Race Report - Round 25
Weather: Dry, warm, sunny. 22C
In what looked as if it was going to be the championship-deciding race, the general feeling was that a race with no Safety Car period would be favourite. What most people really wanted was to see the title decided without any controversy, or for that matter carnage. In a season were driving standards have been appallingly bad on occasions, it seemed to be about time that they all calmed down and behaved like proper single-seater racers instead of stock car hooligans. The general feeling was that we'd be lucky to get that. However, wonders never cease.
The lights turned green and the first thing that was apparent to the observers at Redgate (where the first lap crash usually happens) was that Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport) was having a re-run of Thruxton and had simply driven round Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International). That was three times in a row it had happened - Jouanny would be getting a complex at this rate. Not content with that, Kovalainen also rocketed past pole position man, Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing), possibly helped by the fact that Kerr was chasing the championship and didn't want to take any chances. All he had to do was finish the race ahead of James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) to be crowned 2002 British F3 Champion; he wasn't about to throw it away fighting with Kovalainen, who had his own agenda and was after third place in the series. Jouanny also took advantage of Kerr's wish to err on the side of caution, and was able to squeeze through into 2nd place, forced to follow that dratted Finn yet again. Before the race was a lap old, Courtney was on Kerr's rear wing, although it was at the cost of two of his teammates. Shinya Hosokawa (Formula Dream Team Carlin) spun at Redgate and collected Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport). They both continued, but their cars were both a very long way from pristine, to say nothing of a long way from the front, and Ronnie compounded his misery by running into Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing) a lap later and breaking his front wing. Just for good measure, at the end of the first lap, at Goddards, Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) and Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport) clashed, both losing large amounts of ground as a result, Carbone breaking his front wing. That left Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport) sitting in 5th, which he almost certainly couldn't have expected at the start. Richard Antinucci (Manor Motorsport) was now 6th, ahead of the recovering Carbone, with Stefan de Groot (Menu Motorsport), Matthew Gilmore (Promatecme International) and Robert Dahlgren (Sweeney Racing) rounding out the top 10. Dahlgren was in the lead of the Scholarship Class after his teammate, Adam Carroll spun at the start and was unable to capitalise on his class pole position.
Redgate was now littered with debris, including a chunk of what appeared to be Stefan Hodgetts' Motaworld Racing Dallara, and it was beginning to look as if the Safety Car might be required after all. However, despite the mayhem, everyone except Sherwood was still running, and so the race finally showed signs of settling down at last. As Tor Graves (Alan Docking Racing) peeled off into the pits, his teammate Kerr was busy trying to find a way past Jouanny without taking any risks. If he could do that, then he could get Courtney off his back. In his attempts to get past, he got badly out of shape, which left him open to attack from Courtney. The Australian tried to make a move that started at the Melbourne Loop and continued all the way to Goddards before Kerr was able to shake him off. Meanwhile, the pack was bunching up behind Dahlgren, with Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport), Clivio Piccione (T-Sport), Gilmore and Billy Asaro (Sweeney Racing) all trying to get through, while Carroll had fallen back to 9th in class after having to take evasive action as everything went crazy around him.
While Courtney repeatedly attacked Kerr, but couldn't quite make it stick, Piccione was trying to get past Austin so he could have a go at Dahlgren. Austin was not being especially co-operative however, to Piccione's evident frustration. Meanwhile de Groot had to make a quick pit stop, rejoining at the rear of the field with only Graves behind him.
Kovalainen still held his lead, despite everything Jouanny could throw at him, and it wasn't long before the Frenchman realised that he was not going to get past the yellow and white Fortec, especially as a slipping clutch as well as a determined Finn was now hampering him. He could see third place in the championship slipping away from him but there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. Meanwhile Kerr was beginning to rid himself of Courtney, the Carlin driver losing ground and slipping back into Keohane's clutches, effectively having to concede the title fight to Kerr. To add to Jouanny's problems, this left Kerr free to try harass him for second place although it was pretty good odds that Robbie wasn't about to try anything. We seemed to have reached stalemate at the front, with almost all the interest vanishing as people exercised caution or alternately ran out of steam. Antinucci was another driver who found the pressure easing off, as Carbone also started losing ground, the gaggle of cars behind catching the Brazilian up at a rapid pace. Further down the field, Hodgetts had given up the unequal struggle with his damaged car, and was out of the race without further ado. A long way down the order, Hosokawa had finally managed to get away from Bremer, but he was so far back that he would be lucky to score a point, and would certainly have little or no bearing on the end result.
