BF3

Round 3, Oulton Park Qualifying Report

2000 Green Flag British Formula Three Championship - Round 3 - Oulton Park, April 30th/May 1st. Race Report by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite Changes: RC Motorsport are running brand new Opel-Spiess power units. It doesn't seem to be...

2000 Green Flag British Formula Three Championship - Round 3 - Oulton Park, April 30th/May 1st.

Race Report by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite

Changes:
RC Motorsport are running brand new Opel-Spiess power units. It doesn't seem to be making a vast amount of difference as yet.

Qualifying:
Weather: fine, dry and sunny.

The thing about Oulton Park is that life can be very tricky there. Sometimes it even becomes a problem before practice starts. At least this weekend the sun was shining on everyone; through you could have been forgiven for doubting this if you stuck your head into the awning at Phillip Hopkins Motorsport. The scrutineers had visited and things were not to their liking this time around. Both the seatbelt fitted to Phillip's car and his crash helmet were found to be out of date and therefore illegal. The former problem was solved at least temporarily with a loan from Diamond Racing of a spare harness. A helmet was borrowed from another source and Phil was finally ready to go racing. It seems likely that by the end of the weekend he was wishing he hadn't bothered.

At least at the start of practice he was not alone. They say misery loves company and Westley Barber (Alan Docking Racing) was not what you might call a happy bunny after his Dallara coasted to a halt at the far side of the track on his out lap. A wire was loose and he would be left to try and set a time in the second session. It didn't bode well at all for the youngster.

Another in trouble early on was Narain Karthikeyan (Stewart Racing). The Indian went off at Cascades very early in the session and had to pit immediately afterwards to get a new nose fitted to the Dallara and all the grass and mud cleaned out of it. There were moments when Takuma Sato (Carlin Motorsport) looked set to follow Karthikeyan but the Japanese at least kept it on the grey stuff.

And then they settled down to try and set pole. First to hit the front and stay there a while was Andy Priaulx (Promatecme UK), but he was displaced by Ben Collins and Michael Bentwood (Fortec Motorsport). These two were slogging it out for a while until Bentwood inadvertently took the shortcut at Cascades and got shown the black-and-white driving standards flag for his troubles. Unfortunately he did it again later in the session and got his knuckles soundly rapped afterwards by Dave Scott, the long-suffering and immensely cynical Clerk of the Course for the series. This was probably as much for apparently not seeing the black flag as for any advantage he might have got from it. He was warned that he would be under observation from now on, but, after admitting his fault and apologising profusely, his times were allowed to stand.

Phil Hopkins was another to take the Cascades short cut and therefore also got to see the black-and-white flag. He certainly didn't gain any advantage from it, qualifying as he did last of all.

On the pace early on also was Nicolas Kiesa (RC Motorsport) who made it up to third only to get demoted to 8th in the final analysis. The Dane is a very, very fast driver but the trouble is, he's not the only one out there. Once again the series has several blindingly quick drivers. However, at present Antonio Pizzonia (Manor Motorsport) and Tomas Scheckter are head-and-shoulders above the rest in the Championship Class, even though Scheckter doesn't normally seem able to get on the pace until the session is well underway.

The two of them again dominated the meeting. Pizzonia was quickly on pole for the first time this year, taking that position after around 15 minutes and never really looking likely to lose it, even managing to find around half a second's worth of improvements in the second session.

Most of the drivers had gambled on the second session being faster, and there were very few people who didn't have a set of tyres in hand for the late afternoon run. As a result, Scheckter quickly snatched pole only to have it snatched back again almost immediately by Pizzonia. Having said that Ben Collins (Carlin Motorsport) ran him a close second in the first session before falling foul of Scheckter in the second session. The way Ben saw it, Tomas, who had just beaten him to second place, then deliberately blocked him three laps in a row. Needless to say, Scheckter's version of events was rather different. Collin's mood wasn't really improved either when Priaulx leapfrogged him too, to take third on the grid, leaving the tall Englishman in fourth. Still, it was a huge improvement over his first two races so he was at least approachable before the race.

And that was how the front row stayed, while various drivers improved enormously in the second session, including Matthew Davies (Promatecme UK) who would start from 6th, just one place behind Karthikeyan who put in a tremendous effort to climb back up from 9th.

Gianmaria Bruni (Fortec Motorsport) was a disappointed man, most of the improvement coming at his expense, though he was pleased to discover that the sun does shine in Britain sometimes, despite the evidence to date. Kiesa also was none too pleased with 8th while Bentwood behaved impeccably in the second session but was only able to take 9th place. In 10th was Milos Pavlovic (RC Motorsport), while Sato was not a happy 11th. Juan Manuel Lopez (Manor Motorsport) must be wondering what he has to do to catch up with his teammate, but then again Pizzonia knows both the circuits and the team. 12th place wasn't wonderful, but he was ahead of Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing) who after four years in F3 with Rowan cannot claim not to know either the circuit or the team. He was understandably unhappy with his situation and the presence of Nick Jordan (just having a look on a weekend off, you understand) suggests that he is looking very hard for the reasons.

Various people had trouble with the Chicane including Andy Priaulx, Warren Carway (Rowan Racing) who missed it at least three times, and Tor Sriachavanon (Alan Docking Racing) who never seemed to work out how best to deal with it. This might account for the Thai driver being 14th.

In 15th was Gary Paffett (Fred Goddard Racing), who also had at least one complete miss at the Chicane though it didn't stop him from taking the Scholarship Class pole as usual. This was despite a fairly lurid spin at Lodge in the second session too. He's good, there's no doubt about it, and the others seem to have no choice but to fight it out for second place in the category, which is a shame really. Gary would probably like some competition although there is no doubt that he much prefers to mix it with the Championship Class boys anyway. In fact he was furious at being so far back in the overall scheme of things.

Westley Barber had fought his way back to 16th from nowhere though he didn't exactly regard this as progress while Warren Carway (Rowan Racing) was 17th as usual. Then came the rest of the Scholarship Class boys. The two Team Meritus drivers were together, Atsushi Katsumata coming in half a second ahead of Marcel Romanio who last drove here five years ago in an Opel-Lotus before his racing career was put on hold due to lack of budget. In 20th was Christian Colombo (Rowan Racing) then the Diamond drivers, Ryan Walker and Mark Mayall. The final row was occupied by Craig Fleming (ME Motorsport) and Phillip Hopkins.

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