1999 Autosport British Formula Three Championship - Round 6 - Oulton Park, May 2nd/3rd. Race Report by Stella-Maria Thomas
John Bender was not racing in the National class this weekend. Otherwise, life in the F3 paddock was as normal as it ever gets. Testing, as seems to be the way these days, provided no clues at all as to what was likely to happen, though it provided an interesting talking point in that young Indian Narain Karthikeyan (Carlin Motorsport) seemed to be still on a roll after his impressive performances at Brands Hatch. He promptly went out and set fastest times in both sessions even though he had not been at the official test day in March since he was still waiting for his budget to come through. Of course the trouble with testing is you can never be sure what the teams are trying though the fact that Luciano Burti and Marc Hynes were just behind him might have been a useful pointer to what was to come. Six races into the series, it would take a braver woman than me to make any predictions about the way this season will go. In previous years the eventual champion has usually come from a choice of two or three drivers and it has been clear from the start who they were. This year there are more possible title contenders than I can remember, and though the fields may be small, there are maybe 8 or 10 potential race winners in there. In some ways the series has never looked healthier although it struggles for money and for an audience, at least at the tracks. With TV coverage now back to a civilised level too, there is hope, although Palmer Audi seem to be trying to take away the natural successors to the current batch of drivers. At least with the British GTs and the MGFs on thebill too, and a gloriously sunny bank holiday weekend, a crowd = approaching 15,000 made the trip to Oulton Park. In comparison with the first meeting of the year at Donington, this was real progress.
Testing times: 1st - No. 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.416 2nd - No.1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.446 3rd - No. 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.610 4th - No. 3 - Matthew Davies, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.769 5th - No. 2 - Andrew Kirkcaldy, Stewart Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.802 6th - No. 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.854 7th - No. 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme UK, Dallara F399 Renault, 1:30.969 8th - No.51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan Racing, Dallara F398 TOM'S Toyota, 1:31.037 9th - No. 8 - Alex Yoong, Alan Docking Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.073 10th - No. 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme UK, Dallara F399 Renault, 1:31.507 11th - No. 15 - Tim Spouge, S S Sport, Dallara F399 Spiess Opel, 1:31.751 12th - No. 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.753 13th - No. 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport F3 Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.809 14th - No. 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport F3 Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:32.154 15th - No. 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:32.173 16th - No. 7 - Yudai Igarashi, Alan Docking Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:32.378 17th - No. 52 - Gavin Jones, Rowan Racing, TOM'S 037F TOM'S Toyota, 1:35.838 18th - No. 75 - Jeremy Smith, Jeremy Smith Racing, Dallara F398 Spiess Opel, 1:36.120
Qualifying: Weather - dry, sunny On the pace stright away and on pole was Luciano Burti (Stewart Racing), taking his first pole of the year. Luciano seems to have started slowly all round this year but now he appears to be hitting form and should never be discounted. He's cool and collected most of the time and he knows how impoprtant it is to score points whenever possible. More to the point, he looks confident now and that may matter at the end of the year. Certainly he was quick too, setting a time lower than the lap record although slower than last year's pole. He would be joined on the front row by one of the few drivesr to improve his time in the second session, Jenson Button (Promatecme). In the first session Jenson was floundering in 8th, while his team mate Aluizio Coelho was 10th. I don't know what happens to Promatecme engineering wise, but this is not the first time they have been unable to do the time in the first session. This time both drivers had to make superhuman efforts to get anything useful out of the Renault-engined Dallara, with Little Al hauling himself up to 6th, also in the second session. And they both just managed their times as the flag came out to end the session. Whatever is happening, it's hampering the performances of two fine drivers and it seems a shame that we may not see the best of either of them this season. On row two were Kris Kolby (Fortec) and Andrew Kirkaldy (Stewart), both of them hoping that they are seeing a change of luck. Kolby wasn't exactly overjoyed with the amout of fuss surrounding Jesnon Button