Weather: Fine, sunny.
After all the excitement of Saturday, Round 22 was always likely to be something of an anticlimax, and so it proved. With the Championship Class title decided, and Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) finally crowned champion, there was less at stake for a lot of people. In addition, the weather seemed to be settled as well, so at least everyone knew which tyres to run with. To be honest, this was probably just as well, as it gave most people a much-needed chance to calm down. Except, that is, for the trio still fighting for the Scholarship Class title. With Steven Kane (T-Sport) still leading the chase, just from Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport) and Karun Chandhok (T-Sport), there was everything still to play for, including in Kane's case, a large sum of much-needed money from the BRDC should he come out on top. With Viso being advised by Kristian Kolby, and Kane getting help from Damon Hill, neither was short of advice and neither could afford not to finish the race. Chandhok had done his chances no good at all on Saturday when he had failed to finish, but he was still in with a chance and he clearly knew it.
The really odd thing about this round turned out to be that the only three retirements couldn't really be called retirements, as they all occurred before the race even started. First Fairuz Fauzy (Promatecme F3) failed to move at all when the field set off on the green flag lap, and limped slowly along to the pit lane entrance and into retirement with a failed clutch after the others had all gone. He was joined in the pits shortly afterwards by Billy Asaro (P1 Motorsport) and Clivio Piccione (Manor Motorsport), the former with driveshaft failure, the latter with a broken gearbox. The result of this was a lot of empty space on the grid, and an aborted start, which meant the race was shortened by two laps and there would have to be another green flag lap.
When the race finally got underway it was poleman Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) who made the best start, pulling away even though van der Merwe tried to get around him as they headed into Redgate. Austin responded to being leaned by leaning right back, and van der Merwe had to back off or risk running out of road. Jamie Green (Carlin Motorsport) was also trying to go with his team-mate, but had his hands full dealing with Danny Watts (Fortec Motorsport) who wanted to be third as much as Green did. Watts duly took Green as they entered the Chicane, only to have Green come straight back at him. As the two of them went side-by-side into Godards it was Watts who grabbed the advantage and held the place. Green was now 4th, just ahead of Michael Keohane in the 3rd Carlin car, the Irishman heading up Ronnie Bremer, also in a Carlin car. Nelson Piquet (Piquet Sports) yet again made a bad start and was trapped behind the Dane in 7th place, which wasn't helping his campaign to prevent Green taking the runner up slot in the series. At least his start wasn't as bad as Robert Dahlgren's, the Fortec Motorsport driver only getting away after everyone else and having to play catch up for the remainder of the race. Another driver in trouble from the start was Kane, who was now last in class, behind local man Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing), while archrival Viso was a long way ahead, leading comfortably from Chandhok. To keep his championship chances healthy, he needed to get ahead of Sherwood and Chandhok and try to catch Viso. He'd given himself an awful lot of work to do this time round.
At the front, Austin was showing no inclination whatever to make it easy for anyone to take the lead from him this time. He'd never won an F3 race before, and now he wanted to hang on. Van der Merwe was sizing up the possibilities, but clearly wasn't about to try anything stupid. No one was threatening him, so he would sit and wait and if the opportunity came along to squeeze ahead he would go for it, but he wasn't about to force the issue, probably still feeling a bit guilty about the way the previous race had ended for both of them.
Meanwhile, perhaps inevitably, Keohane managed to spin himself out of contention, forcing Bremer to back off and allowing Piquet to take a look at the Dane. In the end, apart from Keohane's demise moving everyone behind him up a place, the order stayed pretty much the same, with Will Davison (Menu Motorsport) and Richard Antinucci (Promatecme F3) closing in on Piquet. Behind them was Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing), who wanted to join in too but was busy keeping Viso at bay, while the Venezuelan found himself fending off João Paulo de Oliveira (Alan Docking Racing). Will Power (Fortec Motorsport) was able to pass the Brazilian relatively easily, but it's fair to say that the Lola-Dome finally looked like a racing car rather than an incomplete engineering project in de Oliveira's hands.
A lap later Keohane had limped into the pits and the order was pretty static. It was rapidly becoming one of those races that so often happen at Donington, where nothing much changes and the whole thing turns into a procession rather than a race. There was the occasional glimmer of excitement, most of it caused by Dahlgren's attempts to hack his way back up the order after his atrocious start, and Watts setting a series of fastest laps as he tried to reel van der Merwe back in. The only other real excitement came when Keohane re-emerged from the pits, and started reeling off a series of rapid, to say nothing of hair-raising, laps that would see him catching the back of the field at a phenomenal rate. As he was three laps down, there didn't seem to be much point, but it was exciting to watch, if ultimately completely pointless.
Just for good measure, and presumably because he could, rather than because he needed to, Viso passed Thompson, allowing the Scot to slip into the clutches of Power, who seemed keen to get by, but lacked the opportunity. At the front, van der Merwe was trying to catch Austin, and was at least closing the gap on the leader. However, no matter how excited the commentary team became at the prospect of him getting past, it was clearly not going to happen. Meanwhile, Piquet was still trapped behind Bremer, which left the Brazilian in a dilemma. He could try and pass the Dane, which would as like as not end with at least one of the two of them sitting in a gravel trap, or he could stay put and collect points for 6th place. Ultimately common sense seemed to prevail, though he did have a look once or twice.
With Austin still leading from van der Merwe, Watts and Green, Piquet was sandwiched between Bremer and Davison, while Antinucci was holding up Viso, Thompson, Power, de Oliveira and Eric Salignon (Hitech Racing). Behind them, Chandhok had finally managed to put some much-needed space between himself and Sherwood and Kane, as Kane tried everything he could think of to get through. The trouble was, Justin knew the second podium placing of the weekend was within his reach, and as he doesn't get up there very often, he wasn't about to let some youngster through to spoil his weekend if he could help it! The situation seemed to be at stalemate. Matters were made worse by Kane because he now had Reinhard Kofler (Alan Docking Racing) breathing down his neck, the Austrian being severely harassed by the recovering Dahlgren. None of this was helping Kane at all.
Some of the pressure was eased when Dahlgren got Kofler easily, but then had a wobbly moment and managed to lose half of the ground he had made up, dropping back behind Rizal Ramli (Team SYR) and having to start again. Power, meanwhile, had finally found a way past Thompson, with a somewhat wild manoeuvre and was now in pursuit of Viso, who really didn't need that.
At the front, van der Merwe was still close to Austin, but not dangerously so, and was taking some very interesting lines, swerving very close in to the pit wall each time he crossed the start/finish line. No one else seemed to be taking the same line, but it didn't seem to be slowing him down any. It was all a bit odd. Green was still looking for a way round Watts, but he wasn't finding it, and at the back Keohane was still really pushing, literally throwing the car into the corners. He was still going very fast but it wasn't quite enough to give him the point for fastest lap, so you had to wonder what - if anything - was going through his mind!
The only remaining question mark was now hanging over the Sherwood/Kane battle. Kane really had to have a go at getting past sooner or later, it was just a matter of where and when. Dahlgren was behind Kofler again, but this time he looked like staying there, which meant that Kofler wasn't likely to try anything. That left Steven free to concentrate on getting past Justin somehow. The inevitable happened on the last lap, Kane getting alongside Sherwood as they raced towards the line. The trouble was, Sherwood wasn't about to give up, and so they ran towards Godards side-by- side. As they came round the final corner, for the final time, Kane spun and ended up on the grass, allowing Sherwood to come home 3rd in class. It looked, for a distressingly long moment, as if Kane might not come home at all. The T-Sport car had stalled, and if he couldn't get going again there would be no points at all for him. Everyone held their breath as he finally got going again and coasted over the line all but last, but at least able to claim another 10 points. It means that he and Viso go to the final meeting at Brands Hatch in three weeks time with Viso leading the series by one and half points, and a maximum of 42 points up for grabs. The Scholarship battle looks likely to go down to the wire.
Meanwhile, a stunned and emotional Austin came home to his first F3 Championship victory, while van der Merwe, in 2nd, felt ready to celebrate his championship, something he hadn't wanted to do the day before. This he did in some style wearing a ridiculously tall hat in South African colours, and emblazoned with Avon patches. He looked silly but also very happy.
-Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite, special event writers