2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship - Round 18, Rockingham Motor Speedway, Northamptonshire, July 20th/21st
Race Report - Round 18:
Weather: Cold, dry.
With the race start seconds away Billy Asaro (Sweeney Racing) was only just ready to go out after his morning dramas. For some reason only two of the team's mechanics were working on his car, when most teams faced with a crisis would throw all the available manpower at the problem in order to solve it. Quite why Sweeney don't operate like that is strange, but if that is how Roly Vincini prefers to run his team, perhaps he has a good reason.
Stefan Hodgetts (Motaworld Racing) was not as lucky as Asaro. After Derek Hayes (Carlin Motorsport) had taken him out of commission in the morning race there was so little left of his Dallara that a rebuild was out of the question in the time available. It may also prove impossible in the foreseeable future as Stefan's budget was not exactly large to start with and this sort of expense will be hard to absorb.
Anyway, with Hodgetts missing and Asaro tearing out of the garages at the last minute, the field lined up to begin Round 18. At the end of the warm-up lap there was a very long holding period, while the final cars settled into place on the grid. As the lights finally flashed to green Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport) took off from the line as if he was jet-propelled, and managed to get out just ahead of the general free-for-all that broke out in the first corner. Behind him, his teammate Fabio Carbone was locking up wildly, as was Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International). Even further back, and suffering from an engine that seemed to keep dying on him, was Jesper Carlsen (Essential Motorsport), who had not qualified at all well and was now last and struggling.
Into second place at the end of the scrabble for position was Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing), who was now determined to end the afternoon in the lead of the series if he possibly could. Meanwhile Hayes, who had started from pole position, had slipped back to third and the top two were already beginning to open out a small gap. Jouanny was in 4th, just ahead of Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport). Behind them, Alan van der Merwe pulled off a pretty impressive move to go into 6th place, having deposed Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport), though he nearly came to grief in the aftermath and had to collect it all again pretty sharply.
Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing) was once again leading the Scholarship Class despite a poor start. He had the added advantage of knowing that he had three Championship Class drivers (in the shape of Carbone, Richard Antinucci of Manor, and Matthew Gilmore from Promatecme) between him and his nearest challenger, and teammate, Robert Dahlgren. Dahlgren had also made a poor start, not helped by him almost T-boning Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) at the start, before he was able to demote Asaro for 2nd in class, leaving Asaro to defend himself against Clivio Piccione (T-Sport). With the Canadian finding his car not especially well-balanced as a result of the hastily effected repairs, Piccione (with gear change problems) was able to pick him off within a few laps, and they settled into 3rd and 4th where they stayed until the end of the race.
Although the race in general lacked some of the fizz and excitement of the first race of the day, the next couple of laps were just as shambolic. All sorts of people were having to scramble desperately to remain on the track, including Adam Jones (Team Park), who had a quick excursion through the gravel before he was able to get a grip and continue. Another who seemed to be having a difficult time with this demanding track was Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing), the Malaysian eventually being shown the driving standards flag when the officials decided they really didn't care for his tactics.
In the midst of all this Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport) was a man on the move, carving his way up through the chaos until he got stuck behind his teammate, van der Merwe. Now Trevor Carlin is not at all keen on his cars hitting each other, which is why they are usually all painted the same colours to make it easy for his drivers to recognise and avoid each other. Caution was necessary here, and so the Irish driver spent lap after lap trying to find a way past the South African in order to claim 6th place. Meanwhile Kerr was also trying to work out how to get past Kovalainen, but the Finn was certainly not making it easy for him.
Carroll was able to gain even more of a breathing space when he squeezed past Taylor for 7th overall, and it seemed he wasn't the only one to want to get in front of the Fulmar-liveried Dallara. A lap later Carbone was through as well. Closer to the front, Bremer was able to relax a bit after Jouanny hit the floppy markers at Turn One and tore an end plate off his front wing. The handling of the Frenchman's Dallara was wrecked as a result and although he struggled round for a few more laps he was clearly in trouble and slipping down the order rapidly. Defeated for the second time by the marker posts, Bruce pulled into the pits and out of the race. Bremer was probably even more relaxed because he knew he couldn't catch the top three after he too had collected one of the much sought-after floppy markers. While the damage did not seem to be affecting his car's handling, Kovalainen, Kerr and Hayes were getting away from him, and after Jouanny began to go backwards, he had Carroll behind him, so there was nothing really to worry about.
There was plenty to worry about for Dahlgren through, as he was now being harassed by Round 17 winner Shinya Hosokawa (Formula Dream Team Carlin), the Japanese really wanting to get by the Swede and into the top 10 if he could. The battle for the lead was still on too, with Kerr finally pulling a blinder of a move on Kovalainen and driving around the outside of him at the Hairpin. It was cleanly executed and Heikki had absolutely no answer to it, having to slot into second place and concentrate on defending himself from Hayes for the remaining 6 laps of the race. Behind Carroll, there was still some debate about 6th place too, with Keohane eventually getting the better of van der Merwe, with three laps to go. Carbone, Taylor and Antinucci made up the remainder of the overall top 10, while the final Championship Class point went to Matthew Gilmore (Promatecme International).