either. OK, so Jenson's the next superstar of British racing, but Oulton Park is Kris's home circuit. He's lived in Knutsford, just a few miles away, most of his life and considers himself a local, regardless of the fact that he's Danish. He's certainly the only Dane I've ever encountered with a Liverpool accent, however mild. Kirkaldy seemed to be enjoying the novelty of a trouble-free day. There again, he should maybe have known it wouldn't last. Fifth would be occupied by Marc Hynes (Manor Motorsport). Marc was baffled, seeming unable to repeat his testing form. In the end he thought the problem was down to over-engineering again. When asked by one of the two TV reporters to explain the term, he said "We've fiddled with it too much." On reflection, he wondered if it might be best to go back to a basic set-up and just work from there. Maybe it would be best to stop tyring to be too clever. The five week gap in the season would allow the team time to try and sort out their problems. He would be alongside Coelho who ran with Manor last year in Formula Renault. Seventh was Matt Davies (Fortec), the aliens that invaded his dash-board at Brands Hatch still in residence. They must like it there. = Whatever the real cause of the problem, Matt was not especially pleased to be quite so far back, especially as he had been edging ever closer to a podium placing in the previous three races. The youngster from Essex (who has been likened to a less-neurotic version of James Hunt - likes a drink, likes a smoke, has a singularly aggressive style and doesn't appear to mind making controversial remarks) was going to have his work cut out with this. And what of Narain Karthikeyan (Carlin)? At the start of practise most people were expecting another dominant performance from him. However, it was not to be as the unfortunate youngster hit technical problems early on. Using what the team consider to be the best of the Mugen-Honda units in their posession, Narain was ready to go for it when a head gasket went and the engine promptly began to overheat. A trip to the pits was now essential and the engine had to be changed. The replacement would not be in place until the second and probably slower session and when it was, it just wasn't as good. Unlike most of the rest of the field, Narain was unable to improve on his testing times and would start 8th. He didn't know it, but his weekend was going to get a whole lot worse before it was over. The next row contained Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing), the National Class pole-sitter and he would be joined by Alex Yoong (Alan Docking Racing). The Malaysian was not having one of his better weekends either. With a distinct lack of testing here or anywhere else it was always likely that he would struggle for pace on this seriously demanding circuit, so he didn't feel too discouraged. It was, though, a disappointment after Brands. On row 6 were Tim Spouge (S S Sport) and Michael Bentwood (Carlin). These two had a slight contretemps in the morning session when Bentwood, deciding to abort the lap and take a short cut through from Cascades on the short circuit, rejoined the track at the entrance to the Chicane just as Spouge arrived by the more conventional route. Spouge had to haul on the anchors rapidly while Bentwood drove serenley on, unaware that he had inconvencied anyone. I hate to say this about any drver, but I do wonder sometimes about just how aware he is abouut what else is going on on the track. The stewards had a word and decided to let him off with a slapped wrist and one assumes Spouge went away to change his underwear. It was all a little idiotic. And it was certainly uneccesary, especially as the general feeling was that Michael had improved enormously since he started out. Now it seems he may be back to square one. Yudai Igarashi (Alan Docking Racing) and Tor Sriachavanon (Manor Motorsport) would take up their places on row 7, Yudai having apparently started going backwards again now that Yoong is back in the team. Tor, sadly, was roughly were you would expect although it is fair to say he seems to be getting on better with the formula than he did at the start of the year. Of the people who were not having a happy time, though, the most unhappy was probably Toby Scheckter (SpeedSport) back in 15th. The young South African was undoubtedly floundering, going off in a big way in the first session. The team seem to have lost their was without the testing talents of Darren Manning, and nothing they did seemed to help. Toby was not at all happy with the set-up but doesn't have the experiece to do anythig about it and with all due respect to his team mate, Warren Carway (16th), the friendly Irishman is hardly any better placed to find a solution.They too, felt that the five week break could be put to good use. The penultimate place went to Gavin Jones in the second Rowan Racing car and at the very back was Jeremy Smith (Jeremy Smith Racing) who opted to miss the second practice session in order to protect his very slim budget and his self-run outfit from uneccesary stress.
