried again, this time refusing to back down despite the fact that he would leave Jelley with no place to go. Jelley was left in the gravel, which caused a certain amount of muttering about hereditary behaviour. Senna survived, though the Clerk of the Course wasn't too pleased with him and gave him a talking to later. The only thing standing between him and disqualification was probably the reluctance of Jelley to protest this early in the season. While this was going on, Dirani was streaking ahead, doing his best to leave Conway and Clarke in his dust. Bakkerud was holding off Lewis, while Senna was about to discover that being hunted down by Kane wasn't a whole lot of fun. Asmer had hacked his way up and was carving through the National Class runners liked a hot knife through butter, the Estonian giving no quarter at all. In fact he didn't really encounter a lot of resistance, most of the National Class boys having no desire at all to get involved in a battle that didn't concern them.

Meanwhile, there was a change in the order in the National Class, after Annala threw away a perfectly decent podium position when he spun at the Old Hairpin. By the time he'd rejoined, his third place was a dim memory, leaving him sheepishly unwilling to discuss the matter afterwards. Apart from the battle between Conway and Clarke for 2nd, the main interest now was in watching Lewis set about Bakkerud, and in wondering how long it would take Kane to catch Senna. Certainly Lewis was trying everything in his efforts to deal with the Dane, his task being made difficult since Christian was proving to be no pushover. Kane, meanwhile, was finding the handling of his Lola to be more than a little difficult. He was sideways a lot of the time, attacking the floppy markers on the corners with bucket loads of enthusiasm. It was terrific fun to watch. It took Lewis till the halfway mark to get the better of Bakkerud, last year's Scholarship Class champion squeezing through at Redgate, despite everything the Dane could think of in the way of retaliation.

Almost overlooked in all this, Asmer was now behind Walker and one place away from getting into the points. Walker was not going to have an easy time unless he moved over. Of course, there was no real reason why he should, especially as he was locked in his own scrap trying to pass Stoddart. Asmer had set the fastest lap of the race while he chased Walker down, but then Conway set a faster time, only for Dirani to go even faster. However, the extra point would go to Lewis in the end.

With Kane now on his tail, Senna was beginning to look very ragged, attacking the floppy markers in his efforts. Asmer was still bottled up behind Walker, while the latter tried to find his way round Stoddart. She was having none of it, and eventually Walker fell to the Estonian, which in a lot of ways didn't help Stoddart at all, because now she had a much more worrying individual in her mirrors now. Walker hadn't seen the end of his troubles either, because he found himself with Kimball to deal with. It was a pretty ruffianly set to, with the two of them making contact at one point. There was nearly contact at the front too, when the leaders caught up with the backmarkers, and Teixeira slowed abruptly, presumably to try and let them through in a gentlemanly manner. It nearly had the opposite effect, with Dirani having to brake abruptly to avoid hitting the Angolan in the sidepods. It must have given the race leader a bit of a scare.but eventually everyone settled down again, though Lewis was now eyeing up Clarke in a rather ominous manner. However, getting past might prove rather more difficult, as Clarke now had a backmarker of his own to deal with. Jones was all sideways, and was proving to be rather difficult to pass, which made Lewis behave in a rather more circumspect manner too, and he was left with no choice but to back off, reluctantly leaving Clarke to his podium position. And really, that was it. First blood went to Dirani and the Lola, with Conway and Clarke both taking podium places on their debuts in the formula. Lewis was 4th, with Bakkerud 5th, and Senna 6th, the Brazilian having managed to hold Kane off, while the latter could see Asmer beginning to loom in his mirrors as the race moved to its end. Stoddart was 9th, with the National Class winner, Fisher, behind her in 10th overall. The last Championship Class points scorer was Walker, after a rather energetic morning. Second in the National Class (and 12th overall) was Mawer, with Hollings just beating off Kennard for third. The unfortunate O'Mahony was next home, followed by Kimball, with Annala, Ihara, Cheong and Teixeira filling the final positions.

Fastest laps went to Lewis and Hollings.

Weather: Cold, overcast.

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Series BF3