1999 Autosport British Formula Three Championship - Round 13 - Donington Park, September 4th/5th. Race Report by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite
Changes: New this time out was Nick Eliades, the Greek driving for SpeedSport, and Charles Hall who was running with Rowan Racing under the rather curious slogan "Destination Sheffield". Both of them are National Class runners.
Qualifying: Fine, sunny.
For the practice sessions, the weather was glorious, wildly at odds with the nasty downpour that bedevilled testing earlier in the week. With the series very much at stake, Marc Hynes (Manor Motorsport) had been fastest in testing and was hoping that he would be able to do the same in practice. For most of the day, however, it looked as if Jenson Button (Promatecme UK) would deny him pole. A determined effort in the closing seconds of the session demoted the teenager to second place and Marc was delighted, knowing that he really needed to get as large a gap between himself and Luciano Burti (Stewart Racing) as he possibly could. "We've done the winning for fun, now we need to win seriously," said Hynes. Burti wasn't too pleased at being stuck on the second row and knew it could seriously damage his championship chances: "If Marc wins, I need to finish as close as possible to him." He knew what he had to do. Doing it was another matter altogether.
To the amazement of many, Toby Scheckter (SpeedSport) put in his best performance of the season, to claim fourth place on the grid. This was somewhat to the bafflement of his father Jody, who couldn't quite see how his son could perform so amazingly half the time and appear to be struggling the rest of the time. The fact that Toby has a much slower team mate (Warren Carway) and is only in his first year in the series has probably got a lot to do with it and his performances have been creditable on the whole.
Narain Karthikeyan (Carlin Motorsport) was fifth but still seemed to be struggling to recapture the form he hit at Brands Hatch earlier this year. On the other hand, Aluizio Coelho (Promatecme) was much happier, his team finally seeming to get to grips with the idea of running two competitive cars, rather than just the one for Button. "The car is perfect... floating, it's fun to drive here." Meanwhile Burti's team mate, Andrew Kirkaldy was continuing in his current depressed state, although he was a reasonable seventh at the end of Saturday. He wasn't at all happy, having hoped for much more; being the de facto number two at Stewart is not a happy position to be in. Tim Spouge (S S Sport) was also further back than he hoped for, in eighth, though his form seems to be fluctuating at present. In ninth place was Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing) grabbing National Class pole. Even so, the Black Country driver was further back than he might have reasonably expected, given his past performances at Donington. Still, he would probably end the day as National Class champion anyway, although what good it will do him remains to be seen. He has, after all, been here before.
The Fortec boys were in serious trouble. Kristian Kolby was only tenth, which was hugely disappointing after he had collected his first win last time out at Pembrey. He was baffled by his team's inability to get the car sorted. This was doubly odd as he had been third in testing but he couldn't get anywhere near the same pace in practice. "We've got no grip. It's like driving on ice!" he complained. It didn't help that on both cars the brakes seemed to fade dramatically after only a few laps. It was all rather alarming for the Dane.
Eleventh was Michael Bentwood (Carlin Motorsport), and in twelfth was Doug Bell (Alan Docking Racing). Then came the second Fortec car. Matt Davies (Fortec) was even less happy than teammate Kolby; the Esses were proving a problem and the answer was proving elusive. "We've changed everything," said Matt. The trouble was, it didn't help.
Next up was Tor Sriachavanon (Manor Motorsport), the Thai just beating Yudai Igarashi (Alan Docking Racing) to fourteenth. Whatever is wrong with Yudai is hard to work out, but his performances are now looking seriously lacklustre. Having been in the top ten regularly last year, he now struggles to avoid being the last Championship class runner. Its fair to say that as he is in his third year in the series, he should be doing much better than this. The actual last runner in the category was Warren Carway (SpeedSport), the genial Irishman as usual bringing up the rear of the group.
The remaining three drivers were all National class runners. John Bender (Carlin Motorsport), Charles Hall (Rowan Racing) and Nick Eliades (SpeedSport) took the last slots. Hall is a refugee from Formula Palmer Audi and Eliades has moved up from the former Formula Vauxhall series. Neither of them were finding their baptism particularly easy, although they both managed significant improvements over their first session times, especially Hall who had gone off in both sessions when he really wanted to get as many laps in as possible. He was philosophical about it though. "These things sort of snowball," was all he said.
