2000 Green Flag British Formula Three Championship - Round 3 - Oulton Park, April 30th/May 1st.
Race Report by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite
Weather: fine, dry, clouding over.
As had been the case in the previous two rounds, Antonio Pizzonia (Manor Motorsport) made a good start and was quickly ahead but this time Tomas Scheckter (Stewart Racing) made an even better start. He hadn't been out to practice as he had threatened at Croft though. "No, no, I didn't! I just told myself to get my bloody act together and I did it." Scheckter dummied the Brazilian, Pizzonia gave him an opening, and the South African took it, grateful for the opportunity. "I was just pushing him. I was just putting him under pressure going in there - I was sort of on the outside saying I maybe - so he thought maybe I was going to try it and I think that's why he pushed quite hard going into the corner and allowed me to get him on the exit."
Antonio knew he was at least partly to blame. "I just made a mistake on the first corner. I braked too late and got on the grass and he got on the track straight for the next corner." In effect the Brazilian probably had the lead for all of 10 metres before Scheckter went up the inside of him into Cascades and came out ahead, never to lose the lead, although it's fair to say it wasn't for want of effort on Pizzonia's part. Time and again he was all over the back of the Stewart car, but it never looked really likely to cause a loss of lead for Tomas.
A large part of this was probably due to the events of the first lap. Takuma Sato (Carlin Motorsport) had savaged his own teammate, Ben Collins as the field dived into the Chicane, leaving the unfortunate Collins with a punctured rear tyre and himself with nowhere near the normal quantity of front wing! Collins limped round to the pits for a new tyre and the chance for the team to check for damage, but Sato continued unabated. In all of the chaos of lap 1, Westley Barber (Alan Docking Racing) was punted soundly up the gearbox by someone, he wasn't sure who, only that he thought it might have been Atsushi Katsumata (Team Meritus). The Japanese Scholarship runner certainly made a storming start, actually leading the class, the first man apart from Gary Paffett (Fred Goddard Racing) to lead the category this year. "I got a bit of a bad start. I didn't get it off the line too well and just got sort of blocked in front so I couldn't get forwards and I had to back off going into the first corner and a couple of them got past me. I got past Christian" (Colombo - Rowan Racing) "again cause he went off at the first corner and then I was sitting behind Katsumata."
Finally everyone settled down, though not for long. Pizzonia was closing on the Stewart car ahead, and Paffett had just been handed the Scholarship class lead when Katsumata threw himself off at Cascades. To be fair to the Meritus driver, he was pressured into it by Paffett, who had been looming in his mirrors for some time. "I got in behind him and managed to close on him and was just sitting there waiting and coming out of Cascades he just got a bit wide and he just slowed down so I drove past him but as I got alongside of him he just went back on the circuit and got it completely sideways and I thought he was going to hit me! He just about missed me."
Just when it looked like we were in for a long, absorbing battle for the lead, there was trouble in the pack. Nicolas Kiesa (RC Motorsport) and Takuma Sato were fighting for the same piece of tarmac. The trouble started at Lodge and opinions vary as to exactly what happened next. What is clear is that by the time they reached Old Hall, Sato had ridden over the back wheel of Kiesa's cart, and had probably turned up on the radar at air traffic control at Manchester airport. He crashed down and both of them were out of the race. Whose fault was it? It rather depended who you listened to:
Sato: "I was sandwiched by Kiesa and the pitwall and then we were already side-by-side - there is a mark on my side from his left tyre. There is no room - I have to go straight and then!" He makes a noise indicative of a big crash.
Kiesa: "I passed Sato around the outside on the last corner, Lodge, and when I once got back onto the straight I saw him wanting to go round the inside of me on the first corner and I just pulled a bit in to block and when I pulled in he just bumped me once and I thought nothing of it and then in the first corner he just didn't let off and just rammed me and flew over me. He didn't have his front wing on even before it happened so maybe he was just pushing a bit too hard, knowing he couldn't go anywhere."
Whoever was really to blame, the result was clear. The Safety Car was scrambled and everyone settled down for a very long wait while the heavily damaged tyre walls were repaired and the sad looking wreckage was dragged away. By the time the officials were happy that it was safe to restart the race there were less than eleven of the thirty minutes of the race still to run. This time Pizzonia dropped right back and then tried to sell Scheckter a dummy, but the attempt failed. "What I was trying to do is - because if you are right behind me or anyone - he knows what you are going to do so I just decide to stay a little bit away and try to do two or three quick laps and then I'm going to get him." The young Brazilian knew he had to pass then or forget about it. He was by now pretty convinced that there was no way he was going to get past in the course of the race. "I don't know if he was carrying a lot less wings but I couldn't keep up with him on the straights." Even so, it was close and he was relieved that Scheckter was not able to just drive away from him as he had done to the South African at Thruxton and Croft.
