Race Report - Round 26:
Weather: Cold, windy. 18C.
With the title decided in the penultimate round, there was always a possibility of the lads reverting to their old habits and causing mayhem. In addition, the track was pretty messy after the Touring Cars and the Formula Fords had all been out, and had decorated the place with gravel. Anything could happen, and it probably would.
What was going to happen this time, as far as Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International) was concerned was that Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport) was not going to take a fourth potential victory in a row from the Frenchman. As a result, when the lights turned green and the cars hurtled towards Redgate for the first time, Heikki started to make a move and had the door not so much shut as slammed in his face. Jouanny was not going to let him through at any cost. As a result, the Finn swerved sharply across the path of Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport). In the fine tradition of this season, the floppy markers at Redgate bore the brunt of the chaos, and were left littering the track. Jouanny led the field down towards the Craner Curves while the world went crazy behind him. The first casualty was Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing), who was more than somewhat aggrieved at being taken out of commission by Shinya Hosokawa (Formula Dream Team Carlin); "I was past him and he just hit my rear wing," the youngster said. Carroll was left to walk back, ruing the fact that he had been robbed of a possible Scholarship Class win by a driver who wasn't even in the Scholarship Class. Hosokawa continued at the back, looking somewhat second-hand. The other Carlin boys were in the thick of the action, James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) and Richard Antinucci (Manor Motorsport) scrapping for sixth place, Antinucci squeezing past only for Courtney to come straight back at him. Meanwhile Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) was trying to find a way past new champion, Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing). What happened next was a little worrying. Perhaps Kerr thought it was Courtney, perhaps he just didn't realise the South African was so close. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, van der Merwe pulled alongside, Kerr hesitated and then closed the door particularly hard and van der Merwe speared off into the wall at the Melbourne Loop. While that was being sorted out, and the ambulance scrambled to collect Alan, Tor Graves and Mark Mayall, both driving for Alan Docking Racing, fell over each other, Mayall spinning and Graves arriving before he could get the car back under control. It was all rather embarrassing really, especially as neither of them were able to continue as a result.
With cars all over the place, the officials gave the Safety Car one last outing. As it has probably led more laps than anyone else, it seemed only appropriate really! With Jouanny still leading from Kovalainen, Austin was third ahead of Kerr. Courtney was just ahead of Antinucci, with Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport) now 7th, from Matthew Gilmore (Promatecme International). 9th was now Robert Dahlgren (Sweeney Racing), from Stefan de Groot (Menu Motorsport). Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport) was just outside the top ten and was probably the only Carlin driver who had managed to stay out of trouble. He had Billy Asaro (Sweeney Racing) behind him, with Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport) in 13th. 14th was Stefan Hodgetts (Motaworld Racing), from Clivio Piccione (T-Sport), Stephen Colbert (Meritus Racing), Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) and John Antoniades (Duma Racing). Behind the Greek was Harold Primat (Diamond Racing), Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing), Stefano Fabi (Team Avanti), Hosokawa (who was trying to recover), and Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing). Bring up the rear were Luke Stevens (Hill Speed Racing) and Julien Schell (Performance Racing). At the very tail end was Gavin Smith (Meritus Racing), the gangly Irishman having collected a very badly bent front wing in all the earlier excitement.
After three laps, the lights went out on the Safety Car, and the battle was back on. Once again Kovalainen tried to get the better of Jouanny. This time Jouanny pulled sharply across, cutting off any progress that Kovalainen might have been able to make. Kerr locked up trying to avoid the slowing cars in front of him, and Primat almost lost it on the kerbs at Redgate. He was able to collect it again, but not before Fairuz and Fabi had become embroiled in the moment. The result was retirement for Fairuz, a loss of positions for Primat and a move up the order for Fabi. Courtney was also trying for progress, having a look at passing Kerr at the Melbourne Loop. Kerr, who must have wondered if he was being haunted by Carlin cars, defended his position, though Courtney was not easily shaken off. Bremer was another man with progress on his mind. The Dane was now on Keohane's tail, although getting past might prove to be another matter. He had lost a place after an earlier move on Keohane and would not want to have the same thing happen again.