Qualifying Times: First session times: 1st - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:29.281 2nd - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:29.628 3rd - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme UK, Dallara F399 Renault, 1:29.694 4th - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:29.706 5th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:29.795 6th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan Racing, Dallara F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 1:29.943 (National Class Pole) 7th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme UK, Dallara F399 Renault, 1:29.982 8th - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.069 9th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.122 10th - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.135 11th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S Sport, Dallara F399 Spiess-Opel, 1:30.225 12th - No 8 - Doug Bell, Alan Docking Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.407 13th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.546 14th - No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.684 15th - No 54 - John Bender, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.278 15th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.640 17th - No 52 - Charles Hall, GB, Rowan Racing, Dallara F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 1:31.649 18th - No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, Alan Docking Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.842 19th - No 57 - Nick Eliades, Greece, SpeedSport, Dallara F398 HKS Mitsubishi, 1:33.416
Combined times: 1st - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:28.413 2nd - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, Dallara F399 Renault, 1:28.519 3rd - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:28.793 4th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:29.132 5th - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:29.210 6th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme, Dallara F399 Renault, 1:29.241 7th - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:29.283 8th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S, Dallara F399 Spiess-Opel, 1:29.343 9th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan, Dallara F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 1:29.347 (National Class Pole) 10th - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:29.527 11th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:29.794 12th - No 8 - Doug Bell, ADR, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:29.974 13th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.012 14th - No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.408 15th - No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, ADR, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.638 16th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.066 17th - No 54 - John Bender, Carlin, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.070 18th - No 52 - Charles Hall, Rowan, Dallara F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 1:31.524 19th - No 57 - Nick Eliades, SpeedSport, Dallara F398 HKS Mitsubishi, 1:31.762
Race: Weather: sunny, dry.
At the start there was a great deal of tension in the air and speculation that things might begin to go pear-shaped was rife. Such fears proved to be groundless. At the green light Marc Hynes (Manor Motorsport) didn't miss his chance although he didn't make quite the sort of blinding start capable of. Luckily for him, neither did Jenson Button (Promatecme UK) and so Hynes simply muscled the youngster out of the way. After a very short time he was able to shake the Promatecme driver off and from then on he was never challenged. "It wasn't the best of starts but I don't think Jenson could have made as good one as I did because I thought he was going to come shooting past and he didn't. It wasn't the easiest first lap; I passed Jenson then we were holding each other up for a while. After that, it was just a case of cruising around for lap after lap. It was pretty boring for everyone." No one at Manor was about to complain; they would happily settle for a boring victory that gave then a 7-point lead over Luciano Burti (Stewart Racing).
After Hynes got away, Button found himself having a rather more active time. Burti passed him early on, but Button simply fought back, relying on Burti's keenness to finish in the points to prevent him blocking too vigorously. Later Button blamed it all on his start. "It wasn't that great. I almost stalled the engine, which would have been interesting. I got away second at the first corner and so Luciano was able to go on the outside and brake a lot later than me, but I was able to get him back at the last corner at Goddards." This Button did by going sideways through the Hairpin, a move that looked spectacular. "I came up the inside and just carried on really," he admitted.
Burti wasn't too impressed. "I was pretty happy where I was because Marc was faster. I didn't think Jenson was that close so I didn't bother to block him." Button was left in second, with Hynes just too far ahead for him to catch. Luciano was unable to do anything about Button, despite getting very sideways. He kept trying but it wasn't the answer. Afterwards, at the press conference, Burti was taking a rather belligerent line. "The thing is now we don't have the lead in the championship and I can't afford to lose more points so next time if you" (and here he looked pointedly at Button) "try again, maybe we're going to crash, because I can't let you pass me anymore." This was fighting talk and seemed rather extreme. It is to be hoped that he doesn't actually mean it and was just trying to intimidate Jenson.
There was more drama further back. On the first lap, Narain Karthikeyan (Carlin Motorsport) unintentionally savaged Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing) at the Melbourne loop. Karthikeyan, out of control for a moment, bounced off Toby Scheckter (SpeedSport), almost ruining the South African's day, before slingshotting out of the way and taking O'Connell out of the race. He just missed Andrew Kirkaldy (Stewart Racing) as well, which would have given him a hat trick, three for the price of one. He's a harmless enough looking young man, but there's something a little wild about Karthikeyan when he gets the bit between his teeth. It did him no favours though, as he would retire a slightly bent out of shape Dallara at the halfway mark.
Scheckter and Kirkaldy were the only survivors of the drama, and having got away Scheckter set about trying to pass Kirkaldy for fourth place. The result was a dramatic scrap, which had the added effect of allowing Kristian Kolby (Fortec) to catch up with both of them. With Kolby to worry about behind him, Toby sat behind Andrew for a long time, before making his move. It was brave and very impressive and went a long way towards earning him the driver of the day award. "The first lap I had a bit of a bump with Narain. I think he went a bit crazy. I took one of the hairpins and he wasn't there and then he just went for me. He hit me twice and then took O'Connell off. So as soon as that was over I just put my head down and caught Andrew and passed him. I got past at Redgate. I sat behind him for a few laps and saw where his weaknesses were. I just went for it. I had two wheels on the grass and I think we touched, but afterwards I was there with all four wheels on the ground, so that was OK," this incredibly quiet young man said afterwards.
