At Spa-Francorchamps this morning Carlos Sainz Jr (Carlin) took an assured victory despite the best efforts of the weather gods who yet again saw fit to dump biblical quantities of rain on the track just as the cars lined up on the grid for the 40-minute race. It was a sure-footed performance and will go a long way towards making up for the doldrums that seemed to be besetting the Madrid-born youngster for the last month. 2nd overall (and winner of the Invitation Class) was Tom Blomqvist (ma-con Motorsport), making it a good morning all round for sons of famous rally-driving fathers. Third was Felix Serralles (Fortec Motorsport), which puts him in the lead of the championship for the first time this season. The National Class was won by Adderly Fong (CF Racing, the wet-weather specialist finishing a long way ahead of his rivals.
The start was surprisingly trouble-free given how much rain was coming down – also surprising was the decision taken by Jo Zeller Racing on the formation lap to pull Sandro Zeller in and put him on slicks. Looking at the sky it was a decision that takes some understanding. Certainly no one watching could have thought it a sane choice.
Anyway the lights went out and Serralles made a clean getaway from pole despite Sainz Jr taking a good look at the outside line into La Source. Meanwhile, Daniel Juncadella (Prema Powerteam) was in 3rd with Blomqvist just behind him. While Serralles held the lead, back in the pack the rest of Fortec Motorsport were in the wars, with Pipo Derani forced onto the grass in avoidance of someone else’s errant trajectory. In 5th Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin) had team-mate Jack Harvey on his tail after the latter got the drop on Hannes van Asseldonk (Fortec), leaving him to battle Derani, Alex Lynn (Fortec Motorsport) and Raffaele Marciello (Prema Powerteam) for position.
It was tough going out there and anyone not near the front was struggling to see anything at all in the spray. That didn’t seem to be worrying Sainz Jr too much and he took another look at Serralles on lap two, but again thought better of it. Juncadella maintained a watching brief, presumably waiting to see if the front pair might make a mistake that he could profit from. Back in 5th Jaafar was holding off Harvey and a queue was starting to develop behind them that looked like it might get messy if anyone put a wheel wrong.
Serralles hadn’t put a wheel wrong by this stage but on lap three Sainz Jr thought he could see daylight. He was right, he could, and he powered through at Raidillon to snatch the lead from the Puerto Rican youngster. Serralles resisted but there was nothing he could do and Sainz Jr was through and into the lead and Juncadella was looking to follow him. Serralles managed to hold off the second Spaniard though so something was salvaged.
Further back Pietro Fantin (Carlin) was having a tough time having tangled with van Asseldonk, and they were both out of the top 20. Fantin, unlike the Dutchman, at least appeared to be able to recover and was seen hacking past Fong regardless of the fact that it meant he ended up cutting the Chicane. He clearly had no intention of being that far back for long and it was a matter of speculation as to whether he would end up with a drive through as a result or not.
At the front Sainz Jr continued happily on his way having started to open up a gap on Serralles and set a new fastest lap each time he crossed the line, while Serralles tried to find a way to catch back up, and in the pack Harvey kept on harassing Jaafar, while back in 8th Derani was still being bothered by Lynn and by Sven Müller (Prema Powerteam), the German joining in to make life interesting in the mid-field.
And then the unexpected happened. Juncadella got on the kerb and managed to spin himself out of contention. He was lucky not to hit anything but he lost a lot of ground and by the time he was pointing in the right direction he was back in 10th thus handing the Invitation Class lead to Blomqvist.
A lap later and we had our first retirement after Geoff Uhrhane (Double R Racing) went off and ended up in the barriers. Luckily he was far enough off the track not to cause a problem, but it was a sign of things to come. However, it wasn’t putting Harvey off. He took a look at the outside of Jaafar at La Source and thought better of it, but the pair continued to play cat and mouse all round the circuit, even though Lewis was lurking very close to them now ready to pounce if they got it wrong.
