Race Report - Round 15:
Weather: Very, very hot, sunny.
We lost a driver before the race even started, as Scott Speed (Alan Docking Racing) was withdrawn from the race because of a stomach. Nelson Piquet Jr. (Piquet Sport) was quickly out on the track once the pit lane opened, all enthusiasm and bounce. Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport), on the other hand, was still looking very laid back, not even leaving the pits until the last possible moment.
Richard Antinucci (Carlin Motorsport) keeps on claiming he has a plan, but never quite manages to make it happen. This time it looked as if his plan was to let everyone else go, and then set off. Certainly that looked to be the case when the field set off on the warm up lap, and Richard almost didn't. And there we all were thinking that that was Piquet's plan.
Piquet initially set off too fast on the warm up lap - then remembered what happened at Oulton when the rest of the field didn't go with him and he was left sitting on the grid a lot longer than was good for the clutch. Finally they lined up and were ready to roll. If Richard's plan really was to go backwards at the start, it worked! At the actual start he went backwards so far he ended up last. Piquet, meanwhile, made a pretty poor start too, but it was flattered by the worse one from Jamie Green (Carlin Motorsport). He didn't move at all to start with, and at least this time there was no fire truck to collect the Brazilian. In fact he got away well enough to hold on to his lead. For an example of a blinding start, you had to look to the very back of the grid, where Adam Carroll (Menu Motorsport) was planning on making up for not setting a proper time in practice. The lights went to green, and the light blue car took off like a rocket, picking up two places before they even reached the first turn. The next guy he picked on, Can Artam (Promatecme F3) gave him a bit of a shove but the contact was minor and didn't seem to affect the performance of either car. Meanwhile, van der Merwe took a look at Ronnie Bremer (Carlin Motorsport) but backed off - it wasn't necessary and it probably wasn't worth the risk at this stage. Danny Watts (Hitech Racing) managed to trip over van der Merwe and picked up a puncture, while Fairuz Fauzy (Promatecme F3) was another who needed to pit for new tyres. Green was still dropping back and Antinucci was now completely out of the running. The weirdest thing of all though was the presence of Tor Graves (Manor Motorsport) in the top ten, in fact at one point as high up as 8th, though he managed to lose a place and dropped back to 9th. With Piquet setting the pace, Clivio Piccione (Manor Motorsport) had taken advantage of the confusion and snatched 2nd, from Bremer and van der Merwe. Meanwhile, Will Power (Fortec Motorsport) was holding off Stefano Fabi (Manor Motorsport) and Billy Asaro (P1 Motorsport), while Green was trapped behind Graves and was making heavy weather of it. Carroll was busy making up lots of places, which is more than could be said for Robert Dahlgren (Fortec Motorsport). The Swede went missing out on the circuit on lap 1 and was never seen again.
The excitement was soon over, thankfully and the field settled down a little. Piquet began to draw away from Piccione, while Bremer was closely followed by van der Merwe, the four of them protected from attacked by Power when Watts went back out, having lost a lap in the pits, and slotted in behind them. The day was getting worse at Hitech too - having just sent Watts back out, Andrew Thompson appeared in the pits wanting assistance. It only needed Eric Salignon to call in too and David Hayle's day would have been a complete write-off. Meanwhile, towards the back of the field, Steven Kane (T-Sport) was quite clearly out of sorts. He did manage to get past Artam but it wasn't easy and he was clearly a long way from 100%. Tonsillitis and a kidney infection will do that to you. He probably shouldn't have been out of bed, never mind sitting in a race car in searing heat for 15 laps of a very challenging circuit.
Carroll, meanwhile, had progressed to 12th place, which was pretty good, as he'd started from 24th. His attack was now slowing significantly, since the group he now needed to tackle had broken away from the rest of the pack. He was going to have to do some serious chasing now, and some of the individuals he was having to deal with would not be that easy to get to grips with.
He had at least managed to get clear of the battling mob that had bottled up behind Karun Chandhok (T-Sport), who was being attacked by Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport), who desperately wanted to take the Class lead off the Indian. The fact that Fauzy was now trying to unlap himself wasn't helping the little Venezuelan any! While that battle was developing nicely, van der Merwe was taking the occasional look at Bremer, just to keep the Dane honest, more than in a serious attempt to take the place away. On the other hand, if Ronnie made a mistake Alan would be more than happy to ease him out of the way! The main threat to van der Merwe in the championship chase is Green and he was now trapped behind Fabi, having struggled to pass Graves for a lot longer than he should have had to. Green's attempts to get past Fabi were being seriously hampered by his Dallara's tendency to try and fly whenever he went over the kerbs at the Chicane. It wasn't pretty and it was slowing him badly, which was pretty much what Danny Watts had found the day before (his Dallara had taken off at an angle of 45 degrees, and the landing had pretty comprehensively wrecked the thing).
Piquet was now well clear of Piccione, while Bremer still had van der Merwe glued to the rear wing. Watts, a lap down, was ahead of Power, Fabi, Green and Graves, who was in the points for the first time this season. It seemed the excitement was too much for him though. Just when he looked set to break his duck, he managed to spin out of contention and of the race. It had been quite a drive to that point though, and is he can continue like that he should finally manage to score some points before the season ends. He wasn't the only one to fall off in the latter stages though. The following lap, Artam had gone missing. The tall Turk was stuck on the track and for a while it looked as though the Safety Car might be needed. The marshals did their stuff effectively however, and soon had the Promatecme car dragged to a safe place. In the intense heat it was probably just as well. The last thing anyone wanted was a three-lap extension to this race, even if the 44,000 spectators would probably have voted for more if anyone had asked them. Artam was lucky not to be joined by Fauzy it later transpired. With two laps to go the Malaysian was still attempting to unlap himself, but Viso was having none of it. He probably didn't realise that the man behind him wasn't on the same lap, though he should have been aware of the fact that he was in the Championship Class not the Scholarship Class. Viso is nothing if not a fighter though, so he slammed the door in Fauzy's face in a somewhat robust manner.
Oddly, elsewhere, Antinucci, having tooled around at the back, pitted a lap from the end, having achieved very little this time out. It begins to seem that if Antinucci does well, Bremer doesn't, and vice versa, unless they are side-by-side on the grid in which case there's a trend for neither of them come back.
And so, a not very interesting race ended with Piquet coming home to a well- deserved win, while the other two podium places went to Piccione and Bremer. Van der Merwe is still leading the championship though.
by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite, Guest Writers