A lap later Courtney launched a fresh attack on Kerr, trying to barge up the inside at Redgate to take 4th place. Kerr's defence saw him sliding wide and bouncing off the kerbs, but he hung on despite a damaged nose-wing. Courtney's move didn't quite work and he settled in behind the Englishman again, biding his time and waiting to see if another opportunity presented itself. Just ahead of the two of them, Austin was getting a birds-eye view of the Kovalainen/Jouanny battle, as the Finn tried various things to try and snatch the lead.
Intriguingly, the two of them were also sharing the fastest lap of the race. This suggested that Kovalainen should have been able to get on terms with the Promatecme driver, and he certainly seemed to be closing in on Bruce, though it would not be easy to get past him. Elsewhere, towards the back of the field, Primat was desperately trying not to be last, and was looking for a way round Stevens, while Colbert had tangled with Hosokawa, which led to him losing enough places to drop him back behind Smith. Needless to say, he wasn't at all happy about it.
Another scuffle that had broken out involved Carbone and Gilmore. Gilmore passed Carbone, only to have the Brazilian take it back again before setting about Antinucci. The two of them tore through Redgate and the Craner Curves side-by-side, neither prepared to give way. They may be friends off the track, but on it they are anything but. In the end, it was Carbone who came out of the struggle ahead, Antinucci now falling into Gilmore's clutches. He proceeded to hold Gilmore off for a lap or so with some fiercely defensive driving. Courtney still hadn't given up on the idea of getting past Kerr either, and had yet another go at the new Champion and yet again failed to get past. As he backed off again, that left Kerr free to take a look at getting past Austin for 3rd place. Antinucci, meanwhile, was given something of a respite when Dahlgren took a run at Gilmore, distracting the Promatecme driver for a while. It didn't save him in the end though, and at the Melbourne Loop the next time round, Gilmore finally pulled a move that stuck. Dahlgren was now having trouble with Keohane after his failure to get past Gilmore, and it was all about to come very badly unstuck for the Scholarship Class leader. Keohane wanted to get ahead, and as tried it, the pair clashed, Dahlgren running wide before he could recover. Keohane was less fortunate; by the time he got moving again he was all but last. Of course, the real beneficiary of all this was Billy Asaro, the only surviving front runner for Sweeney Racing. He was now in the lead of the Scholarship Class; the only question now was could he hang on to it any better than his teammates had been able to? If Antinucci thought all this would make life easier for him, he was wrong. With only a handful of laps left, he was now being attacked by Bremer, his own teammate. Antinucci must have been wondering why everyone seemed to want to attack him all of a sudden.
While Jouanny still held the lead from Kovalainen, Austin was coming under increasing pressure from Kerr, Courtney having ceased his attempts to pass Kerr. Carbone and Gilmore were still locked together, while Antinucci was coming under attack from Bremer. De Groot was keeping his distance from the Manor boys, while behind him Asaro was delighted to be in the class lead and probably even more delighted that Hodgetts was acting as a buffer between him and Piccione. The Monegasque was having trouble with Dahlgren however, with the Sweeney driver shoving him out of the way on the final lap, only to let Chandhok through as well. It made no difference to Piccione's position as runner up in the Scholarship Class but he was aggrieved at being deprived of a podium position in quite such a cavalier manner.
Another aggrieved individual was Austin, who was also about to be deprived of a podium place. It started to go wrong when he was passed by Kerr, who shot up the inside at Redgate. As if that wasn't bad enough, Courtney then tried to come through as well at Goddards. The Carlin driver hit Austin's Dallara up the rear, badly breaking his own front wing in the process. Austin was left with a puncture and could only limp round, just hanging on to 10th by the time the flag dropped. Antinucci was another with a very second-hand wing after his eventful afternoon. At least he managed to stay ahead of Bremer, which meant that he also finished the season ahead of him in the Championship. It might have turned out rather different if it hadn't have been for Austin and his puncture. As he slid back down the order Bremer's plan to get past his teammate had to be shelved as they both took evasive action.
And so it was all over for another year. Kerr was champion, from Courtney while Kovalainen had consolidated third place. Carbone was Rookie of the Year (Kovalainen being disqualified because he competed in the Macau F3 Grand Prix last year) and Carroll was a worthy Scholarship Class Champion.