Kirkaldy tried to come back at him but it was never on, as he now had Kolby harassing him very severely. The Dane was really making a nuisance of himself, which was brave given the Fortec car's worrying tendency to run out of brakes. Unlike in previous races, where Andrew has managed to go off in these sorts of situations, the young Scot hung on to take 5th place. Given that Kolby hard started from 10th it wasn't a bad result, just not as good as he had been looking for.
Tim Spouge (S S Sport), meanwhile, held off Matt Davies (Fortec) to take seventh place from him while Michael Bentwood (Carlin Motorsport) was having a pretty quiet afternoon with only Doug Bell (Alan Docking Racing) for company, Bell taking the final points. He teammate Yudai Igarashi, meanwhile, joined the list of retirements, going off at the Melbourne Loop all on his own.
Outside the top ten there was drama too. Aluizio Coelho (Promatecme UK) almost stalled at the start. By the time he got going most of the field had gone, which meant he arrived at the Esses just in time to be collected by Tor Sriachavanon (Manor Motorsport). Little Al's former teammate was taking the novel approach of going sideways through the chicane. The result was instant retirement for the Thai, while Coelho struggled round last, and spent the rest of the race trying to make up lost ground. His efforts came to nothing when rookie Charles Hall (Rowan Racing) collected him, on the final lap of the race. It really wasn't his day.
National Class winner was John Bender (Carlin Motorsport) who had expected to have to battle with Martin O'Connell but instead ended up in a tussle with Hall, which wen in the American's favour well before the inexperienced Englishman spun at the end and took Coelho out. Said Bender afterwards, "O'Connell has a lot more experience, but I tried to catch him as hard as I could." Instead his team mate Karthikeyan despatched O'Connell to the sidelines and Bender was passed by Hall. He got back his place at the very next corner, then spent the rest of the race trapped behind Warren Carway (SpeedSport).
Afterwards, Hynes was well pleased with his victory. "It's a better position than we were in at the start of the day. We needed another win to really seriously think about winning the championship, and I always do well at Donington. Ever since Vauxhall Junior I've been winning here. This place has been good for me over the years and it was good for me today. It was a pretty boring race for the spectators, but it was just what we wanted. It was a pretty easy, controlled race for us."
As for the next round at Spa, he was optimistic. "I think the car will be good there. Spa has quite big, open corners, and the car seems to go well on those type of corners." However, Button also believes he can win at Spa. "Last time, I was actually leading a Formula Ford race, when I dropped back to second and spun off. I hope I don't do that this time. It's a great circuit and we can do well there. We'll keep on the pace and win a couple of races."
Results: 1st - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 29:55.180, 100.20 mph 2nd - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, F399 Renault, Gap: 4.286 3rd - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 5.033 4th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 21.376 5th - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 28.127 6th - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 28.498 7th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S Sport, Dallara F399 Spiess-Opel, Gap: 29.635 8th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 30.007 9th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 37.333 10th - No 8 - Doug Bell, ADR, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 37.817 11th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 52.480 12th - No 54 - John Bender, Carlin, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, 30:53.340, 97.11 mph (National Class Winner) 13th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme, F399 Renault, Gap: 1:05.732 14th - No 57 - Nick Eliades, SpeedSport, Dallara F398 HKS Mitsubishi, Gap: 1:23.022
Not Classified: No 52 - Charles Hall, Rowan, F398 TOM'S-Toyota, Lap 20, Spun off and hit Coelho No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, Lap 12 No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, ADR, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, Lap 10 No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan, F398 TOM'S-Toyota, Lap 2 No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, Lap 1, Spun off and hit Coelho
Fastest laps: Championship Class - No 17, Marc Hynes, 1:29.063, 162.63 kph, 101.05 mph National Class - No. 54, John Bender, 1:31.419, 158.44 kph, 98.45 mph
Standings: Championship Class: 1st - Marc Hynes - 176 points 2nd - Luciano Burti - 169 points 3rd - Jenson Button - 137 points 4th - Kristian Kolby - 117 points 5th - Narain Karthikeyan - 98 points 6th - Matt Davies - 92 points 7th - Andrew Kirkaldy - 58 points 8th - Michael Bentwood - 50 points 9th - Alex Yoong - 37 points 10th - Tim Spouge - 34 points 11th - Aluizio Coelho - 24 points 12th - Doug Bell - 22 points 13th - Toby Scheckter - 22 points 14th - Tor Sriachavanon - 14 points 15th - Yudai Igarashi - 11 points 16th - Warren Carway - 4 points
National Class: 1st - Martin O'Connell - 190 points 2nd - John Bender - 112 points 3rd - Jeremy Smith - 111 points 4th - Takuma Sato - 50 points 5th - Gavin Jones - 45 points 6th - Stephen Shanley - 22 points 7th - Nick Eliades - 15 points 8th - John Ingram - 8 points
Next Round: Spa-Francorchamps - September 24th/25th/26th