Qualifying Times (First Session): 1st - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.101 2nd - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.381 3rd - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.444 4th - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.489 5th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.813 6th - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.831 7th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan Racing, F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 1:30.844 8th - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 1:30.909 9th - No 8 - Alex Yoong, Alan Docking Racing, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.919 10th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 1:31.229 11th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S Sport, F399 Spiess-Opel, 1:31.36 12th - No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, ADR, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.433 13th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.517 14th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.770 15th - No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.832 16th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:32.694 17th - No 52 - Gavin Jones, Rowan Racing, TOM'S 037F TOM'S Toyota, 1:34.049 18th - No 75 - Jeremy Smith, JSR, F398 Spiess-Opel, 1:35.676
Qualifying Times (Overall): 1st - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.101 2nd - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 1:30.353 3rd - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.381 4th - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.444 5th - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.489 6th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 1:30.690 7th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.813 8th - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.831 9th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan Racing, F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 1:30.844 10th - No 8 - Alex Yoong, Alan Docking Racing, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:30.919 11th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S Sport, F399 Spiess-Opel, 1:31.36 12th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.391 13th - No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, ADR, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.433 14th - No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.739 15th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:31.770 16th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:32.694 17th - No 52 - Gavin Jones, Rowan Racing, TOM'S 037F TOM'S Toyota, 1:33.804 18th - No 75 - Jeremy Smith, JSR, F398 Spiess-Opel, 1:35.676
Race: The first odd occurrence of the race happened before it even started. And for once it didn't happen to Kris Kolby. Rather the victim of some very odd luck was Jenson Button. He was just leaving the pit lane when Warren Carway drove out of the the SpeedSport garage and straight into the youngster, pushing his car into the wall. It would amuse Kolby no end later, his only reaction being a heartfelt "Wicked!" It didn't amuse Atton and it certainly didn't amuse Serge Saulnier, the team boss suggesting in the heat of the moment that it must have been deliberate. It wasn't but it seems someone at SpeedSport wasn't paying attention when they waved the Irishman forward. Warren was quick to apologse but the damage was done and Button would find himself understeering badly through Cascades on every lap, the front suspension of the Dallara having been knocked out of alignment by the incident. Certainly there was nothing much Promatecme could do in the available time so they checked to make sure the damage was not terminal and then left Button on the grid, hoping for the best. With a straight-line grid (that is to say it wasn't staggered, the drivers on each row lined up alongside each other rather than the faster one being slightly ahead) in theory the second placed man had an advantage though Carway had rather destroyed that. Unfortunately this type of grid also tends to create a chaotic start with everyone arriving together at the first corner and a lot of sorting out needing to go on. This was no exception. Kirkaldy and Coelho got embroiled in a battle for positions and touched. As they both went wide, Hynes arrived and had to take to the grass. Kirkaldy recovered for 4th but didn't keep it long, his place shortly afterwards being taken by Matt Daves. Coelho, meanwhile, lost ground to Alex Yoong, slipping back to 8th and would eventually finish a rather lonely 7th. By the time Hynes had sorted himself out, the rest of the field, with the exception of the very late-starting Jeremy Smith, were long gone and he would have a major struggle to make up places. He wasn't too sure what had happend either. "I guess the Renault and Stewart cars hit each other on the first lap, because they slid wide and forced me onto the grass. That didn't just put me to the back, it also filled up the radiator slots with grass, and so for the rest of the race the engine was running hot and wouldn't pull properly." He set about a superb drive to bring him back into the points but at the close of play 10th wasn't enough to keep him in the series lead. "I don't want to play any more!" he joked regretfully afterwards, following this comment with a number of other remarks not suitable for public consumption. Untroubled by any of this, Luciano Burti simply disappeared from view, despite the best efforts of local boy Kris Kolby, the Stewart driver looking like he had the advantage of the competition. Behind him, it was all action, with Button dropping back behind the first of the two Fortec cars. The trouble started when he arrived at Cascades for the first time. "The car just