Weather: Wet, cloudy, horrible. Well, we were down one driver before we even started. Danny Watts (Promatecme F3) would not be racing this afternoon, the Lola-Dome having sustained heavy damage that morning. It wasn't quite reduced to ...
Weather: Wet, cloudy, horrible.
Well, we were down one driver before we even started. Danny Watts (Promatecme F3) would not be racing this afternoon, the Lola-Dome having sustained heavy damage that morning. It wasn't quite reduced to its component parts, but it wasn't far from it. Given the prevailing weather conditions, it was likely that Watts wasn't too unhappy to be sidelined.
Less than half an hour before the race started, the heavens had opened, treating us to a spectacular storm. Including - but not limited to - hailstones, really fat rain and a rainbow that appeared to end at Craner Curves (which might explain a lot of what happened later). It was no great surprise when Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing) skated off on the first of the two exploratory laps and had to be hauled back out of the gravel to take his place on the grid. The only real surprise was that he was the only one to go off. Actually, the real surprise was that anyone got out at all, as the organizers started waving green flags but then didn't seem to in any hurry to switch off the red light at the end of the pit lane to let the drivers out.
As the grid formed up the last raindrops faded away, but the track was awash, it was perishing cold and there were gale force winds whipping across the circuit - these were really not good conditions for baby racing drivers to be out in, or even those with more experience. The weather was most likely to suit the likes of Clivio Piccione (Carlin Motorsport), the young Monegasque having the necessary delicate touch for such treacherous conditions. Anyway, eventually everyone lined up on the grid though this wasn't easy either as the circuit administration had somehow overlooked the fact that the grid needed to be painted. You were fine if you were in the top 10 but after that you were on your own trying to figure out where you were supposed to be. And if you did jump the start, well it wouldn't matter anyway, since this year (in a cost-cutting exercise that hasn't transferred any savings to the teams) there is to be no video of the start and thus no evidence of anyone jumping the start.Oh joy! Just what we needed; even more reasons for discontent in the paddock! This really looks likely to be one of those years.
Just for good measure, the wind was so strong that an umbrella was ripped from someone's grip and attacked Ernesto Viso (P1 Racing) as he sat on the grid. Quite why we were even considering starting the race in these conditions was a very good question. But start they did. The lights went to green and Clivio Piccione (Carlin Motorsport) took off like a rocket, although he may have been creeping before the lights ever changed. His teammate Alvaro Parente also got a very good start, considering the conditions, but we were now at the start of what would very rapidly become a war of attrition.
Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports) tried his best to go with the leaders but promptly lost out to Fairuz Fauzy (Menu Motorsport), only to pay for his presumption half a lap later when he skittered off, taking both Adam Carroll (P1 Motorsport) and Adam Langley-Khan (Alan Docking Racing) with him. In addition, Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing) had a bit of a nasty moment, and James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport) skittered off in avoidance, as did Lucas di Grassi (Hitech). Parente had a bit of an off too, at the Craner curves, driving through the gravel before he could recover. Afterwards Carroll complained that he'd been left with nowhere to go, and then the car had simply gone straight on, the lack of traction meaning he could do nothing to avoid the accident. It was starting to get very messy out there.
Piccione, on the other hand, was looking very sure-footed at the front, Piquet now behind him, having got the better of Parente. Danilo Dirani in the last of the three Carlin cars was 4th, from Will Power (Alan Docking Racing) and Will Davison (Menu Motorsport), the latter having made up 6 places in a lap, largely due to his ability to stay out of trouble while everyone else was running headlong into it. Parente was coming under quite a lot of pressure from Dirani now, and wasn't too pleased to be on the receiving end of a shove that led to something of a gravelly moment for the Portuguese. His only consolation was that Dirani didn't get away unscathed either, and was in fact unable to continue. Meanwhile, Piquet led a bunch of his fellow competitors through the gravel and over the grass at the Craner Curves, and although they all came back on again it was obvious that a Safety Car period was needed to allow the marshals to move various abandoned vehicles to places of safety. And so it was that the Safety Car was scrambled, picking up Piccione next time round. 2nd now was Davison, followed by Power and Marko Asmer (Hitech), who was ahead of Viso when he shouldn't have been. Next up was Piquet, then Scholarship Class leader Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing), Ryan Lewis (T-Sport), Thompson, James Walker (Hitech), Parente, Ronayne O'Mahony (Fortec), Karun Chandhok (T- Sport), di Grassi - who was splattered in mud, Vasilije Calasan (Promatecme F3), James Rossiter (Fortec), Ajit Kumar (Mango Racing) and Barton Mawer (Performance Racing), the latter also liberally covered in mud having had an off of his own.
