2014 Cooper Tires British F3 International Series, Round 11 at Spa-Francorchamps
At Spa this afternoon the reversed grid formula again proved its worth, providing a fascinating battle for the lead between Ed Jones (Carlin) and Roberto Merhi (Double R Racing) the result only being decided on the final lap in favour of Jones. Sean Gelael (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin) finished a somewhat distant 3rd as a result of an interesting start from the Indonesian.
Indy Dontje (Motopark Academy) actually claimed pole position on the reversed grid, but was never likely to be able to hold off the likes of Jones and Gelael, both of whom had more powerful engines at their disposal, and so it would prove. While Gelael made an appalling start that provided a lot of wheelspin, a great deal of tyre smoke, and not very much in the way of forward motion, Mehri had blasted past John Bryant-Meisner (Performance Racing) into La Source and then disposed of Dontje at Les Combes on the first lap to claim the lead, while Gelael slipped back to 5th behind Jones.
Sam Macleod (Carlin) also made a blinder of a start from last and was 8th by the conclusion of Lap 1, having got the drop on six cars, probably helped by the fact that at least three of them started out of position (Martin Cao in the Fortec Motorsport car, Li Zhi Cong for Carlin and Kang Ling in an ADM Motorsport car) and one of them (Andy Chang in another of the Double R Racing cars) stalled, all of which troubled Macleod not at all.
Once the dust settled Merhi looked like a certain winner, having already opened a gap over Dontje of 2.75 seconds with just one lap completed, though he can’t have been too pleased to see that Jones had managed to pass both Bryant-Meisner and Dontje for 2nd and had towed Gelael after him.
All the Spaniard could do was push as hard as possible to try and keep the lead. Certainly he was significantly faster in the second sector, but there was the distinct possibility that the power difference would prove his undoing. Meanwhile, in the melee behind him, Bryant-Meisner was next to pass Dontje, dropping the Dutchman to 5th, while Macleod was up in 7th and looking hard at Matt Rao (Fortec Motorsport) for his next victim.
Up at Les Combes Cao had tangled with Nabil Jeffri (Motopark), who was trying to sort himself out after he tangled with Rao at the Bus Stop, which put the championship leader out of the running on lap 3, and means that the battle for the 2014 title is now incredibly close. Shortly afterwards Li and Nikita Zlobin (ADM Motorsport) also tangled, both of them only completing 4 laps.
At the front, however, things were getting really interesting. The gap was now 2.4 seconds and although he still seemed safe enough in the lead, Merhi obviously didn’t have quite the pace of Jones in Sectors 1 and 3, though he clearly had the better of the Dubai-based driver in Sector 2, where it tends to really count. A lap later and Jones had carved another 0.1 seconds from Merhi’s advantage. However, at that sort of pace it was going to take more time than was available.
While the fight for the lead developed, Chang, who was trying to recover from his poor start, moved up the order taking 10th from Ling, which put him on the tail of team-mate Camren Kaminsky (Double R Racing), the presence of Merhi in the team clearly helping both of the rookies to extract more performance from the cars and from themselves. Meanwhile, the man himself was pushing ever harder as he drove his heart out resisting Jones. A lap later and the gap had opened up again to 2.7 seconds, and it began to look as if Jones really didn’t have the answer to the pace of the leader who has been utterly unbeatable round the twists and turns of Spa in the past and was using every bit of that experience now.
And then, just to make things extra interesting, it started to rain, which caused a sudden slow down of all the runners as they tried to adjust to the changed conditions and their slowly (or in the case of Gelael after that start, rapidly) wearing out slick tyres. It didn’t stop Chang pulling a move on Kaminsky for 9th, and then setting out after Rao, the two of them soon locked in a fiercely entertaining fight for 8th. Macleod was also taking advantage of the tricky conditions and had now claimed 6th from Jeffri.
However, the main interest was still at the front where the gap was again coming down, and was now just over 2 seconds, despite the fact that Merhi was still significantly faster in the second sector. For a while, the gap held steady but then Jones again reduced it, to the point where he was now only 1.648 seconds adrift, well clear of Gelael who was suffering significant tyre degradation and could only wait it out. He would not be able to challenge Jones, which left Jones free to really push to try and catch the leader.
A lap later and the gap reduced again to 1.594, and then to 1.524, and – as the rain eased off – to 1.347 with around 3 minutes left. It was too much and there was simply not enough time, it seemed. Except that Merhi now had a problem. The engine was starting to stutter, and was losing power, possibly because of a fuel pump failure, and the Spaniard was struggling to contain the situation.
On the final lap, Jones put in one last effort and there was nothing Merhi could do. Jones drafted past him into Les Combes to claim the lead with a handful of corners left to run. It was an especially cruel blow and not at all a fitting reward after such a fine drive. 3rd went to Gelael, from Bryant-Meisner, Dontje, Jeffri (who claimed the place back on the final lap), Macleod, Rao, Chang, Kaminsky and Ling.
The fastest lap was again Jones, with Merhi claiming a point for fastest lap in the Championship category.
Race 2 Results:
1st – No. 21, Ed Jones*, UAE, Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, 13 laps, 29:52.656
2nd – No. 9, Roberto Merhi, ESP, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, gap 0.862
3rd – No. 20, Sean Gelael*, IDN, Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, gap 12.628
4th – No. 12, John Bryant-Meisner, SWE, Performance Racing, Dallara F310, Volkswagen, gap 19.115
5th – No. 24, Indy Dontje, NED, Motopark Academy, Dallara F308, Volkswagen, gap 21.453
6th – No. 11, Nabil Jeffri, MAL, Motopark Academy, Dallara F311, Volkswagen, gap 29.094
7th – No. 2, Sam MacLeod, GBR, Carlin, Dallara F308, Volkswagen, gap 33.088
8th – No. 7, Matt Rao, GBR, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, gap
9th – No. 8, Andy Chang, MAC, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, gap 42.781
10th – No. 34, Camren Kaminsky, USA, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, gap 50.581
11th – No. 10, Ling Kang, CHN, ADM Motorsport, Dallara F311, Volkswagen, gap
No. 72, Nikita Zlobin, RUS, ADM Motorsport, Dallara F311, Volkswagen, lap 5
No. 1, Li Zhi Cong, CHN, Carlin, Dallara F308, Volkswagen, lap 5
No. 57, Martin Cao, CHN, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, lap 3
No. 21, Ed Jones*, UAE, Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, 2:16.306, lap 3, 114.9mph, 185.0kph
No. 9, Roberto Mehri, ESP, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 2:26.489, lap 3, 114.8mph, 184.7kph
*non point scoring cars with 2014 spec engines