Hat-trick for Firman

PAUL Stewart racing had a day of mixed fortunes at Oulton Park June 8, scene of the seventh round of the British Formula 3 Championship. Although one of the team's drivers, Jonny Kane, stalled at the start after claiming pole position earlier in the day, his team-mate Ralph Firman dominated the race and extended his championship lead to 26 points.

Kane's sensational pace in qualifying earned him his first pole position since graduating to F3 at the start of the season, but the advantage the Ulsterman held was wasted when he let his engine die on the grid. Although Kane and the fourth-placed Juan Pablo Montoya had both stalled and were waving their arms, the race was allowed to be started. Firman, caught by surprise by this, lurched away from second on the grid and had to fight to keep Belgium's Kurt Mollekens behind him.

Firman pulled out a gap over the first lap and was able to defend his lead comfortably for the remaining 19 laps. Ralph's win was his third consecutive triumph, and the 1995 championship runner-up is already looking likely to go one better this year.

Said Firman: "We've been qualifying well all season and now the results are starting to flow. I was caught out when they decided to start the race despite the stalled cars and had to defend strongly, but after that it was no problem."

Behind Mollekens - for whom second place represented his best-ever F3 finish - Frenchman Nicolas Minassian and erstwhile championship leader Jamie Davies fought over third place in a race-long dice. Minassian eased home just ahead of the Briton.

Round one winner Guy Smith and young Briton Darren Manning staged a monumental tussle for fifth place, with Smith just managing to hold on ahead at the flag.

Paula Cook, recovered from her multiple roll at Donington Park a month ago, was in trouble again - her car hit a fence at the super-fast Druids corner in qualifying and was destroyed. Paula was shaken but otherwise unhurt.

ROUND SEVEN RESULTS 1 Ralph Firman (Dallara-Mugen) 2 Kurt Mollekens (Dallara-Mugen) 3 Nicolas Minassian (Dallara-Renault) 4 Jamie Davies (Dallara-GM) 5 Guy Smith (Dallara-Mitsubishi) 6 Darren Manning (Dallara-Mugen) -- Best in British Motor Sport http://www.demon.co.uk/racing