2000 Green Flag British Formula Three Championship
Round 4B
Donington Park,
May 7th.

Race Report by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite

Race: Weather: Cold, cloudy, raining at the start.

Just as the race was due to start, the rain that had been threatening came pelting down, although it was clear that this was going to be a fairly short shower. Certainly everyone stayed on slicks although there was a deal of panic-stricken staring at the sky and a certain amount of head shaking. And then it was too late. The warm up lap was underway and just to prove that conditions were pretty vile, Antonio Pizzonia (Manor Motorsport) promptly went off at the Craner Curves and suffered the embarrassment of having to try and catch up with the field, getting away as the marshals ran to rescue him and rejoining just ahead of the course car. "I just made a mistake trying to warm the tyres up as much as possible," he said, rather sheepishly. He moved back through the field to take his place on the front row alongside Tomas Scheckter (Stewart Racing). As the lights turned green Scheckter made no mistake and got away well, with Pizzonia right behind him, his tyres somewhat grassier than he would have liked. And that was how the two of them would stay for the rest of the race, with Pizzonia breathing down Scheckter's neck for the whole of the race distance, never letting up for an instant. Scheckter absorbed the pressure like a seasoned professional and remained remarkably cool throughout, even when he was badly baulked when trying to pass the main Scholarship class cars as they were locked in their own battle and appeared not to see him. Pizzonia lost ground when the duo passed the backmarkers, then hauled Scheckter in again as soon as they were clear of slower cars. Although it never looked likely that he would get past, it didn't stop him thinking about it, and he was able to grab the extra point for fastest lap, which was much appreciated. Scheckter might have taken the win, but he still wasn't able to take the series lead, and so they go to Silverstone with a gap of a mere two points between them, the closest Scheckter has been so far to Pizzonia.

The way Tomas saw it, there was never any likelihood of him losing his lead once he had it. "I made a good start. I pulled out a little bit on the start and pulled away in the beginning when there was no traffic. I was using lines that weren't one the racing line so I had more grip. He started to catch me when it started to dry. Obviously you worry but I think I had it well under control."

It's fair to say that Antonio was inclined to agree with him too. "Today there was only a dry line so it was difficult to overtake. It was very difficult. I had to fight more with the car than with Tomas too. We had problems during the whole weekend, not only today but yesterday too."

Behind the top two was Andy Priaulx (Promatecme UK) who made what must have been the start of his life. He got away superbly and proceeded to drive round the outside of everyone else at Redgate, having a horribly twitchy moment en route to 3rd place. Considering he started 7th, he was probably as surprised as those he passed, to find himself exiting Redgate by the conventional route rather than getting no further. He was followed closely by his teammate Matt Davies. They both got the better of Narain Karthikeyan (Stewart Racing), and stayed there, both having a pretty quiet afternoon. Which is more than you could say for those fighting for 5th.

Karthikeyan, having made what was for him a remarkably poor start, compounded the offence by tripping over Ben Collins (Carlin Motorsport), and going off. Collins was another to make an excellent start, gaining three places, including the one he took from Karthikeyan. And by the time Karthikeyan could get back onto the track he had dropped a place to Michael Bentwood (Fortec Motorsport) too. Michael was still trying to play it sensibly, though it might have been easier for him if someone had persuaded Karthikeyan to do the same. The Indian driver just would not let up, but so long as Michael kept to the dry line, there wasn't a lot the Stewart driver could do to get by that wouldn't lead to him ending his afternoon in a gravel trap. Michael was blaming no one but himself for being this far back. "My start was just appalling, I just couldn't get any grip. The dry line wasn't there and I couldn't see out my visor, there was that much crap on it. I couldn't see what was going on and then when I could see a proper line I started to push." Whatever, he was now at the head of a squabbling group that included Nicholas Kiesa (RC Motorsport), and Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing), the latter having his best weekend of the season so far, although this wouldn't be difficult really.

For lap after lap, Karthikeyan tried everything he could think of to get the drop on Bentwood, regardless of the fact that Michael is his friend and former teammate. To watch the two of them, you could be forgiven for not realising that they actually like each other. The result of his many efforts was that he briefly fell back into the clutches of Martin O'Connell for a while, thus giving Bentwood a little breathing space. But then Karthikeyan was back again, and this time he did get past, while behind them O'Connell was still holding off Kiesa. Flushed with success, Karthikeyan homed in on his next target, Ben Collins. He caught up with the Englishman, and made a lunge at him. The result was not quite what he was expecting and he lost ground as Collins defended vigorously, a scenario that was repeated on the very next lap.