went straight on and there was nothing I could do about it," he said afterwards. Kolby had made a good start and was charging hard; he didn't need a second invitation. "I got a good getaway off the line, and thought I'd be able to challenge for at least one of the places ahead. I had the right line, and I got him on the run up to the next corner," the widely-grinning Dane said. His team-mate Davies would squeeze through shortly afterwards by driving around the outside of Button at lodge to move into third place. Eventually Button would lose another place, after an extremely brave move on the inside of Knickerbrook on the part of Andrew Kirkaldy, the Scot now making amends for his awful start by pulling himself back up to 4th. Someone who should have been in the running was Narain Karthikeyan, but he was also in trouble at Cascades on the first lap. A mistake on his part saw him lock up a wheel and take to scenery while running 4th. Most of the field would go past before he was able to get going again and with an engine that really was not 100% on song his chances were gone from that moment.. The Hynes recovery drive finally stalled on the last lap, when it became clear that there just wasn't enough time left. He had passed Yudai Igarashi in a heart-stopping moment when Yudai came close to losing it completely and very nearly took the Manor car with him. That got him into the points and then he was embroiled in a battle with Martin O'Connell. To his great satisfaction he was able to get by Martin in a repeat of the move that Martin had used on him earlier one when O'Connell took to the grass, a move he seemed rather fond of this time out. At least he was brave enough to admit afterwards that the problem had been him and not the car. "I had several trips onto the grass. The car was fine, but the driver was on holiday today!" Definitely not on holiday was Burti with fastest lap, pole and a win to his credit. He looked relaxed and supremely confident on his way to the flag and his comments afterwards may well serve as a warning to the other teams not to write Stewart off yet and to make sure they are fully prepared for Croft. "The championship is looking much better for me now. The team have worked hard and now the car is very good. I had the confidence to go hard in qualifying, and the confidence to push as hard as I wanted in the race. I just hope all the races are as good for me in the future!" The Fortec duo were impressive too though it could have gone badly wrong. Davies, having sprung a series of tough but fair manouevres on the compettion that afternoon, decided that maybe discretion would be the better part of valour. He'd obviously thought about it though: "After I got to third I just concentrated on looking after my tyres so that I could launch an attack on my team-mate for second in the closing stages. I was much quicker than Kristian (Kolby) but by that stage I did not want to risk a manoeuvre on worn rubber that might have taken us both off." Davies didn't seem t all surprised by his progress except in so far as it had taken 6 races to get on the podium. "I expected to be up here a bit earlier in the season, but I've struggled a bit in qualifying. Now we've found a good set-up, I hope I can get into the top three more times this season." Kolby was pretty pleased too although he was worried by the fact that he had not been able to keep up with Burti, especially having managed to d get close at one point only to have the Brazilian drive away again. "Mid-race I felt I was catching him. Maybe I pushed a bit too hard and cooked the tyres, because towards the end I couldn't keep up with him."0
Results: 1st - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 27:34.347, 108.69mph 2nd - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 2.17 3rd - No 4 - Matthew Davies, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 3.18 4th - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 4.88 5th - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, F399 Renault, Gap: 4.90 6th - No 8 - Alex Yoong, ADR, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 9.49 7th - No 5 - Aluzio Coelho, Promatecme, F399 Renault, Gap: 14.78 8th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 31.31 9th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S Sport, F399 Spiess Opel 10th - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda 11th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan, F398 TOM'S Toyota, 27:58.651, 107.12 mph (National Class winner) 12th - No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, ADR, Mugen-Honda 13th - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda 14th - No 9 -Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda 15th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda 16th - No 52 - Gavin Jones, Rowan Racing, 037F TOM'S Toyota 17th - No 75 - Jeremy Smith, JSR, F398 Spiess Opel0 Not Classified: No. 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda - Lap 17 - Spun off
Fastest laps: Championship Class - No 1, Luciano Burti, 1:31.177, 176.33 kph, 109.56 mph (Lap 6) National Class - No. 51, Martin O'Connell, 1.31.780, 175.15 kph, 108.83 mph (Lap 8)
Standings: Championship Class: 1st - Luciano Burti - 78 points 2nd - Marc Hynes - 74 points 3rd - Jenson Button - 61 points 4th - Kristian Kolby - 55 points 5th - Narain Karthikeyan - 47 points 6th - Matt Davies - 42 points 7th - Alex Yoong - 37 points 8th - Andrew Kirkaldy - 33 points 9th - Michael Bentwood - 23 points 10th - Aluizio Coelho - 13 points 11th - Doug Bell - 10 points 12th - Yudai Igarashi - 8 points 13th - Tim Spouge - 6 points 14th - Toby Scheckter - 5 points 15th - Warren Carway - 2 point
National Class: 1st - Martin O'Connell - 106 points 2nd - Jeremy Smith - 86 points 3rd - John Bender, 30 points 4th - Gavin Jones, 15 points
Next Round: Croft - June 5th/6th