2000 Green Flag British Formula Three Championship - Round 7a -Donington Park, July 1st.
Race Report by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite
Changes: Marcel Romanio (Team Meritus) was still looking for money to continue his Scholarship Class campaign. Westley Barber (Alan Docking Racing) had also run out of money, thus bringing his season to a premature halt. Phillip Hopkins (Phillip Hopkins Motorsport) was back as was his father, Reg, now recovered from his recent illness, at least enough to be back at the circuit.
Weather: Cold, cloudy. Spots of rain.
This would prove to be a somewhat subdued session in some respects. Yellow flags all over the place meant that a lot of potential fast laps had to be aborted and by the time all the flag-waving was over, most people had used the best of their tyres and so would have to stand by their early times. It didn't help that with the second session of the day counting towards the second race of the weekend, no one really wanted to use their tyres up in the morning. Of course, a day like this at Donington is not too good for setting fast times anyway. Damp weather allied with the fine layer of aviation fuel that often coats the track (Donington is under the flight-path of East Midlands Airport) made conditions less than ideal.
Andrew Kirkaldy (Team Avanti) was on the pace very quickly, following up on his impressive form in testing. He looked every inch a race winner this time out. Andrew put it down to the fact that he had actually managed to get some sleep of late, not something you get much of when it's all down to you, one mechanic and one engineer to get the team running. It was looking good for Andrew until Milos Pavlovic (RC Benetton Junior) suddenly bounced him off pole position. Milos is probably lucky to be racing at present after an accident in the warm-up at Pau in which he damaged his knee. Two days after the accident he could barely walk, but laser treatment has put him back on his feet.
Anyway, it all became academic when Antonio Pizzonia (Manor Motorsport) decided to join in. Despite being held up quite badly by Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing) in his early laps, he was soon up to speed and snatched pole position early on. The others would have to fight for second place. One who was looking quite keen on that as an idea was Gianmaria Bruni (Fortec Motorsport). "Gimmi" managed to slot into 2nd, looking very smart in the newly-liveried Dallara that the commentary team soon decided was a toothpaste tube - you could see their point, I guess, with turquoise, white and red stripes running the length of the body. He didn't get to keep the place for long though. Kirkaldy was having none of that, not after all the efforts he had made to get the team organised and working. Also up in the order this time out was Narain Karthikeyan (Stewart Racing). The Indian still tried to have his semi-customary trip into a gravel trap but he managed to drive through it and put in a good lap to push Bruni back to 4th.
Pavlovic eventually set 5th fastest, with his teammate Nicolas Kiesa in 6th. The Dane wasn't too happy about that, feeling that he had wasted what should have been his good laps while the yellows were being waved all around the place. Certainly after Brands the drivers mostly erred on the side of caution, which is just as well. What some drivers had done there was unforgivably dangerous, so it was good to see that the message seemed to have got through at last. Licence endorsements were handed out (to Ben Collins, Andy Priaulx and Tor Sriachavanon), but at least no one needed to have their times disallowed. Maybe they've finally all started to pay attention, at least in the matter of yellow flag discipline.
In 7th and 8th was the Carlin pair of Takuma Sato and Ben Collins. Ben had managed to get himself trapped behind Michael Bentwood (Fortec), who was having a difficult day himself. It was only in the closing minutes of the session that Collins was able to get up to 8th, and it certainly wasn't what he would have considered an improvement. Still, he wasn't having as bad a day as Tomas Scheckter (Stewart Racing). There was some confusion over the pit-lane entrance. In testing they had used a different entrance and half the drivers had failed to read their final instructions and so were not aware of the change. Until, that is, they tried to get into the pits and found the entrance blocked by a gate. The trouble was this then meant you had to do another lap to get into the pits, having missed the correct entrance to get to the closed one. Scheckter managed this twice in the first session, which rather proves the theory that the average racing driver has the attention span and memory of a goldfish with Alzheimer's disease. As a result of all this, the best he could manage was 9th. With Pizzonia at the top of the order, this was doing his championship chances all manner of harm. Maybe the problem was that he was just back from a run in Italian F3000, maybe the team have lost the plot. Who knows? It certainly wasn't what he would have been hoping for when they arrived at Donington, and it won't impress his father. To compound his misery, he was fined and had his license endorsed for missing the drivers briefing, because he didn't know where it was being held, and when told it was in the FOTA bus, was unable to find the bus. In 10th was Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing), who must have been disappointed with this on what is really his local circuit, and also the scene of one of his most impressive drives when he was in Class B. Still, he was ahead of Bentwood, who really was not having a good day. However, the Promatecme boys were having an even worse time, in 12th (Andy Priaulx) and 13th (Matt Davies) places. The only thing that was cheering Priaulx up was the news that he and wife Jo are about to become parents for the first time. This was no present for an impending baby though.