Running the top two a pretty close third was Andy Priaulx (Promatecme UK), the Channel Islander feeling that he had done all he could to get on terms with the leader. He was more than happy with his podium finish, even if he must have had the odd moment when he wondered if they might not take each other off and leave him to win. "They were just a bit quicker than me over a lap. I thought that they were basically just driving a little bit better or they had a better set up so I tried to consolidate and come home a good steady third. After Croft we needed to finish well today to get some points. We were trading fastest laps all the way through the race but in all fairness I think the two leaders were having a little bit of a tussle so that would slow them down a bit. I didn't deserve to win today. I think what we did after Croft is good and we came home a solid third so maybe next time we might deserve to win."
Priaulx also had more breathing space because his teammate, Matt Davies, was fully occupied holding off Narain Karthikeyan (Stewart Racing). The two of them ran each other very close, the place going to Davies in the end. Then there was a large gap before the two Fortec drivers came home in 6th and 7th, Gianmaria Bruni being pleased at finishing ahead of his team-mate, local man Michael Bentwood. Bentwood was much further back than he expected to be, causing some to wonder if the pressure of being on his home turf was putting him under too much pressure. In 8th was Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing), the Midlander finally breaking his duck and scoring his first points of the year, a fact that relieved him greatly. In fact his teammate Warren Carway is now the only Championship Class competitor who has not scored a single point. In a lonely 9th was the young Yugoslav Milos Pavlovic (RC Motorsport) while Juan Manuel Lopez (Manor Motorsport), the man with the thankless task of being Pizzonia's teammate this year, took the final point.
The Scholarship Class was again won by Gary Paffett, the youngster now having made a complete clean sweep with three pole positions, three fastest laps and three race wins to his credit. Fred Goddard reckons Paffett is better than Jenson Button and he could well be right. Certainly Gary had been having an exciting afternoon, ending up as the filling in an Alan Docking Racing sandwich for a while. "I was catching the little bunch in front up, and then the Safety Car came out and blocked it all up. It was a hard race because I had Tor" (Sriachavanon - Alan Docking Racing) "just in front of me and Westley behind. Tor made a bit of a mistake at the Chicane so I got past him there. It was very hard to hold him off from then. I think we lacked a bit of speed really. The set-up wasn't as good as it could be." It was a shame, then, that Tor was docked 10 seconds for failing to take the Chicane during the course of the race. It's unlikely, however, that Westley was complaining much about it, having been passed by his Thai team-mate after he had made all that effort to haul himself up from the back of the grid.
Runner up to Paffett was the Brazilian driver, Marcel Romanio (Team Meritus). This was most impressive for a driver who has not raced for five years and who had last seen Oulton Park from behind the wheel of an Opel Lotus. It makes you wonder what he might have achieved if he had been able to raise the budget five years ago. The two Diamond Racing drivers, Ryan Walker and Mark Mayall came back together again, Walker as usual the faster of the two. And in 17th on the road was - yes - who else but Warren Carway (Rowan Racing). The irony of this was that he was actually 14th on the road but he was another to be penalised 10 seconds for missing the Chicane.
Craig Fleming (ME Motorsport) was next, the Yeovil man not at all happy at present with the steepness of the learning curve he finds himself on. At least he was able to get through the Chicane without too much trouble, unlike Christian Colombo, who had fallen victim to it quite early on and Phillip Hopkins (Phillip Hopkins Motorsport) who was another to be docked 10 seconds because he failed to take the correct route. As he was a good minute and a half down on the leaders it didn't change his finishing position at all. At least he wasn't last. That dubious distinction went to Ben Collins, who never got the chance to claw back any of the two laps he lost at the start, and also had to watch the point for fastest lap go to Pizzonia.
The series moves to Donington Park next for a double-header meeting in a week's time. Both the principal players are confident about the venue and their chances. Scheckter was sure he would do well at Donington. "It's one of the circuits that I like as well. This is not one of my favourite circuits because I've never raced here before." For Pizzonia, Manor would have an advantage at Donington whereas Oulton had been the venue of their worst result last year: "It's a good track for Manor. I'm quite happy for them because they didn't have a good result here - Hynes got 1 point - so I'm very happy for them."