2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship - Championship - Round 19, Oulton Park, Cheshire, August 17th/18th
Race Report - Round 19:
Weather: Extremely changeable. 21ºC and looking like it's going to rain anytime now.
As the lights turned green, both Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing) and Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport) made excellent starts, as did James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport), but the pole-sitter, Carbone's teammate, Heikki Kovalainen, was not about to let anyone get the better of him. By the time they reached Old Hall Kovalainen was in the lead while bedlam broke out behind him. Contact was made and Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport) found himself short of a few bits of bodywork. Shinya Hosokawa (Formula Dream Team Carlin) had a spin, got going again and then managed to make contact with another of the runners, although in the ensuing confusion it was hard to tell who was to blame for what happened next. In addition to Hosokawa, Harold Primat (Diamond Racing), Gavin Smith (Meritus Racing) and Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) were all off at Shell Oils. Meanwhile, Mohammed Fairuz had taken a short cut through the centre of the circuit to limp to the pits just ahead of the pack. Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) was circulating around at the back having started from the pitlane, with an engine that sounded as if it had no grunt at all, but also with a plan to try and get a point for fastest lap. With Kovalainen leading from Carroll, and Carbone just behind, it was looking like a very promising race, but there were far too many cars off already. The Safety Car board (otherwise known as the "Someone's Crashed" board) was now being flourished from the marshals' posts, and the Safety Car came out to lead the field round until the mess could be cleared up.
As the field straggled round behind the Safety Car, Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International) suddenly dived into the pits to get a set of rain tyres fitted. Someone in the team had quite clearly looked at the sky and decided that trouble was on the way. It didn't quite work as it should have done, and Bruce ended up stranded at the back of the field looking decidedly angry as the rain appeared to be holding off and he was struggling for grip.
The order was now Kovalainen, Carroll, Carbone, Courtney, Robert Dahlgren (Sweeney Racing), Matthew Gilmore (Promatecme International), Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing), Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport), Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport), Billy Asaro (Sweeney Racing), Clivio Piccione (T-Sport), Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport), Stefan de Groot (Menu Motorsport), Stefan Hodgetts (Motaworld Racing), Richard Antinucci (Manor Motorsport), Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing), Stephen Colbert (Meritus Racing), John Antoniadis (Duma Racing), Stefano Fabi (Team Avanti), Pedro Barral (Diamond Racing), Tor Graves (Alan Docking Racing), Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing), Austin and Jouanny. And for four laps that was how they would stay, with one or two exceptions. Gilmore now took the same route as his teammate and pitted for wets, as did Antinucci. As it turned out, they were probably making the sanest possible choice under the circumstances.
After four laps, the lights on the Safety Car went out and it pulled off, leaving the field to sort themselves out, just as the rain started to fall at last! Despite the slippery conditions, Kovalainen made the perfect restart and was able to hang on to the lead, despite anything Carroll could come up with. The rain began to ease off again, but a lap later it was back with a vengeance. Gilmore, coming back out on cold wets, promptly fell off the circuit, though he was able to get going again. Mayall was another to lose it as the conditions worsened again. He lost places, but was also able to continue. Kerr was another struggling for grip. He managed to miss the Chicane and then went off, never to return. Seeing all this mayhem around him, de Groot opted to pit for wets too, which dropped him to the back of the field. It was the right move. The clouds darkened further and the downpour became a torrent. At the front of the field, Kovalainen was slowing things right down, to the point where you suspected a man on foot could have gone faster. On the one hand, it made him vulnerable to attack, but on the other he is no fool and his only real chance of survival was to take it as carefully as he dared. Displaying remarkable car control, he was still leading a lap later, by which time car control was academic and it was all down to luck.
Carroll skated off into the gravel at Lodge and was never seen again, while Courtney missed the Chicane and lost a number of places. He wasn't the only one either. The Australian got most of his places back a lap later when the rest of the field pretty much lost control. To demonstrate just how chaotic it was, the order had been Kovalainen, Carroll, Carbone, Dahlgren, Bremer, Courtney, Asaro, van der Merwe, Hodgetts, Colbert, Antoniadis, Fabi, Antinucci, Sherwood, Barral, Mayall, Graves, Jouanny and de Groot. A lap later, instead of 19 cars, there were only 16 of them left, and the order was now Kovalainen, Carbone, Taylor, Courtney, Dahlgren, Asaro, van der Merwe, Bremer, de Groot (who had been last a lap earlier), Fabi, Hodgetts, Antinucci, Sherwood, Barral, Mayall and Graves. And there was hardly any overtaking. Draw your own conclusions. It was beginning to get really silly now. Antoniadis was stranded across the track, while Carbone was attempting to challenge his teammate Kovalainen for the lead. This was really not a smart thing to do, because there was a real risk that they would both go off, and if they did, Richard Dutton (team owner) would be perfectly justified in lynching the little Brazilian. Certainly no sane jury would convict. To the amazement of everyone, they both came back, still leading Taylor, with Courtney and van der Merwe now in 4th and 5th, ahead of Bremer, Kerr, Piccione, Asaro, Antinucci, Colbert, Fabi, de Groot, Sherwood, Barral, Mayall and Antoniadis this time.
This was utter madness and really needed to be stopped before someone got hurt. Dahlgren had now gone missing as well, after a misty moment saw him hit the wrong switch in the cockpit and kill the engine. At the front, Carbone failed in his efforts to get Kovalainen and fell off, allowing Taylor through to 2nd. There were cars going off all over the place, the next casualty being Piccione. Although the sun was trying to come out, the rain was still coming down at a number of places around the circuit. Kovalainen came past the pits in a cloud of spray, desperately gesturing that the race should be stopped. He was not at all wrong, but no one seemed to be listening until it was almost too late. Kovalainen went off onto the grass, letting Taylor into the lead. Carbone was clinging on in second, from Bremer and Antinucci. Courtney and van der Merwe had both been off and recovered and Kovalainen was now behind them. Colbert was now leading the Scholarship Class though he may not have realised it at the time, while Hodgetts was now 9th, ahead of Fabi, Sherwood, Barral, de Groot, Gilmore, Mayall, Antoniadis and Jouanny. And then someone had the courage to put the red flag out. This was on lap 11, and the result was declared back on lap 9, which wasn't quite right - it should have been lap 10 really, but no one noticed at the time and by the time the protests started it was too late. The result below stands as far as anyone knows, although rumour has it that Trevor Carlin is still investigating the possibility of getting the result overturned.