1999 Autosport British Formula Three Championship - Round 7 - Croft, June 5th/6th.
Race Report by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite
The National Class was down to the two regulars, Martin O'Connell and Jeremy Smith. In the Championship category, Doug Bell was in at Alan Docking Racing, replacing Alex Yoong whose budget has run out, at least for the time being. That such an obviously talented youngster cannot raise the money needed to allow him to continue racing is little short of tragic, but it seems we may never see the best of Alex. It is to be hoped that he can return soon.
Qualifying: Weather - cold, cloudy, dry (session 1), cold, sunny (session 2) A five week lay-off saw everyone ready to go, hoping to prove that whatever they had done during the break had worked. In testing during the week Manor Motorsport had been dominant with Mark Hynes a good three tenths faster than anyone else. Team owner John Booth was well pleased with his boy, especially as they had also got to the bottom of their difficulties in the previous two races. A change to the engine-mapping system had worked wonders although Booth couldn't explain exactly what had been changed. "I don't really understand this sort of stuff, I leave it to the Mugen boys," was his only comment. As a result of all of this Hynes was in fine form, hitting the pole time early on and never looking seriously challenged by anyone except Luciano Burti (Stewart Racing), who, in the warmer, slower second session was able to get within 0.111 seconds of Hynes. It wasn't enough though and in the dying seconds of the final session, Hynes struck back, setting a time that came close to equalling his pole time. And so the front row had a rather familiar look about it. Behind were Jenson Button (Promatecme) and Narain Karthikeyan (Carlin Motorsport), the latter back on form after his rather character-building experiences at Pau. Andrew Kirkaldy, Burti's team mate, was also showing well again to take 5th place on the grid, along side Aluizio Coelho (Promatecme). Little Al was more than a little disappointed not to be ahead of Button after his lap times through every sector on his fastest lap were quicker than the British youngster's. Only a mistake in the final corner robbed him of what might well have been third place on the grid. Fortec seemed to have lost form again after Oulton and their drivers occupied row 4, a fact that was to prove significant when the race started. Matt Davies was marginally the quicker of the two, showing Kristian Kolby the way round a circuit he had never seen before (as opposed to the Dane who has now been here at least twice). Toby Scheckter (SpeedSport) was looking more confident than he had done in recent rounds and would share row 5 with Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing), the Black Countryman in his usual National Class pole position having managed an improvement of a thousandth of a second in the final session. Next up was Tim Spouge (S S Sport), who set his time in the second session, having suffered a front suspension failure in the first session that left him last but one. He believed that he was capable of better than that. He and Paulo Carcasci, a former driver himself and pretty useful at the wheel, had spent the break working hard to get the car right for Tim and he was pretty frustrated at not being able to prove his point. Yudai Igarashi (Alan Docking Racing) was 12th, and still doesn't seem to have got the hang of Croft. It sometimes seems that he is improving, and at others it appears that he has learned nothing even though this is his third year in the category. Another one who is really not making progress in Warren Carway (SpeedSport), though the personable Irishman does at least seem to be enjoying himself, which is more than you can say for Yudai. Next up was Tor Sriachavanon (Manor Motorsport), the only driver so far not to have scored a single point in the series. He was really hoping to change that before the end of the meeting. Behind him was his teammate from the 1998 Formula Renault series, Doug Bell. Doug was pleased to be in at ADR. "I really should have come here at the start of the season," he said, "but I suppose you live and learn." However, having only managed to test at Pembrey prior to the race, he was seriously short on mileage in the car and it showed. 15th was less than he deserved and certainly less than he is capable of. Apart from Jeremy Smith (Jeremy Smith Racing), who was bringing up the rear over 4 seconds a lap off Hynes' pace, Michael Bentwood (Carlin Motorsport) was also at the back, the Cheshire man still suffering from his weekend at Pau perhaps. Certainly his confidence seems to have taken a beating and the improvements we had seen have now evaporated on tracks he is not so familiar with. And so we were ready for the last race of the first half of the season. The rain, which had been forecast and had looked likely at various times during practice held off all through the two half hour sessions and we didn't get soaked until the heavens opened about five minutes after the final session ended.
Qualifying Times: First Session: 1st - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:14.626 2nd - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:14.737 3rd - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 1:14.953 4th - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.012 5th - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.082 6th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 1:15.116 7th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.168 8th - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.350 9th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.384 10th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan Racing, F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 1:15.422 11th - No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, ADR, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.541 12th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.560 13th - No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.730 14th - No 8 - Doug Bell, Alan Docking Racing, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.833 15th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:16.373 16th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S Sport, F399 Spiess-Opel, 1:17.726 17th - No 75 - Jeremy Smith, JSR, F398 Spiess-Opel, 1:19.157
Overall: 1st - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:14.626 2nd - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:14.737 3rd - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 1:14.953 4th - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.012 5th - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.082 6th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 1:15.116 7th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.168 8th - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.350 9th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.384 10th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan Racing, F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 1:15.421 (National Class Pole) 11th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S Sport, F399 Spiess-Opel, 1:15.540 12th - No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, ADR, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.541 13th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.560 14th - No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.730 15th - No 8 - Doug Bell, Alan Docking Racing, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:15.833 16th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:16.373 17th - No 75 - Jeremy Smith, JSR, F398 Spiess-Opel, 1:18.970
Race: Weather: cloudy, dry, cold. Before the race started, there was a small celebration. Someone at Avon Tyres had been doing their homework and had concluded that this meeting was the 300th British Formula 3 Championship race to be run on their rubber. As a result there was a magnificent cake for everyone and a commemorative silver salver that would be presented to whoever won the race. What was impressive was that not only are these guys pretty quick on the track, they're not slow when there's a cake to be eaten either. Then, however, it was down to the serious business. Croft is a difficult circuit and it bites back if you get it wrong. This is especially true of the first set of bends after the start/finish line (Clervaux and Hawthorn). Given this fact it was more than a little unfortunate that the man to get it wrong was Martin O'Connell. As the National Class man headed out of Clervaux he tripped over Matt Davies who may have braked a fraction earlier than expected. Given the nature of the track, what happened next was probably entirely predictable. O'Connell rammed the rear of Davies' car, damaging the wing of the Fortec Dallara and tearing a front wing off the nose of his own Rowan Racing run car. "I made a good start. I passed Kolby and was up with Davies. Then he slowed and I hit him," Martin explained afterwards, trying to describe what had happened. In the ensuing mayhem, Toby Scheckter's SpeedSport entry was damaged so badly that all he could do was limp round to the pits to retire. Even worse was to befall his teammate, Warren Carway. The Irishman ran into Davies wheel, launching his own Dallara into a frightening roll, some metres off the ground. He was lucky to walk away and to be able to joke about it afterwards. "I got some altitude there, didn't I?" he was asking people later. To wipe out an entire team seems a little excessive and you have to wonder what Martin was doing. Afterwards he was contrite: "It was entirely my fault," he said, not words most drivers would ever consider uttering. When the dust settled Davies, who had miraculously not been hit by anyone else, was able to get going and return to the pits for some high speed repair work while the Safety Car lead everyone round for three laps. O'Connell stayed out behind the Safety Car for a lap - "For some reason I insisted on doing another lap before I came in.I'm not really sure why!"- before pitting to get a new nose and setting off after Jeremy Smith who was half a lap ahead. Meanwhile pole man Marc Hynes (Manor Motorsport), who had fended Luciano Burti (Stewart Racing) off forcefully to take the lead, was getting to grips with a new experience, having never been the man behind the Safety Car before. "In the past I was always in the pack, and I usually managed to get it wrong!" Someone really trying to get it wrong was Tor Sriachavanon (Manor Motorsport). Tor didn't seem to notice the yellow flags and the safety car notice until it was almost too late and he had to drop back sharpish into his proper place. As it turned out Hynes need not have worried about his brand new experience. When the Safety Car puled off at the Hairpin and they could return to racing, he made no mistake and held onto his lead all the way to the finish despite all Burti could think of to do. For a while, anyway, the Brazilian had his hands full keeping Narain Karthikeyan at bay. The challenge only evaporated when the young Indian suddenly found his Carlin Motorsport run Dallara was trying to fall apart. The head support piece had broken off and was now wrapped around his roll hoop, and he couldn't reach to dislodge it. The team thought it may have happened because he has a habit of leaning on the support when he gets into the car. Whatever the cause, the result was a car that was oversteering horribly and he was lucky in the end to get a podium place as he fell back, leaving Luciano to concentrate on Hynes. It wasn't too long before the Brazilian had figured out that he couldn't pass Marc but if he could get fastest lap they would leave Croft equal on points. He duly dropped back to give himself space and set about doing just that. Marc didn't realise until it was too late just what was happening and when he did try to redress the balance he was slowed by a backmarker on his final lap. Elsewhere, Jenson Button (Promatecme) having made a poor start and dropped himself back to 5th, was now challenging Andrew Kirkaldy (Stewart Racing) for 4th place. All the while Button's teammate Aluizio Coelho was also closing on the two of them. Button eventually got past Kirkaldy on lap 8, only to disappear from view a lap later, his car stricken with serious gearbox problems. So Kirkaldy got his 4th place back, though it was never what you might describe as comfortable. Behind him were Coelho, Kristian Kolby (Fortec) and Tim Spouge (S S Sport) putting in a superb performance now that the car is working well. Unfortunately Kolby decided that he wanted to be ahead of Little Al and pushed him onto the grass to take 5th, Spouge also diving through before Al was able to rejoin. From then on Coelho ran a relatively quiet race as the sole survivor for Promatecme. Kolby on the other hand didn't, taking a number of runs at Kirkaldy before he had to leave the Scot alone if he didn't want Spouge to come past. He wasn't prepared to give in, however, and on the last lap at the final corner, the Hairpin, made an importunate attempt to pass Kirkaldy which resulted in both of them finishing their races there and then within sight of the flag and the pit lane. It may have been just another of those Kolby moments but it didn't impress Andrew very much. It did impress Tim Spouge however and he gratefully accepted a well-deserved 4th place, his best F3 result ever. For his troubles he also collected the Driver of the Day award. He was very pleased with himself. "I don't think we'll quite be able to win races by the end of the year but a podium place might be possible," he said, reflecting on the progress the team have made. Another to avoid the Kolby moment was Aluizio Coelho who managed to avoid the wreckage to come in 5th. In 6th at the end of the afternoon was Tor Sriachavanon, scoring his first points of the season. He had driven well to hold off Michael Bentwood, Yudai Igarashi and Doug Bell. Igarashi and Bell had been fighting for position for most of the race, Bell eventually losing out to his teammate in the closing stages. As if Bell wasn't having a bad enough time, he was also being harrassed towards the end by Martin O'Connell who had dispatched Jeremy Smith effortlessly to take 10th overall and the National Class victory. Martin was lucky. Other people had far more trouble with Smith. Hynes was one of them and he was quite certain who was to blame. "The backmarkers caused a bit of drama.Smith started to turn in on me just as I was lapping him. He did the same thing to Luciano at Oulton. It gave me a bit of a flutter. Maybe we should buy him a radio." As usual, Marc was pretty clear about what he thought and not afraid to say so. So was Burti, who had gone to the extent of having a word with the officials about it. "We really need these guys to pay attention when they are being lapped," he said, also pointing out that this was not the first time Smith had committed such an act. Afterward there were various protests, including one that suggested that Karthikeyan should be bounced from the results because his car was dangerous, but as that was Stewart and Fortec and their drivers had gone off without any assistance from the Indian driver it seemed more like time-wasting than a genuine grievance. After all the black and orange flag exists for this purpose and if there really was a risk, it seems likely that the officials would have called Karthikeyan in to have the problem rectified. After the race, Hynes was relieved. "Do you want me to say something? It was nerve wracking out there. I'm just glad it's out of the way. I knew unless I went off or made a mistake he (Burti) wasn't going to be able to get by." As for being equal with the Brazilian in the championship, "It's not good for me, but it's good for the championship. I'd like to thank Manor for doing a good job today." He also took home the Avon commemorative plate and there were those of us who were delighted to see it go to someone who doesn't drive for Stewart Racing; after all, they usually win everything in sight so a change was more than welcome. Burti was not especially distressed by only being second."I never really had a chance to get by. My car was pretty good but Marc didn't make any mistakes so I decided to drop back and get the fastest lap. He got away and I missed my gears a couple of times before I managed it though. That was not my plan!" He would settle for staying in the joint lead, although Marc was quick to point out that he had won more races and that if it came to the same situation at the end of the season, the man with the most victories would be considered the champion. Karthikeyan couldn't believe his good fortune, and kept telling people that he was very lucky to have held onto third. "Before the head rest broke, the car was really really good... after, it was just horrible."
Results: 1st - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, 33:52.909, 94.16 mph 2nd - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 1.073 3rd - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 17.754 4th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S Sport, F399 Spiess-Opel, Gap: 19.382 5th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme, F399 Renault, Gap: 23.517 6th - No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 33.792 7th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 34.641 8th - No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, ADR, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 34.945 9th - No 8 - Doug Bell, Alan Docking Racing, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 36.424 10th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan Racing, F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 34.29.794, (National Class Winner) 11th - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 1 lap 12th - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 1 lap 13th - No 75 - Jeremy Smith, JSR, F398 Spiess-Opel, Gap: 1 lap 14th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 2 laps Not Classified: No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, F399 Renault, Lap 9 - gear box problems No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, Lap 1 - Accident damage No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda - Lap 1 - Accident - rolled
Fastest laps: Championship Class - Luciano Burti, 1:14.551, 165.30 kph, 102.71 mph (Lap 23) National Class - Martin O'Connell, 1.14.775, 164.80 kph, 102.40 mph (Lap 16)
Standings: Championship Class: 1st - Luciano Burti/Marc Hynes - 94 points 3rd - Jenson Button - 61 points 4th - Narain Karthikeyan - 59 points 5th - Kristian Kolby - 55 points 6th - Matt Davies - 42 points 7th - Alex Yoong - 37 points 8th - Andrew Kirkaldy - 34 points 9th - Michael Bentwood - 27 points 10th - Aluizio Coelho - 21 points 11th - Tim Spouge - 16 points 12th - Doug Bell - 12 points 13th - Yudai Igarashi - 11 points 14th - Tor Sriachavanon, 6 points 15th - Toby Scheckter - 5 points 16th - Warren Carway - 2 point
National Class: 1st - Martin O'Connell - 127 points 2nd - Jeremy Smith - 101 points 3rd - John Bender, 30 points 4th - Gavin Jones, 15 points
Next Round: Brands Hatch (Grand Prix Circuit) - June 19th/20th