At the halfway mark, Kovalainen was in the lead with a comfortable enough margin, while Jouanny was fending off Kerr's somewhat half-hearted attempts to relieve him of second place, and Courtney was still holding off Keohane. Antinucci was in 6th, ahead of Carbone, who now had Austin breathing down his neck, the Menu driver having finally squeezed past Dahlgren. This meant that Piccione was now pursuing Dahlgren, while Gilmore was stopping Billy Asaro (Sweeney Racing) from joining in the Scholarship battle. Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing) was next up, from John Antoniades (Duma Racing), while the Meritus Racing duo of Gavin Smith and Stephen Colbert were fighting over positions (unfortunately, these two seem to have a history of taking each other off; this time, they managed to stay on, to the relief of team manager Roberto da Costa). Karun Chandhok, who had been hampered by Carroll's first lap spin, was next up, from Carroll himself, who was fighting hard to recover lost ground. Hosokawa and Stefano Fabi (Team Avanti) had both managed to pass Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing), the Malaysian not exactly looking convincing this time out. Bremer and van der Merwe were also in the doldrums, down in 22nd and 23rd, just ahead of Luke Stevens (Hill Speed Racing). Harold Primat (Diamond Racing) separated Stevens from the other rookie, Julien Schell (Performance Racing), while de Groot was still running a lap down, as was Graves.
The main interest now centred on the fight for 4th, as Keohane was reeling Courtney in, and Antinucci was catching both of them. In addition, Austin and Carbone were battling it out for 7th, Austin passing Carbone only for Carbone to take the place back again on the run from Redgate down to the Craner Curves (Norman Simon's recommended spot to watch from since that's where "things always happen!"). Austin wasn't about to settle for 8th though and he fought back, trying to repass both at the Melbourne and again at the Craner Curves. It didn't quite work, at least not this time. While all this was going on, Kerr came close to getting past Jouanny, after Bruce made a mistake at Goddards. He was able to recover just in time, but its showed what could happen if you didn't concentrate hard enough. No amount of concentration was likely to save Carbone in the long run, the damage to his car making it handle badly. Two laps later Austin demoted him again, and Dahlgren took the opportunity to squeeze through and get away from Piccione as well. Gilmore passed Piccione too and now had the unenviable task of trying to deal with the ailing Fortec of Carbone. From Gilmore's point of view, the trouble with this situation was that the squabbling duo of Piccione and Asaro were right on his rear wing while he was trying to work out how to deal with the somewhat unpredictable Brazilian up ahead. It wasn't going to be easy.
With the gap coming down again at the front of the field, though not enough to suggest a change of leader was likely, everyone was watching the 16-wheeler headed by Carbone, although further back Smith was doing a fine job of holding off Colbert, Carroll, Chandhok and Hosokawa as well. With two laps to go, Gilmore made his move at the Craner Curves. Carbone, predictably, defended fiercely, and the result was that Gilmore spun off, clawing his wa7 back on after the pack had gone. Smith was showing signs of wear and tear too, the front wing of his Dallara being bent into shapes nature never intended by the time he made it back to parc ferme. Chandhok, meanwhile, had gone missing from the group, which rather took the fun out of that group, although Carroll managed to get the drop on Colbert in the middle of it all.
As far as incidents go, that was pretty much it, with the exception of the Piccione/Asaro scrap, the Canadian making a final lap lunge for 2nd, losing out as they crossed the line by a mere tenth of a second. It wasn't exactly a classic race, but at least it was mostly clean, and the title was decided without controversy. Kerr was champion, and afterwards the paddock was awash with T-shirts celebrating the fact, to say nothing of dozens of tins of specially branded energy drinks. As a local boy, it seemed most of his home town had turned out to celebrate. The boys at Alan Docking Racing were all smiles; the team had waited a quarter of a century for this and they were going to enjoy it. The mood at Carlin, needless to say, was considerably more subdued, though no one could say that Courtney hadn't tried his hardest to stop Kerr.
There is no point in speculating as to what might have happened had Courtney not had his huge testing accident in the F1 Jaguar; perhaps the result would have been different, perhaps not. If Kovalainen had started winning earlier in the season, for that matter, there is a real possibility that the title could have gone to Fortec. Whatever the case, no one seemed to begrudge Alan Docking his moment of glory, although the new champion seemed stunned and was still waiting for the reality of his achievement to sink in. After all, no one has won both the Scholarship and Championship classes before. It was quite a feat by anyone's standards.