In what was for him a fairly restrained performance, Gary Paffett was 14th, the Scholarship Class pole man having been a joy to watch, sliding the car through the Melbourne Loop in a series of small twitching moves that recall a young Michael Schumacher as much as anyone. He wasn't sure, but there was a suggestion that the title was within reach this weekend, and so he wasn't about to take any chances and drag this thing out any longer than necessary. He had two drivers between him and the next Class B car anyway, so he wasn't overly worried. Juan Manuel Lopez (Manor) was though. He is becoming increasingly depressed as the season wears on, but this would probably have happened to whoever had been Pizzonia's teammate this year. It doesn't help that he has a sponsorship shortage and the backer he does have seems to expect results immediately. None of this is good if you're trying to get to grips with a strange country, tracks you don't know at all well and a blindingly quick teammate.
None of these factors in anyway explain Warren Carway who, with the absence of Westley Barber, was 16th instead of 17th at the end of the session. He was also the cause of much of the yellow flag waving, to say nothing of an element of complaint among the other drivers. Now Warren is a great guy but he really isn't a racing driver, a fact adequately demonstrated by the fact that his teammate, Christian Colombo wasn't far behind him on the grid. This was despite a trip right through the Redgate gravel and out the other side. And all this from a man in a Class B car. Colombo was 3rd in his class, separated from Atsushi Katsumata (Team Meritus) by Tor Sriachavanon (Alan Docking Racing). Tor has seriously lost his way this year and you can't help but feel that perhaps its time for him to find a new hobby, or at least a level of racing where he is comfortable. This isn't it unfortunately.
Next up is the ever-improving Ryan Walker (Diamond Racing). The young American is looking better now that we are starting to revisit tracks, as it means he is now seeing places for the second time. His enthusiasm is startling and his results should start to improve in the second half of the season. Behind him, 5th in class, was Phillip Hopkins (Phillip Hopkins Motorsport). A seriously down-on-power car troubled the Bristolian, the fault eventually being traced to a very sick battery, but not before he had suffered through the race as well. Craig Fleming (ME Motorsport) was not too happy, having been baulked by Kiesa on his flying lap, but he was still ahead of Mark Mayall (Diamond Racing). There were rumours that Mayall was sure he was going to set the world alight but it hasn't happened so far and he quite obviously still has a lot to learn about F3.
<pre> Qualifying Times: 1st - No 1 - Antonio Pizzonia, Manor, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, 1:28.698 2nd - No 22 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Avanti, Dallara F300 -Spiess-Opel, 1:28.738 3rd - No 3 - Narain Karthikeyan, Stewart, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, 1:28.778 4th - No 8 - Gianmaria Bruni, Fortec, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, 1:28.860 5th - No 11 - Milos Pavlovic, RC, Dallara F300 Spiess-Opel, 1:28.882 6th - No 12 - Nicolas Kiesa, RC, Dallara F300 Spiess-Opel, 1:28.920 7th - No 9 - Takuma Sato, Carlin, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, 1:28.999 8th - No 10 - Ben Collins, Carlin, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, 1:29.023 9th - No 4 - Tomas Scheckter, Stewart, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, 1:29.053 10th - No 17 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, 1:29.078 11th - No 7 - Michael Bentwood, Fortec, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, 1:29.208 12th - No 6 - Andy Priaulx, Promatecme, Dallara F300 Renault, 1:29.248 13th - No 5 - Matthew Davies, Promatecme, Dallara F300 Renault, 1:29.279 14th - No 61 - Gary Paffett, FGR, Dallara F398 Renault, 1:29.752 (Scholarship Class Pole) 15th - No 2 - Juan Manuel Lopez, Manor, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, 1:29.881 16th - No 18 - Warren Carway, Rowan, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.268 17th - No 55 - Atsushi Katsumata, Meritus, Dallara F398 Toyota, 1:30.456 18th - No 16 - Tor Sriachavanon, ADR, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.841 19th - No 51 - Christian Colombo, Rowan, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.976 20th - No 66 - Ryan Walker, Diamond, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.997 21st - No 52 - Phillip Hopkins, PHM, Dallara F398 Spiess-Opel, 1:31.096 22nd - No 54 - Craig Fleming, ME, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.279 23rd - No 77 - Mark Mayall, Diamond, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.665
Weather: Gloomy, threatening rain.
The field set off with everyone on slick tyres except the RC Benetton Junior team drivers, Nicolas Kiesa and Milos Pavlovic. However, after their exploratory laps they both decided to go with the majority decision and change to slicks. As it turned out, they were absolutely right to do so.
The right tyre choice didn't help Tomas Scheckter (Stewart Racing), however. Mind you, there wasn't a lot that would have helped him on Saturday afternoon. Having qualified appallingly, at least by his standards, he compounded his sins by making a mess of the warm-up lap. Following Takuma Sato (Carlin Racing) round, he was slightly taken by surprise when the Japanese lifted. Scheckter jinked to the side to avoid him, and promptly ran into the back of Ben Collins, Sato's teammate. It wasn't an auspicious start to the race. Things then got worse. Scheckter continued round instead of calling in at the pits, apparently unaware of the broken wing tucked up under the suspension, and causing the unkind among us to wonder if he'd missed the entrance yet again. The upshot of all this was that he ended up having to pit after the race had started, and where he might have started last but at least been on the same lap as the leaders, he would rejoin two laps down with no chance of scoring points unless he could get fastest lap, and that would not be easy given his qualifying form.
With his main rival having obligingly shot himself in the foot, Antonio Pizzonia (Manor Motorsport) made an excellent start and began the process of just driving away from the rest of the field as he had done at Brands Hatch. Behind him, Sato was also moving at quite a pace, although with Gianmaria Bruni (Fortec Motorsport) hot on his heels. And while Pizzonia just went away from everyone else, Takuma Sato was also on the move, but he was being closely shadowed by Giovanni Bruni (Fortec), and would lose fourth place to the Italian quite quickly. Bruni's next target was Andrew Kirkaldy (Team Avanti). He finally made contact with the Scot on lap 5, which didn't please Andrew at all as he dropped way back to 13th, and Sato was lucky to miss the resulting melee. Bruni continued seemingly untroubled by the experience despite a short trip into the Redgate gravel. Having despatched Kirkaldy, Gimmi set about Narain Karthikeyan (Stewart Racing), but his first attempt to pass had to be abandoned after the door was slammed firmly in his face. That had not been what Bruni was expecting and he backed off for a breather and a think about what to try next. He would settle the matter a lap later with a move at the Melbourne hairpin that the Indian was unable to resist. As if that were not insult enough, Narain was promptly dumped down another place by Sato as he tried to sort himself out in the aftermath of Bruni's move. And just when it looked as if another podium place was on the cards at last.
A little further back Michael Bentwood was busy giving a hard time to Nicolas Kiesa (RC Benetton). The trouble, as far as Nick saw it, was that he was stuck behind his teammate, Milos Pavlovic. Milos was in no mood to move over, which was fair enough under the circumstances, but it meant that Nick couldn't shake off the Englishman either. There would be some grousing about this later with Nick threatening to treat Milos the same way if he got half a chance. "He kept banging wheels," the Dane maintained, quite clearly still aggrieved about it, when asked what was wrong.
The hapless Scheckter was trying his hardest to rescue some shred of hope after the disaster of his start, but it was a futile attempt and he would finish the race last, a good lap down. Even so, he was quite clearly on a charge; it was full marks for trying but really there was no hope from the moment he pulled up in his place on the grid rather than pitting immediately for a new nose. Another driver having to charge hard was Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing). On one of his favourite circuits, he made a terrible start but then started to come back through the order, closing on Scholarship Class leader, Gary Paffett (Fred Goddard Racing), at a tremendous rate. Paffett, being no fool, wisely chose not to make an issue of it and let the Championship Class man through to an eventual 10th place. Paffett would not argue with Matt Davies (Promatecme) either, as there was a very good chance that he would be able to wrap up the Scholarship title this weekend and the last thing he was going to do was throw it all away in a fit of unnecessary heroics. He was even prepared to let Kirkaldy back ahead if necessary too, but that proved a temporary distraction and Gary would end the day in 12th overall, his 100% record of class poles, fastest laps and victories still complete.
Ben Collins would finish 8th, relieved to have survived the attentions of Scheckter at the start, though disgusted to be so far back after his victory here the last time out. He wasn't anywhere near as upset as the two Promatecme drivers though. With Andy Priaulx in 9th and Davies 11th it was a bad day for the French team, but as the engines have let them down so often, it probably wasn't that much of a surprise to either driver. Juan Manuel Lopez (Manor Motorsport) is still in trouble and his teammate's success does nothing to help him. It's not easy to accept that Antonio really is that fast and that there isn't anything to be done about it (apart from keeping your head down and getting on with your own racing, especially if your sponsors are putting you under pressure to perform. When you have had some success in Italian Formula Three it's also very difficult to come to terms with the fact that the British series is so much more competitive.
