With an early morning start scheduled for Round 12 of the series, it seemed like a case of deja-non vu as we all arrived at the circuit to find the Ardennes hills bathed in fog. However, it soon lifted and this year it seemed we would get...
With an early morning start scheduled for Round 12 of the series, it seemed like a case of deja-non vu as we all arrived at the circuit to find the Ardennes hills bathed in fog. However, it soon lifted and this year it seemed we would get both races.
At the start, Bruno Senna (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) got the drop on pole man Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport) to claim the lead as they went up to Eau Rouge. James Walker (Hitech Racing), meanwhile, jumped the start once too often, and was promptly awarded a drive through for his troubles. Meanwhile, for series leader Mike Conway (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) and his team-mate Stephen Jelley it had all gone pear-shaped, when James Jakes (Hitech Racing) made an ill judged lunge that ended in him collecting both of the Double R cars. Jelley spun and was left with a seriously ill- handling car, while Conway was less damaged though he did lose more ground. As for Jakes, he was dead last by the time he'd sorted himself out and had the team check the car over.
They weren't the only men losing ground. Mario Moraes (Carlin Motorsport) in the Invitation Class also lost out as a result of the incident, but he too was able to keep going. They were joined at the back by a baffled Juho Annala (Performance Racing), who was given a drive through after dropping right back when the field set off on their formation lap. He was told by his engineer that he should take up his place on the grid, so did so, only to get penalised for it. He wasn't too pleased, especially as he'd been running 3rd in the National Class, just behind the leaders.
Needless to say Rodolfo Gonzalez (T-Sport) was leading the class, from the usual bridesmaid Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport) and Rodolfo Avila, Annala's team-mate. So with Senna leading, that left Engel in furious pursuit, and Conway hacking his way up through the field. Engel set a fastest lap on the second lap of the race, and he clearly had more in the tank from the way he was hanging on to Senna. The Brazilian wasn't going to get this one all his own way if Engel could possibly prevent him, not after the crushing disappointment of losing out to Buurman at the last minute yesterday.
The recovering Conway was now on Jelley's tail, as the two of them loitered just outside the points, 11th and 12th respectively. Their team- mate was having a much less easy time, with that man Engel all over him, and in 3rd place, Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport) was also busy demonstrating that you don't need a Mercedes engine in Britsih F3 to be quick, and was the new race fastest lap man, as he attempted to get on terms with the two men ahead of him, while at the same time holding off Oliver Jarvis in the third of the Carlin cars.
By then end of lap 4, Walker came in to serve his penalty, thus letting Conway squarely into the points, and when Karl Reindler (Alan Docking Racing) became the next of Conway's victims for 9th place, it was clear that this was yet another amazing drive from the series leader. To recover 9 places at Spa takes some doing; to do it in four laps flat is nothing short of incredible. And there seemed to be more to come before he was done.
Meanwhile Engel set yet another fastest lap in his efforts to find a way past Senna, the German showing tremendous determination and focus as he tried to reclaim what he thought was his rightful victory. Behind them, Bakkerud was hanging on, along with Jarvis, while Salvador Duran (Hitech Racing) was running in a creditable 5th, for once not on his head in a gravel trap by this stage of the meeting. Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing) was again in a respectable 6th, all over the rear of Duran, while Buurman was giving him far more attention than he wanted. Michael Herck (Bas Leinders Racing), was next, temporarily holding up Conway, while Reindler and Jelley were locked into a scrap made more interesting by the fact that Jelley's car was now "a rocketship in a straight line" but was having some difficulties with corners after it was side-swiped by Jakes. And at the back, Walker was trying to climb up the order after his penalty.
On lap 5, Engel got the opportunity he'd been waiting for. Senna was within his grasp. They hared into Les Combes together, both attempting brake as late as possible. Engel dived through to claim the lead, and Senna paid the penalty for going too wide. The Brazilian spun, collecting the unfortunate Bakkerud who was a purely innocent bystander in all of this. Senna survived to rejoin the race in 8th, while Bakkerud was out, his car damaged beyond help. Needless to say, the Safety Car had to be mobilised, taking over the field at the start of lap 6, and staying out for two laps. Behind them,
The order now was Engel, Jarvis, Duran, Kennard, Buurman, Conway, Herck, Senna, Reindler and Alberto Valerio (Cesario Formula UK). Gonzalez was 11th, having taken a place on the road from Jelley after the latter spun while pursuing Reindler. That left Jelley in 12th, from Moraes, Morgado, Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport), Walker, Martin Kudzak (Fluid Motorsport), Avila (who was now losing ground as his battery failed), Basil Shaaban (Comtec F3), and a rather confused Annala, who was making up ground fast after his drive through. Teixeira was now 21st, ahead of Jakes, who was about to throw in the towel for good for this meeting.
