In some ways the story of this race can pretty much be told in a full description of what happened on the very first lap. With Bruno Senna and Daniel Clarke occupying the front row of the grid for Double R Racing, it did look as if Senna might be...
In some ways the story of this race can pretty much be told in a full description of what happened on the very first lap. With Bruno Senna and Daniel Clarke occupying the front row of the grid for Double R Racing, it did look as if Senna might be about to claim his first victory. However, Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport) had other ideas. The series leader might well have been slightly hampered by having to run with one heavily used tyre on his Dallara (a puncture in qualifying left him short of useable rubber), but he wasn't about to let a little thing like that get in his way. With the championship now within reach, so long as he scored 12 points more than his team-mate Charlie Kimball, Parente wanted to get this over with as soon as possible. Once the grid lined up in the September sunshine, he didn't hesitate. The lights on the gantry went out, signalling the start of the race, and Parente speared in between the two Double R cars, as Clarke rolled and then hesitated, and Senna messed up his gear change. With Kimball in 5th place, behind Mike Conway (Fortec Motorsport), provided Parente could hold position and Kimball couldn't move forward, it was all over.
Of course, it wasn't quite as simple as that makes it sound. For one thing, Senna didn't seem about to lie down and play dead just because the man in front was now the Champion-elect. In fact, as it later turned out, the Brazilian wasn't even aware of that. All he knew was that he wanted the lead back very badly. There followed a major battle between the two of them, with Parente never quite being able to shake Senna off, and the Brazilian constantly getting close enough to be worrying.
Meanwhile, there were other things working in Parente's favour. One of those was that Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) was all over Kimball, and wouldn't let up in his attempts to get through. It left the American having to drive a very defensive race, not made any easier by the fact that he's got a flat spot the size of a saucer on one of his tyres after locking up two laps in. The Estonian repeatedly pulled alongside on the straights, only to have the American slam the door firmly in his face. Kimball is now racing for the runner-up slot in the championship, and he wasn't about to help Asmer in his pursuit of that same goal. Certainly Asmer had Kimball's undivided attention for the entire race, although the Estonian may well have been looking in his own mirrors at the scrap behind him.
Danilo Dirani (P1 Motorsport) was involved in a scuffle with James Walker (Fortec Motorsport), the latter still on cloud nine after taking his maiden victory in the morning's race. He certainly wasn't about to let anyone past if he could help it, and was at least assisted in that because Dirani was certainly having to watch his mirrors, which were full of Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) flinging his Dallara around at unlikely angles! It was a tight battle, and it got a whole lot tighter when they all got bottled up behind Asmer and Kimball in a high speed traffic jam. They were joined by Karl Reindler (Alan Docking Racing), the Australian looking very much more confident with more mileage under his belt, though he would drop back slightly after a couple more laps, only to become embroiled in a battle with Steven Kane (Promatecme F3) for the last points-scoring position.
At the front, Senna was getting increasingly wild in his attempts to get past Parente, which benefited Clarke to an extent. Certainly Clarke was able to set fastest lap while running in clear air, though a lap later Senna went faster. Possibly seeing his chance when Parente locked up, the Brazilian looked set to at least claim that extra point for the fastest race lap. However, Parente was a long way from finished yet. A slightly wobbly moment in the latter stages of the race was followed by a blistering lap time, and the extra point was his. Doing the maths at this stage, it became clear that if he finished where he was, and Kimball finished 5th, Parente would be leading by 85 points, with a maximum of 84 points still available. In the distance, you could hear the fat lady warming up her vocal chords.
Kimball was still being harassed by Asmer at every opportunity, and Walker, Dirani and Lewis were all in a clump on his tail. With Reindler losing a little ground, Tim Bridgman (Hitech Racing) was now back in the points, and he joined the high speed train too, having passed the Australian. That left Reindler with Kane literally on his gear box, the red Dallara of Reindler and the red Lola of Kane looking like some sort of horrible hybrid 8-wheeler for a couple of laps. Kane gave his opponent a shove or two before his experience finally proved too much for the newcomer, and he was through and into the points.
Unfortunately for Reindler, that left him in the sights of National Class leader Salvador Duran (P1 Motorsport), a man he'd already tangled with in the earlier race. Luckily Duran didn't seem quite as keen to get past this time, the Mexican wanting to try and consolidate his series lead rather than finish as high up the order as possible. After a couple of dismal weekends, his main rival Barton Mawer (T-Sport) was back in the top three, and Mawer is not a man to give up. Duran needed all the points he could get from this meeting. Having said that, it didn't stop Duran from pressing on remarkably hard. There were a couple of hairy moments as he locked his wheels up big time trying to make sure that Josh Fisher (Team SWR), in second place, didn't get too close. Fisher was having a terrific run, and by the end of the race he was right with Duran, aided by the fact that Michael Herck (Team Junior Racing) and Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport) had both passed the Mexican. It wasn't enough to let Fisher get past as well, but it was an impressive effort from the rookie Englishman round this 5 kilometre circuit.
At the front the Parente/Senna battle wasn't showing any sign of slackening off. The gap was relatively consistent, occasionally stretching out to 0.6 seconds, but mostly stable at a heart-stopping 0.4 seconds. It meant Parente couldn't relax for a second, but he could see his goal now and he wasn't about to lose out at the last minute. After half an hour of incredibly close running he crossed the line at the end of the race to claim his 11th victory, and the 2005 British F3 International Series title, giving Carlin Motorsport their 3rd championship in 5 years, and following in the footsteps of Takuma Sato and Alan van der Merwe. Afterwards, Parente couldn't stop smiling, and kept telling anyone who would listen that this was the happiest day of his life! Even suggestions that some people thought he might have jumped the start couldn't but a damper on his spirits, and it was soon clear that the officials had taken a long, hard look at the video evidence and they believed his start was clean. He can now look forward to his winter season in A1 GP with the satisfaction of a job well done.
Behind him, Senna was delighted with his highest finish to date, and remarkably pleased to have kept pace with the newly crowned champion. Clarke had another podium finish, and had improved his chances in the battle for the runner-up slot, particularly as Conway and Kimball both finished behind him, and are all contenders for that position. Kimball was an exhausted 5th after what he reckoned was the hardest race he'd ever run, with Asmer coming home in 6th after a race-long fight with the American. Dirani claimed 7th after Walker went missing in action on the final lap, and Lewis, Bridgman and Kane took the final three points scoring places. Reindler was 11th, ahead of Herck, Bakkerud, National Class winner Duran, Fisher, Ronayne O'Mahony (Fortec Motorsport), Mawer, Charlie Hollings (Promatecme F3), Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport), and Juho Annala (Alan Docking Racing). 21st was Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport), Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), Nick Jones (Team SWR), Cheong Lou Meng (Edenbridge Racing) and Walker, who was classified a lap down.
There was a sense of satisfaction at Carlin, and a general feeling in the paddock that we had a very popular and deserving champion. When he said at the end of 2004 that he wanted to come back for one more season in British F3 because he believed he could be champion, Parente knew exactly what he was talking about.
Next Rounds: Rounds 19 & 20, September 17th/18th, Mondello Park, Ireland.