The midfield in fact was still a source of some entertainment, with Harry Tincknell (Carlin), Nick McBride (ThreeBond with T-Sport) and Pascal Wehrlein (Mücke Motorsport) now clustered together in 14th and battling their way though every corner. Most attention though was still focussed on the front runners, especially when Serralles went a little too wide at Pouhon, got his wheels on the rumble strip and found himself a passenger as the car revolved into the escape road. He got going again quickly and only lost one place, and that was to Blomqvist who being Invitation Class meant that Felix would be no worse off it he stayed where he was. It did mean he now had Jaafar all over him but provided he kept his head he would be fine.
As Sainz set another fastest lap, the rain seemed to be easing somewhat and in fact the second sector was almost dry in comparison to the rest of the course. That made life really tricky because the change was most abrupt, but it got even worse when the rain came back around the top of the circuit. It probably wasn’t surprising therefore when Raffaele Marciello (Prema Powerteam) was tagged by Felix Rosenqvist (Mücke Motorsport), the Swede spinning out of the race on lap 7 just as the rain started to get heavier and heavier…
Juncadella continued his recovery drive despite the weather and got past Lynn by the simple expedient of slithering wildly up the side, and was soon on the move back up the order. There wouldn’t be much he could do about Sainz Jr, who had opened a gap of over 6 seconds, but he could at least make a handful of improvements before the flag fell. He was now right on Derani’s rear wing just as Müller had a big off at Eau Rouge and appeared to be unable to get out of the car, at least in the immediate aftermath.
That led to a Safety Car period, while the medical team and the marshals helped the young German out of his car. He appeared to be badly winded and somewhat bruised but he was able to walk and he was quickly helped away by the rescue team.
With nine minutes of the race left, the Safety Car was leading round Sainz Jr, Blomqvist, Serralles, Jaafar, Harvey, Lewis, Derani, Juncadella, Lynn and Tincknell. 11th was Wehrlein, from Bernstorff, McBride, Lucas Wolf (URD Rennsport), Marciello, Fantin, Andrea Roda (Jo Zeller Racing), Fong, van Asseldonk and Richard Bradley (Carlin). Luis Sá Silva (Angolan Racing Team) was 21st, heading up Fahmi Ilyas (Double R Racing), Pedro Pablo Calbimonte (T-Sport), Richard “Spike” Goddard (T-Sport), Duvashen Padayachee (Double R Racing) and the somewhat distant slick-shod Zeller.
At the restart Sainz Jr kept it well controlled and Blomqvist seemed disinclined to take a big risk for a place that wouldn’t make any difference to his ranking in the Invitation Class, so that gave the young Spaniard a clear run into La Source and off into the distance again. Despite the appalling conditions he steadily pulled away again, leaving Blomqvist to follow behind and hold off Serralles, who made an attempt to get his 2nd place back as the race went live again. It was much the same story with Tincknell who tried to get the drop on Lynn but couldn’t quite make it.
A lap later and Jaafar finally got some peace when Harvey found he had Lewis all over him, the American getting through for 5th on the road, The peace didn’t of course last long because Lewis soon caught up to the Malaysian and began to harass him. Jaafar was equal to the task but in the spray he had no idea where anyone was so ignoring Lewis was easier than it might have been.
Apart from Wolf passing McBride, and Lynn being hunted relentlessly by Bernstorff after the latter had disposed of Wehrlein, the race ran to the flag in processional order, though on the line Juncadella and Tincknell were neck and neck for 8th, the Spaniard just edging it by a fraction of a second. And so a delighted Sainz Jr crossed the line to claim his fourth victory of the season, a good 5 seconds ahead of Blomqvist.
Third went to Serralles, from Jaafar, Lewis, Harvey, Derani, Juncadella, Tincknell and Bernstorff. 11th place went to Lynn, from Wehrlein, Wolf, Marciello, McBride, Roda, National Class winner Fong, van Asseldonk, Fantin and Sá Silva. Ilyas finished 21st ahead on 2nd placed National Class man Calbimonte, then Goddard, Padayachee and Zeller.
The fastest laps of the race were set by Sainz Jr, Fong and Blomqvist.
Weather: Wet again.
Next Races: Rounds 21, 22 & 23, Snetterton, Norfolk, 4th/5th August.