2000 Green Flag British Formula Three Championship
Race Report by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite
Qualifying: Weather: cold, sunny.
Although Tomas Scheckter (Stewart Racing) and Michael Bentwood (Fortec Motorsport) were the drivers who dominated the first ten minutes or so of this session, the main story was that of Takuma Sato (Carlin Motorsport). Probably most embarrassed driver of the afternoon was one of last year's Carlin drivers, Narain Karthikeyan (Stewart Racing). He pulled his usual early session stunt and threw himself into the gravel, having to come in to get the car checked for damage and to have all the grass and gravel shaken out. OK, in a half hour session you only have a very limited opportunity to set a time, but trying too hard on cold tyres will do you no good at all, as Narain seems determined to prove these days. Everyone else seemed to settle down quite well although it took Antonio Pizzonia (Manor Motorsport) longer than usual to get on the pace. At one point, the Brazilian was back as far as 6th, not a position he is at all used to these days. Even after a determined effort he was only able to snatch 3rd place by the end of the session.
Sato, on the other hand, was down in 25th and would stay there until the later stages of the session when, with a relatively clear track in front of him, the tiny Japanese driver slotted in a blinder of a time to grab pole position. He seems to be finding his feet in the irreverent confines of Carlin and his smile was huge when the session ended and his time was confirmed as enough for pole. Sadly, the smile would disappear after a visit from the scrutineers. The new air restrictor that had been fitted, delivered from Mugen-Honda, was found to be illegal as the measurements were outside the tolerance, by 0.2 millimetres! Considering that this is a manufactured part, and that it had quite clearly not been tampered with in any way, the resulting penalty seemed excessively harsh. Sato would start from the back of the grid, with a ten second penalty. To say that Trevor Carlin, the team owner, was less than happy with what happened would be understating it by a long shot. For such an infringement, surely the team should be penalised and not the driver. Sadly, the rules do not allow for that sort of penalty. The only thing to be said for it was that it meant we could look forward to an interesting recovery drive from Sato. All of this had the effect of promoting Scheckter to pole and moving Pizzonia into the second slot. At least this probably meant that the Brazilian would not try anything stupid going into Redgate this time round, unlike in Round 4a.
In 3rd, therefore, was Michael Bentwood, the Altrincham-based driver looking very steady until the closing minutes when he had a minor off and nearly took Westley Barber (Alan Docking Racing) with him. Narain Karthikeyan, despite his own off, was 4th on the grid while just behind him the world was very yellow. This was due to the seemingly miraculous improvement in the performance of the Promatecme UK cars. Their drivers, Matt Davies and Andy Priaulx, occupied the 3rd row between them, while Round 4a winner Ben Collins (Carlin Motorsport) was in 7th, grateful that the scrutineers had not checked his air restrictor, which was from the same batch that Sato's had come from. Struggling slightly in 8th was Gianmaria Bruni (Fortec Motorsport), probably still having difficulties coming to terms with unfamiliar circuits. Even so, he was not especially unhappy with his performance.
In 9th was the steadily improving Juan Manuel Lopez (Manor Motorsport). It's not easy having to follow an act like Pizzonia, but Lopez seems to improve with each outing now. It doesn't help that he still doesn't know the circuits either but he seems to be applying himself to the job and is quietly enjoying himself at last. Someone quite clearly not enjoying himself was Nicolas Kiesa (RC Motorsport). After pole position at Croft he has gone off the boil rather and needs to get a good result soon if his confidence is not going to suffer. That said, the old Spiess-Opel power unit that he and his team-mate Milos Pavlovic are still using, does neither of them any favours, a fact adequately demonstrated by the fact that Pavlovic was 13th on the grid. Between the two RC cars were Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing) and Westley Barber. What has happened to O'Connell of late is baffling. It isn't him, that's for sure. He has proved himself as a racer in Class B, and in fact has been further up the grid here in a Class B car than he was in an A Class car. I can only assume that the problem lies with the team, but there is no way of being sure, as there is little point in looking at his team mate's results for any pointers as to what is going wrong.
Things were going horribly wrong at Alan Docking Racing too. With Westley Barber, who knows about F3 but not about the British tracks, and Tor Sriachavanon, who knows the tracks and F3, they should be able to get the car working, but after the last few years' drivers efforts, there is not much useful historical data to go on. Even so, the two Dallaras were handling hideously this time out and the frustration of both drivers was clear. With Barber only able to manage 12th, Sriachavanon was 19th, back beyond even Warren Carway, who was, no surprises here, in 17th as usual.
A very frustrated individual was in 14th. Gary Paffett (Fred Goddard Racing) hates it when he isn't up in the top ten, despite the fact that it probably makes his Scholarship Class competitors at least feel it might be worth turning out. Here we were, five races in and this was his fifth Scholarship Class pole position. There seems to be no way the others can stop him, though they haven't given up entirely yet. This time the nearest of them was Marcel Romanio (Team Meritus), the charming Brazilian getting better with each race. He was separated from Paffett by Andrew Kirkaldy (Avanti). The Scot was back in British F3 after a deal to run in the US fell through and the last minute nature of the deal showed in the unpainted truck and in Andrew's performance. He had, by this point, run exactly 29 laps in testing and half an hour in the morning practice for round 4a. There is clearly considerably more to come from Andrew, but not this weekend. This time out he would be happy just to get to the finish. Points would be a bonus.
The third Scholarship Class runner was Christian Colombo (Rowan Racing), while Mark Mayall (Diamond Racing) was 4th in Class and 20th overall. Then came Phillip Hopkins (Phillip Hopkins Motorsport), Atsushi Katsumata (Team Meritus) and last, but seemingly enjoying himself immensely, was Ryan Walker (Diamond Racing).