The usual suspects made up the final two Championship places: Warren Carway (Rowan Racing) coming home just ahead of Tor Sriachavanon (Alan Docking Racing). They were ahead of the only man with any chance of stopping that man Paffett, Christian Colombo (Rowan Racing) - and only if he wins every one of the remaining races and Gary fails to get another 23 points. A very unlikely scenario, it must be said. 3rd pin class was Ryan Walker (Diamond Racing). In 4th, after a fierce battle with Atsushi Katsumata (Team Meritus), which initially went the way of the Japanese until he got carried away with himself and fell off. Craig Fleming (ME Motorsport) had been in a buoyant mood before the race, and so was disappointed with 5th in class, ahead of Katsumata. Walker's teammate, Mark Mayall, brought up the rear, ahead of Scheckter. <pre> Results: 1st - No 1 - Antonio Pizzonia, Manor, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, 20 laps, 30:05.545 2nd - No 8 - Gianmaria Bruni, Fortec, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 5.319 3rd - No 9 - Takuma Sato, Carlin, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 7.095 4th - No 3 - Narain Karthikeyan, Stewart, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 14.103 5th - No 11 - Milos Pavlovic, RC, Dallara F300 Spiess-Opel, Gap: 16.717 6th - No 12 - Nicolas Kiesa, RC, Dallara F300 Spiess-Opel, Gap: 17.560 7th - No 7 - Michael Bentwood, Fortec, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 18.020 8th - No 10 - Ben Collins, Carlin, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 18.735 9th - No 6 - Andy Priaulx, Promatecme, Dallara F300 Renault, Gap: 23.690 10th - No 17 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 28.186 11th - No 5 - Matthew Davies, Promatecme, Dallara F300 Renault, Gap: 29.627 12th - No 61 - Gary Paffett, FGR, Dallara F398 Renault, 30:37.155, (Scholarship Class Winner) 13th - No 22 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Avanti, Dallara F300 -Spiess-Opel, Gap: 32.103 14th - No 2 - Juan Manuel Lopez, Manor, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 39.478 15th - No 18 - Warren Carway, Rowan, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 47.736 16th - No 16 - Tor Sriachavanon, ADR, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 51.200 17th - No 51 - Christian Colombo, Rowan, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 1:01.201 18th - No 66 - Ryan Walker, Diamond, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 1:15.242 19th - No 52 - Phillip Hopkins, PHM, Dallara F398 Spiess-Opel, Gap: 1:20.681 20th - No 54 - Craig Fleming, ME, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 1:21.543 21st - No 55 - Atsushi Katsumata, Meritus, Dallara F398 Toyota, Gap: 1:22.012 22nd - No 77 - Mark Mayall, Diamond, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 1 lap 23rd - No 4 - Tomas Scheckter, Stewart, Dallara F300 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 1 lap
Fastest laps: Championship Class: No 8, Gianmaria Bruni, 1:29.091, 162.57 kph/101.02 mph, Lap 13 National Class: No 61, Gary Paffett, 1:29.969, 160.22 kph/99.56 mph, Lap 14
Standings: Championship Class: 1st - Antonio Pizzonia - 131 points 2nd - Tomas Scheckter - 92 points 3rd - Narain Karthikeyan - 66 points 4th - Takuma Sato - 57 points 5th - Gianmaria Bruni - 53 points 6th - Michael Bentwood - 48 points 7th - Andy Priaulx - 39 points 8th - Nicolas Kiesa - 35 points 9th - Matthew Davies - 32 points 10th - Ben Collins - 29 points 11th - Milos Pavlovic - 29 points 12th - Martin O'Connell - 24 points 13th - Westley Barber - 9 points 14th - Juan Manuel Lopez - 6 points 15th - Andrew Kirkaldy - 4 points 16th - Tor Sriachavanon - 2 points
Scholarship Class: 1st - Gary Paffett - 168 points 2nd - Christian Colombo - 71 points 3rd - Ryan Walker - 70 points 4th - Craig Fleming - 61 points 5th - Marcel Romanio - 58 points 6th - Phillip Hopkins - 56 points 7th - Atsushi Katsumata - 51 points 8th - Mark Mayall - 38 points
Next Round: Round 7b, Donington Park, July 2nd.