And just behind them the next part of the drama began to play itself out as Kiesa finally pressured O'Connell into a mistake and came through. Although O'Connell tried to come back at the Dane, there was little he could do. And so Kiesa started to close on Bentwood. As the track dried out, Karthikeyan challenged Collins yet again while Kiesa sat on Bentwood's exhaust, clearly looking for a way through. And the action continued. From where Bentwood was, this is what happened next. "Ben and Narain made contact; I could see that happening and Narain went off. I was being Mr. Sensible again and it was the correct thing to do. I tried to go round the outside of Ben but I had no grip, I was all over the kerbs so I had to let him go." While an obviously infuriated Karthikeyan tried to come back at the group, Kiesa wasn't going to let such an opportunity evade him and was immediately through to challenge Collins. He passed Ben as well, went wide, and Collins was quickly back through. Bentwood just didn't have the space to follow and had to wait his chance. Which came with just over a lap to go.

"Kiesa got the run on me but then, out of the old Hairpin, he was all over the kerbs and I got the run on him, and he just turned in on me on the kink at McLeans and I overtook him on the grass. I mean, there's nothing left of the front end of my car. I was losing loads of front end and I couldn't work out why and I got out of the car and there's a bollard about 6 foot long trapped under the wing. It was an absolutely unbelievable manoeuvre - wait till you see it on TV!" Kiesa (surprised by the bollard perhaps?) then promptly lost a place to O'Connell too and that was how they finished. And then Collins was gone, the victim, two laps from the end, of a clutch failure. And so Mr Sensible came home 5th, ahead of O'Connell, Kiesa and Karthikeyan. The latter was lucky not to lose another place too.

Almost unnoticed in all of this was Takuma Sato (Carlin Motorsport). The Japanese having started last with a ten second penalty, he had proceeded to carve his way through the field in a manner that was every bit as impressive as Pizzonia had been the day before. He was up four places by the end of lap one and continued to impress for the rest of the half hour, particularly with the move he used to get past Milos Pavlovic (RC Motorsport). He made as if to pass the youngster on the outside going into Redgate then got him on the inside at the exit. It was a very stylish move. He was now back in the points and 11th on the road, behind Gary Paffett (Fred Goddard Racing). Although the point for fastest lap eluded Sato, he seemed to be able to drive past the others as if they were in another class, finally taking 9th place, just behind Karthikeyan, for two points that had seemed unlikely at the start of the day. Certainly Scholarship Class winner Paffett wasn't about to try and stop him. "Sato just caught me up and then got past me ... I thought about making a fight of it but then I thought, well, he hasn't finished a race yet this year so it might not be a good idea to try and keep him behind me. I sort of let him go as soon as he got near me. I hung on to him for a bit but then I just took it easy and concentrated on not going off the circuit." Anyway, it wasn't as if he had anything to prove. He had managed to lap the entire Scholarship Class field, which must have been amazingly demoralizing for them, a fact that seemed to amuse him no end. "It was a lot quieter than yesterday. Everybody was skating around on the track. It was very slippery and but after that it all settled down and there was not a lot happening really."

The final championship points went to Pavlovic, well ahead of Westley Barber (Alan Docking Racing), who had spent part of the race trying to sort out Juan Manuel Lopez (Manor Motorsport). It took him a long time to get past the Argentinean, only succeeding after he deranged the nose of his Dallara against Lopez's rear. After that Westley seemed able to go much faster, which defies logic until you realise that the ADR car was handling so badly before that it might even have been improved by this "modification".

Andrew Kirkaldy (Avanti) was able to drag his car to the finish after a very unpromising start to the race saw him last but one at the start of the first lap. For his first race meeting of the season, he was happy just to finish, especially as they really hadn't had a chance to develop a set up to deal with these conditions. The unfortunate Collins was 15th, just ahead of the second of the Scholarship drivers, Christian Colombo (Rowan Racing), while Warren Carway (Rowan Racing) finished in exactly the same place he started, in 17th. Marcel Romanio (Meritus) was 3rd in class, ahead of Craig Fleming (ME Motorsport) and Ryan Walker (Diamond Racing) who had the distinction of behaving impeccably when the leaders came up to lap him. Phillip Hopkins (Phillip Hopkins Motorsport) was next up, the last driver to finish a lap down, while Mark Mayall (Diamond Racing) and Atsushi Katsumata (Meritus) were two laps down and clearly struggling.