Race Report - Round 20:
Weather: Extremely changeable.
If Round 19 had been bad, the GT race that followed afterwards was even worse, after a rainstorm of truly biblical proportions interrupted it halfway through. After what was described by one participant as "the most expensive parking lot in the world" was finally cleared away, all other races were cancelled except for the Formula Three. The way the skies were looking, there was a distinct risk that that too might prove rather expensive. With the clock ticking away towards the circuit's curfew time, there were yellow and red "slippery surface" flags flying from every marshals' post as the field was released from the pits for a pair of exploratory laps. However, the skies began to clear as they lined up on the grid.
Pole position man Robert Dahlgren (Sweeney Racing) was pretty fired up and looked as if he was intending to be the first ever Class B driver to take an outright victory. However, James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) was having none of it. He'd conceded pole position to the Swede; he wasn't about to let him have the race. In this he was aided by the fact that the piece of track Dahlgren had to start from was damp, making grip hard to find. Another driver who thought the lead should belong to him was Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport). The Finn launched an attack on Courtney at the first possible opportunity but was repulsed, having to take to the grass and scrabble for grip as a result. He lost a place to Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing), the Englishman also getting a good start and setting about Dahlgren, although he also had another Class B runner in the shape of Clivio Piccione (T-Sport) to fend off before he could relax. At the front of the pack Courtney was leaving nothing to chance, pulling out as much of a gap as he could, not wanting to rely on Dahlgren to baulk everyone else.
Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport) had also made a good start and was in 5th just behind Kovalainen. Matthew Gilmore (Promatecme International) was just behind Piccione and it was beginning to look as if we might just get away with it this time. It was not to be. Ronnie Bremer, Taylor's teammate, was running 8th when Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) decided he wanted the place. The move he made to get it was never on, and the two tangled and crashed out of the race, in Austin's case just long enough to pull back onto the track and clobber Billy Asaro (Sweeney Racing). Asaro limped round for a lap before pulling off. Austin was out there and then. Someone who was lucky not to go with them was Austin's new teammate, series newcomer Stefan de Groot. The lanky Dutchman having to back off to avoid the two of them, was able to recover to slot into 11th place, where he proceeded to hold off a large group of cars. In addition, there were bits of bodywork on the track at Old Hall after Harold Primat (Diamond Racing) managed to wipe half of his front wing off on someone else's rear.
Shortly after, Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing) arrived at Cascades, the same corner where Bremer's car was parked. Luckily the Dane was out of the car because a mechanical failure saw Carroll plough heavily into the gearbox of the Manor Dallara and pretty much destroy it, along with his own car. There was now only one Sweeney car still in the race, but at least that one was currently running in second place. And so the Safety Car had to be deployed once again. Frankly this was getting monotonous. For four very uninteresting laps, Courtney led the field round behind the Safety Car. Dahlgren was 2nd, Kerr 3rd, Kovalainen still in 4th, Taylor 5th, Piccione 6th and Gilmore 7th. Behind them came Shinya Hosokawa (Formula Dream Team Carlin), Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport), Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport), de Groot, Stefan Hodgetts (Motaworld Racing), Stephen Colbert (Meritus Racing), Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International), Richard Antinucci (Manor Motorsport), Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing), Tor Graves (Alan Docking Racing), Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing), Stefano Fabi (Team Avanti), Gavin Smith (Meritus Racing), Pedro Barral (Diamond Racing), Karun Chandhok (T-Sport), John Antoniadis (Duma Racing), Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing) and bringing up the rear, Primat.
And when the Safety Car finally pulled in, the restart saw no change in the order, although not for want of trying on the part of de Groot. He was making a determined effort to pass Carbone, although it wasn't quite working. Jouanny was another trying to gain places, in his case to make up for the appalling qualifying session he had endured the day before. Right now he was attacking Antinucci, which was pretty risky as Antinucci was concentrating on passing Colbert. As it turned out, a lap later, Jouanny passed them both, with Antinucci going past Colbert in his wake. The result was that they were both now on the tail of Hodgetts, who was failing to hang on to de Groot. De Groot was attempting to catch the group ahead of him now, and responded with the fastest lap of the race to that point, while the battling pair behind Hodgetts took less than a lap to dispose of the Motaworld driver.
Elsewhere, at the front Courtney was beginning to pull out a gap as the others got stuck behind Dahlgren. At the back, Barral was having a tough time, getting into a spin which dropped him back to the penultimate place, just ahead of Primat. However, at the front things were about to take a dramatic turn. Courtney set the fastest lap, only to find the gap he had opened up suddenly being whittled away, as Dahlgren set the fastest lap of the race, closing in on the leader as he did so. The reason for this turned out to be Dahlgren's undoing; the air restrictor had fallen off his car, rendering it much faster than usual but also unquestionably illegal. Suddenly the top four were all together, with Kovalainen again looking for a way past Kerr, but not quite finding it. Kerr, meanwhile, was closing on Dahlgren, while Courtney was desperately scrabbling to get away again. And in the midst of it all, Taylor had gone missing at Cascades, spinning out of 5th place, promoting Piccione and everyone behind him.
After the attack from de Groot died away, Carbone was a man on the move, trying to get past van der Merwe, while further back Smith was another one to go out of the race, thus promoting Chandhok. Smith's teammate, Colbert, was also coming under attack now with Fairuz trying to scrabble round him but failing. And so it ended, with Dahlgren enjoying a brief moment of glory in second overall, before the scrutineers noticed the problem with his air box and disqualified him. A reshuffle of silverware followed, with Piccione taking the class victory, from Colbert and Fairuz. Courtney, on the other hand, hadn't put a wheel wrong and had done his championship chances no harm at all with a lights-to-flag victory, a feat made all the more impressive when it became known that he had been without a clutch pretty much from the start of the Safety Car period. He will go to Snetterton with a slender lead, having arrived at Oulton 9 points down on Kerr. Ironically, the Championship Class fastest lap was set by Antinucci during his pursuit of Hodgetts and Co, while the actual fastest lap was set by Piccione, in the Scholarship Class. And of course, even before the air restrictor fell off, Dahlgren was giving the Championship Class boys a great deal to think about. If the same thing happens again this season, there are bound to be repercussions of some sort...