And that was how they stayed for another three laps, while cars were towed, pushed and hauled out of the way. By the time the lights went out on the Safety Car, something of a dry line was now starting to appear, which was going to make life very interesting for everyone as they were all on wets and would need to try and find the wetter parts of the track to try and keep their tyres in trim till the end of the race. Given that the Carlin boys were having trouble getting heat into their tyres in the first place, they might well find they had an unexpected advantage round about now. It certainly looked like it as Piccione, despite adopting some very sideways attitudes, simply started to pull away from Davison, Power, Viso and Asmer, who was now starting to have trouble with Piquet breathing down his neck, at the same time as he was trying to get past Viso. If Viso was wise, he was simply not looking in his mirrors any longer.
In the middle of the pack, things were still pretty hair-raising, and there was still precious little grip to be had anywhere. When someone nudged Walker, he spun and very nearly took Chandhok with him. They both recovered, though Walker was last when he finally figured out which way everyone was going. Lewis, Parente and Rossiter seemed to be having their own private battle too, swapping places with every lap. It was hard to know where to look, there seemed to be so much going on.
At the front Piccione was taking it very carefully now, carefully enough that it encouraged Davison to think he could maybe catch him. Certainly the gap was narrowing now, though not by enough to worry the Carlin man. Behind Power, Viso, Asmer and Piquet were slugging it out for 5th, Asmer losing out eventually to the more experienced Piquet. That left Viso to defend himself from his fellow South American. Meanwhile, the Australians were having a little scrap of their own after Davison dropped back into Powers clutches. As Asmer dropped his wheels in the dirt, Power went off scattering gravel everywhere and Viso snatched 3rd place, never being a man to pass up the opportune moment. Just for good measure, di Grassi went off again, this time into the Redgate gravel, once again being able to rejoin, though losing ever more places.
With the racing line continuing to dry, Piquet was in hot pursuit of Viso, while the Venezuelan tried to catch the Davo for 2nd. And in the Scholarship Class, Jelley was coming under increasing pressure from Lewis, who really wanted his second victory of the day. And just in front of Jelley, things were getting very wobbly, not aided by di Grassi shoving O'Mahony into the gravel at Redgate and leaving him there. Not very friendly, really.
While all this was going Piquet finally found a way round Viso, and that was it for the Venezuelan. Asmer, meanwhile, was busy trying - and ultimately failing - to hold off Thompson, the latter seeming much more effective this year than he did last. Now that Piquet was free of Viso he was starting to reel Davison in, setting the fastest lap of the race as he did so, and rapidly gaining on the Australian. As we moved into the closing stages of the race, Piquet was taking huge chunks out of Davison's advantage, keeping his head and really showing his class this time out. It was easy to see why he's many people's favourite to take the title this year. He was about to be helped as well by the fact that the leaders were about to start lapping the slower runners and at the back Mawer and Calasan were locked in their own battle and seemed not to have noticed Piccione approaching at speed. He squeezed through, but not before he'd been held up quite substantially. As Calasan and Mawer were absorbed into the pack, Power, who had been clawing his way back up the order, saw his chance to get on terms with Viso. With three laps to go of the 23 needed to complete the race, Power decided to have a go Viso at Redgate, but he couldn't quite make it stick. Davison, meanwhile, was under heaps of pressure from Piquet and looked unlikely to have enough speed left to hold the Brazilian off. And on the penultimate lap it was all change as Power got Viso, Lewis grabbed the Scholarship lead from Jelley, and Davison was taken up the inside by Piquet as they came round through Godards again.
Again the fastest Championship Class lap was set by Piquet, and Lewis was once more fastest in the Scholarship Class, thus gaining another extra point. The two of them left Donington leading their respective classes. The next races are at Silverstone on April 18th. It remains to be seen what will happen there. It's to be hoped it is better organized, at least.
By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite