Weather: Cool, dry.
This race nearly didn't happen. There was drama of a very bizarre nature earlier in the afternoon, when, as far as can be established, a helicopter pilot flying around the Cheshire area suddenly discovered that the cockpit of his chopper was filling up with smoke. Understandably he decided it might be a good idea to put the fire - if fire it was - on the ground, thus allowing the local fire fighters to get to it. They're a bit funny about airborne blazes. Anyway, he spotted a couple of helicopters already parked in the field on the outside of Old Hall corner, so he duly put the thing on the ground, only to apparently discover that he was on the edge of the field and said ground was anything but flat. Cue helicopter canted over onto its nose, with its rotor blades at a very odd angle indeed. Needless to say this was followed by lots of blue flashing lights, race officials screaming "helicopter down" and every rescue vehicle in sight rushing to the scene, while the race that had been underway (Volkswagens if you're at all interested) was brought to a premature halt behind the Safety Car. Initial paddock rumours (or maybe wishful thinking) had it that the helicopter also contained Dr. Jonathan Palmer, current owner of the circuit and no one's favourite person, but then again the rumours also said the helicopter had crashed, not overbalanced. Anyway, the pilot walked away from the scene, and was later seen leaving in another helicopter, and we got back to racing.
Rather, we did unless you count Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) in that 'we' because an engine failure just before the race accounted for the most amusingly cynical man in motor sport. As if that wasn't enough, we also lost one of the four Scholarship Class runners, Ronayne O'Mahony (Performance Racing), the Irish youngster exiting the race on the warm up lap with a drive-shaft failure. That was odd, because it was pretty much the same thing that side-lined Lucas di Grassi (Hitech Racing) on the warm up lap of the morning race. During the course of the warm up lap we were lucky not to lose any more competitors, when Will Power (Alan Docking Racing) nearly ran into the back end of James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport). Now there's no love lost between the two of them, but they'd both have looked pretty stupid if they'd hit each other.
Anyway, things finally settled and the race got underway. And guess what? Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports) rocketed into the lead again, although both Clivio Piccione (Carlin Motorsport), who'd started from pole, and di Grassi made a game - but short-lived attempt - to go with him. Frankly there was no living with the Brazilian on Sunday; he seemed to be in a class all his own, looking much more like he did last season than he has for most of this. Piccione, meanwhile, was battling it out with di Grassi, the Monegasque losing the advantage to the Brazilian, and also losing his grip altogether, spinning out before the first lap was complete. It was a great shame after his efforts in qualifying for this race. Rossiter had also made a good start, scything his way through to 3rd, from Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport). Behind Parente, Danilo Dirani (Carlin Motorsport) was holding off Power, and Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) was ahead of Scholarship Class pole man Ryan Lewis (T-Sport). However, Lewis's main rival, Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing) had other ideas about who should win this race, and on lap two he forced his way through at Old Hall. It wasn't pretty - and it seriously inconvenienced Adam Carroll (P1 Motorsport) who was unfortunate enough to be behind the pair of them and got passed by Fairuz Fauzy (P1) as a result, but it worked. Ever since completing his university studies, it seems Jelley wants to win motor races. Before, you had to wonder a bit. Now, there's no doubt at all.
At the front though, Piquet seemed to be on some whole other level this afternoon, streaking away from di Grassi at a phenomenal rate. He was almost two seconds ahead by the end of lap 2. It was rather like watching Michael Schumacher on a particularly good day.
And really, as far as the lead was concerned, it was all over. Di Grassi couldn't get near his compatriot, and had to give most of his attention to Rossiter, while Parente was trying to pass the Englishman for 3rd, at least to being with. The real interest was further back, with Fauzy and later Carroll having to find their way past the newly energised Jelley. It wasn't easy, but they eventually made it, as did Danny Watts (Promatecme F3). Now Watts and Carroll are friends off the track, though on it they're fierce rivals. Even so, they really should stop going around together. this time, admittedly, they were in pursuit of Fauzy instead of Rossiter, but there never seemed to be much chance of any overtaking happening back there once they were clear of Jelley.
With Parente pressuring Rossiter all the way, despite having to keep more than half an eye on Dirani, Piquet saw his chance to draw even further away from them and di Grassi, and slammed in a lap that knocked two second of the lap record, set last year by Alan van der Merwe. Really, this time out the Brazilian was inspired, no other way of saying it. He wasn't quite pulling out a second lap, but he was getting very close to it. Interestingly, Jelley was doing pretty much the same thing to the Scholarship Class lap record, and was running a second a lap faster than Jelley, who now had a real fight on his hands just getting the car to go in a straight line. Whatever the T-Sport settings were, they were wrong for these conditions, and the more Lewis pushed, the more evil the thing looked. The P1 cars were now out of Jelley's way, which allowed him to concentrate on winning his class, not fighting with the others, but it had probably helped him get the record setting fastest lap.
Behind Piquet there was very little to interest the casual spectator, but if you knew what you were looking for there was still entertainment to be had. Rossiter was now beginning to close on di Grassi, as Parente found he had his hands full keeping Dirani off, while Carroll was catching Fauzy, and they would soon be nose-to-tail for 8th place; however, an opportunity to overtake simply never presented itself. Ahead of them, Asmer and Power were squabbling over 6th, though the Estonian would get it all to himself when Power suddenly pulled off at the halfway mark, his Mugen-Honda making some horrendous grating noises. With 6 laps left, and Piquet still pulling away, it all became somewhat processional from here on. Apart from Marcus Marshall's (Fortec Motorsport) efforts to get past Lewis, that is. It seemed to take him a very long time, but in the end he made it, despite a grassy moment and a lot of smoke from the rear of his car on more than one occasion.
This was more than could be said for James Walker (Hitech Racing), the youngster finding Jelley too much of a challenge for him. After several laps of never looking even vaguely likely to find a way past, he fell off at the Chicane, all on his own, on the very last lap. It wasn't especially clever...
And so Piquet came home a very impressive winner, a good 12 seconds clear of di Grassi, with a perfect score from the day of 43 points (maximum points in both rounds), and thus a fairly healthy championship lead from Carroll, who'd had a day, or maybe even a weekend, to forget frankly as P1 seemed to be lavishing all their attention on Fauzy (who may be bringing money to the team but who won't bring them the championship). Still, with 8 more races to run this year, and therefore a maximum possible points haul of 168 up for grabs, this is still a long way from being over. In 3rd, behind di Grassi, was Rossiter, while Parente fended off Dirani, Asmer finished in the points instead of the gravel for a change. Fauzy hung on to 8th, from Carroll and Watts. 11th was Thompson, ahead of Scholarship Class winner Jelley, Marshall, Lewis and last as usual Vasilije Calasan (Promatecme F3).
Next Races: Rounds 17 & 18, Silverstone, Northamptonshire, August 13th/15th
By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite