We've seen some pretty weird races in our time in a combined half-century or more of watching motor sports (and F3 continuously since 1986), but on a scale of one to ten where 1 is "that's a bit odd" and 10 is "you just had to be there to believe...
We've seen some pretty weird races in our time in a combined half-century or more of watching motor sports (and F3 continuously since 1986), but on a scale of one to ten where 1 is "that's a bit odd" and 10 is "you just had to be there to believe it", this one was right up there at around 11! This was one seriously peculiar race!
The trouble started as the pit lane opened and things quickly got out of hand. The track was dirty from the various activities earlier in the day (some of which seemed to involve an inordinate amount of dead Renault Clios) and just to make life really interesting there were black clouds billowing up in the distance and heading straight for the track. The heavens opened as the cars came to rest on the grid, and there was a short sharp downpour. A long way off patches of lighter cloud were clearly visible, but there was an awful lot of nasty looking weather in between. The hideous crackles and bangs on everyone's radios also suggested that thunder and lightning were a distinct possibility before the end of the race. As at Spa, there was a great deal of head scratching as people tried to decide what to do. None of the indecision was assisted either by the news that, as Ronnie Bremer (Carlin Motorsport) was stranded out at Starkey's with an electrical failure, the start would be delayed while he was rescued.
Most people now made up their minds to go for wet weather tyres. The Avon compound was new after the Spa debacle (when they simply disintegrated in damp conditions) and the replacement seemed to be a lot more durable. However, Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) was still on slicks (by accident rather than design as it turned out), and Nelson Piquet (Piquet Sports) was up on jacks while Glen Waters tried to decide what to do (finally he would opt for slicks too).
As the five-minute buzzer finally sounded the rain slowed, finally stopping just before the field was sent off on the first of two green flag laps. Rizal Ramli (Team SYR) opted to dive into the pits instead of going round, and once there he had slicks fitted before taking his place at the pit lane exit. Joining him after one exploratory lap was Richard Antinucci (Promatecme F3) who had also decided that wets were not the way to go. The two of them would have to start the race from the pit lane now. Quite honestly, losing their grid places might have been for the best anyway, judging by the amount of spray coming off people's wheels as they circulated back to form up for the start. All that remained now was to see who was right!
As the field screamed away from the grid, it was clear that wets were better, at least at this stage. At the front of the field, Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) leapt into the lead, despite van der Merwe's best efforts. While Austin stuck to the wettest available line, Danny Watts (Hitech Racing) was also on something of a charge, aided by the fact that after his abortive stab at the lead, van der Merwe was now plummeting down the order as he struggled to find any grip. He was 15th by the end of lap 1 and it began to look as if he might not claim the championship this afternoon after all. Watts still had Fairuz Fauzy (Promatecme F3) and Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport) between him and the leader, but he was trying from the word go. Behind Watts, Jamie Green (Carlin Motorsport) was busy attacking Robert Dahlgren (Fortec Motorsport) for 5th, the youngster knowing full well that he needed to win the race if he wanted to keep his championship chances alive.
Elsewhere things were not going well for Tor Graves (Manor Motorsport), a spin dropping him to the back of the field. Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) made an poor getaway from the middle of the pack and was clobbered as they screeched through Redgate, which left him sitting on the grass on the inside looking a mite embarrassed (as well as potentially out of the running for the Scholarship Class title if the others survived). While a very fat pigeon sat watching from the gravel on the other side of the track, the Indian driver abandoned his car and retreated behind the barriers, where he remained for the rest of the race, so gripped by what was going on that he couldn't tear himself away. While Chandhok himself was now in a place of safety, his car was not, and so the Safety Car was scrambled before the race was a lap old, just as Piquet made an attempt to pass van der Merwe for 15th.
This looked as if it would play into the hands of the handful of slick-shod runners, although they were all a long way adrift by now. And so they all settled down to circulate safely if they could. The order at this stage was Austin, Fauzy, Keohane, Watts, Green, Dahlgren, Clivio Piccione (Manor Motorsport), Will Davison (Menu Motorsport) and Billy Asaro (P1 Motorsport). Behind them, Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport) was leading the Scholarship Class battle from Steven Kane (T-Sport), while 12th was Jo