The odd thing about the Safety Car period was that Conway set his fastest lap of the race while he was behind the Safety Car, a mere 0.1 seconds slower than Engel's fastest lap while the track was clear. The officials didn't seem inclined to do anything about it, but you had the feeling they should have done. If he really was going at that speed, then he'd either cut the Chicane thus gaining an advantage, or he'd been going far faster than he should have been while there were marshals working close to the track.
Anyway, the ins and outs of an odd fastest lap aside, the race went green again, and Engel held his lead nicely, controlling the pace and starting to break away again as they headed into Eau Rouge. A little back from the German, Conway and Senna both scythed past Buurman, who could do nothing to stop them, and set off after Kennard, who was 4th. They both despatched Kennard in short order, which meant Duran was in their sights, and at least one of them was about to get into the top 3. A further piece of luck came their way when Jarvis suddenly fell back, the fuel pump on his Carlin car broken, the power falling away. He was gutted to lose 2nd, finding it hard to credit what had happened. That meant Conway was 2nd, as Duran had proved no obstacle to the charging Englishman either. The Mexican was no more able to stop him than he could prevent Senna going through for his second podium position of the weekend. Whatever was wrong with Jarvis' fuel pump, the car kept going, but he was 16th by then and a long way distant of where he wanted to be.
Engel, aware of the fact that his safety cushion was gone, was now pressing on towards the chequered flag, holding a healthy gap over Conway. We were, as we had before, running out of time too, though the full distance was managed, if barely.
In the National Class, Gonzalez sailed home to win number 10 (out of 12 races), while Morgado had to hold off Annala at the end, after the Finn found a way round his arch-enemy Ihara to get on the South African's case. There wasn't enough time though, and Annala would have to settle for 3rd.
And so a delighted Engel won his first race, claiming the extra point for fastest lap into the bargain. Afterwards, he was quick to thank the team for their efforts, which shows a nice spirit. Conway was a lucky second, from Senna, Kennard, Duran, Buurman, Reindler, Jelley (who'd come back past the same people as earlier after his second spin), Herck and Walker. Moraes was 11th, from Jarvis, Gonzalez (National Class winner . fastest lap point, you know the rest), Jakes, Morgado, Annala, Ihara, Kudzak and Shaaban. Teixeira was 21st and last after serving a drive through penalty by mistake.
Afterwards, Engel was beside himself with joy: "I'm over the moon. My start was all right but Bruno's was as good. The first lap was really quick then I was reeling him in a bit, by lap five I made a move round the outside and we were really close and he spun. Then I had a big lead over my team-mates and I just kept my head cool. In my mind we could race here all year long, though it was a shame about yesterday. I'd like to thank my team who gave me a mega car all weekend.. They deserve a really big thanks."
Conway was philosophical about not winning: "At the hairpin on the first lap I was passing Jelley and Jakes but Jelley hit me and I hit Jakes. I got a good restart after the safety car and got past Kennard. On the last four laps I was just catching Maro in the end. But I was happy to be 2nd. It's been good for the championship, but I need to keep winning as it's getting very close at the front now."
Senna wasn't too unhappy either, thinking he'd escaped quite lightly really all things considered. "I had a good start. Ollie and Christian were close enough but I just eased back a bit then put on the power on the straight which let me get away. I had to push quite hard for the first lap or so, which may not have been good for my tyres later in the race. Maro was quick at the Chicane and he tried once there but it didn't work, then he braked really, really late. I braked really late too but I didn't want to pressure him, because I'm racing for the championship. I had a 360 spin and rejoined just behind Herck. Then I was on the move and some other cars made my life easier, so P3's really not too bad."
Rodolfo Gonzalez wanted to finish ahead of Moraes, who was in a car of the same vintage as the National Class though he was regarded as being part of the Invitation Class. "It was a pretty tough race, it was not my best start. Moraes, the Brazilian, got places at the start then I overtook 3 cars to get in front of him and I managed to pull away with Valerio but had understeer. When the Safety Car came out, some A cars were behind me and the Brazilian was close behind me but he had more power to overtake me. He got close to me and overtook me then in a straight line at Eau Rouge. I got a massive tow following him but couldn't get close to him. So I won the race but didn't! It was just one of those races."
Cristiano Morgado would just have liked to catch Gonzalez for once: "I got a good start but my pace was not as good as it could've been so I just brought it home for the points. There was not much I could do. At Spa you need to get a good tow down the straights and I couldn't."
Juho Annala had a few things to say too: "I'm a little bit disappointed. I was with the pace of these guys today. I have no idea where the penalty came from, but the Safety Car saved me today. I was catching Cristiano but there was not enough laps."
Next Race Meeting: Rounds 13 & 14, Silverstone, UK, August 12th/13th.