1999 Autosport British Formula Three Championship - Round 10 - Snetterton, July 24th/25th. Race Report by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite

And changes again. Martin O'Connell is back in at Rowan Racing. Jeremy Smith is back and Alex Yoong has now announced that he is gone for good, having gone to Formula 3000, which can't have pleased too many people at Alan Docking Racing. The extra National Class runners had evaporated and we were down to three including O'Connell, Sato and Jeremy Smith.

Qualifying: Weather - sunny, dry, hot. Testing on Friday suggested that this was going to be a very close race. Even so, this didn't stop Marc Hynes (Manor Motorsport) from taking it relatively easy. Of course when you operate on a budget as tight as theirs you can't afford to be wasteful, so having set a very fast time, the lanky series leader came in and watched the others struggle to match his best effort. "I got through three cups of tea while they caught up. Of course, Stewarts used 45 sets of tyres in that time!" He was exaggerating of course but the general feeling was that if only he could afford as many sets of new tyres as the others, life would be much easier. Practice showed just how close this race might turn out to be. At the end of the first session, the top 14 drivers were covered by less than 1 second. Alright, Snetterton isn't the longest track they go to, but it is tricky, especially the infamous Russell chicane, which trips most drivers up at least once a meeting. And this despite the fact that most of the teams spend a lot of time testing here during the year. With the season now well underway, it's becoming clear that there are now only two likely champions, Hynes and Luciano Burti (Stewart Racing). They are now the only drivers to have scored points in every round of the series. The intriguing battle that has raged all season between the two of them showed no sign of abating here. Luciano was still worrying about his Dallara's tendency to oversteer, even if it may be all in his mind, and also needed an engine change at the end of Saturday but it didn't stop him grabbing pole position, beating Hynes by the tiniest of margins, an amazing 0.008 seconds. The Englishman wasn't too worried either, saying that he thought a change to the balance of his car may have slowed him down. The team duly switched the settings back for the race. It was a thrilling session anyway, with Burti only setting his time in the closing seconds of the session. In the second session Marc everything he knows to come back at Burti. Given the high temperatures in the afternoon (around 30 C), it would have been remarkable if he had succeeded, but he got very close, setting the fastest time in that session. Actually no one improved in the afternoon, partly due to the heat and partly due to coating of oil left behind by the Westfields, which laid a trail from the Bombhole most of the way to Russell. In third place was Narain Karthikeyan (Carlin Motorsport), the young Indian giving his all in an attempt to out-qualify the battling duo ahead of him. Learning all the time, the team played it cannily, allowing him to use both his sets of tyres in the first session, rightly guessing that there would be no benefit involved in saving them for the second session. Even so, it was an impressive performance that landed him a time just 1 thousandth of a second slower than Hynes. Of course, Narain's position as the most likely outside candidate for champion means he really feels he has nothing to lose and so is free to go for wins rather than points. In fourth was Jenson Button (Promatecme UK), the youngster showing no sign of the seriously pear-shaped day he was going to experience on Sunday. He looked smooth and quick, managing to keep just ahead of Matt Davies (Fortec Motorsport), who was as usual on the same row as Aluizio Coelho (Promatecme UK). This seems to be becoming a habit with the two of them, which is worrying given what a hard racer Davies can be. Coelho too looked seriously committed during qualifying though, believing that the team are finally setting the car up to suit him. He certainly seemed happier than he has all season. Deeply unhappy, on the other hand, was Andrew Kirkaldy (Stewart Racing). While his teammate challenges for the title, Andrew has been having trouble even challenging for points. He may be suffering from Stewart second driver syndrome of course. Whatever, the young Scot is probably not going to look back on this season with fond memories in later years. In eighth overall, and setting National Class pole, was Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing), fresh from his stint of acting as mechanic on his own car and happy to be back behind the wheel again. He was just ahead of the improving young South African, Toby Scheckter (SpeedSport). Toby seemed to be goaded into extra efforts this time by the presence of his brother, Thomas, in the Formula Eurocup (Formula Vauxhalls previously), and the two of them were keeping a close watch on each other's performances all weekend. If Kirkaldy was unhappy with his efforts, that was nothing compared to Kristian Kolby (Fortec Motorsport). Possibly the unhappiest Dane after Hamlet at present, Kris blamed driver error for a trip into the vegetable field at Riches that left the diffuser and a front pushrod in a sorry condition and that left Kris sitting out the closing minutes of the first session when all the fast times were set. He was joined on the fifth row by another man with agricultural inclinations that afternoon, Tor Sriachavanon. The second Manor Motorsport driver was not too impressed with himself although he was able to report that as far as he could tell this year's crop is potatoes. In twelfth place was Doug Bell (Alan Docking Racing), last year's Formula Renault series runner-up not making much progress at present. The only positive feature of his performance this time was that he was ahead of his teammate, Yudai Igarashi. In fact there was even space between the two of them, Tim Spouge (S S Sport) filling the gap. For once not last in his class was Warren Carway (SpeedSport), although he was only just ahead of Michael Bentwood. Bentwood did well to set the time he did, his Carlin Motorsport Dallara developing all sorts of problems with cracks appearing in the exhaust system. Second fastest of the National Class runners was Takuma Sato (Diamond Racing), the young Japanese setting a time a clear 2.5 seconds ahead of Jeremy Smith (Jeremy Smith Racing), the latter squeezed into another unfamiliar car after the theft of his original Dallara F398 from Silverstone. In fact, Jeremy was so disappointed with his efforts that he withdrew from the race. And so there were 17... Qualifying Times: (First Session & Overall - No improvements in session 2): 1st - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:02.461 2nd - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:02.469 3rd - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:02.470 4th - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme UK, Dallara F399 Renault, 1:02.539 5th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:02.644 6th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme UK, Dallara F399 Renault, 1:02.661 7th - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:02.703 8th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan Racing, Dallara F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 1:02.750 (National Class Pole) 9th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:02.757 10th - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:02.790 11th - No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:02.965 12th - No 8 - Doug Bell, Alan Docking Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:03.083 13th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S Sport, Dallara F399 Spiess-Opel, 1:03.226 14th - No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, Alan Docking Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:03.358 15th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:03.570 16th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:03.588 17th - No 77 - Takuma Sato, Diamond Racing, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, 1:03.848 18th - No 75 - Jeremy Smith, Jeremy Smith Racing, Dallara F398 Spiess-Opel, 1:06.162

Race: Weather: hot, sunny, dry. This was a race of drama, too much drama for some. It all started on the grid as the countdown to the green light began. As they lined up at the end of the final formation lap, Narain Karthikeyan (Carlin Motorsport) found his Mugen-Honda bogging down. Thinking it had stalled, he raised his arms and the officials put out the start delayed board... just as the engine burst into life. It was too late. The race would be shortened by a lap and the unfortunate youngster was sent to the back of the grid, from third place. On the second attempt, Luciano Burti (Stewart Racing) got away well from pole while Marc Hynes (Manor Motorsport), alongside him, also found he was bogging down. He had thought that his start was going to be much better than that and by the time he had recovered Burti was in the lead. Further back, Doug Bell (Alan Docking Racing) made a ferocious effort to pass Tor Sriachavanon (Manor Motorsport) that didn't quite work and that nearly saw the two team mates from last year in the gravel trap. Meanwhile, Michael Bentwood (Carlin Motorsport) was still having trouble with the exhaust system on his Dallara and got away last, just trailing his unhappy teammate round to the first corner. Aluizio Coelho (Promatecme) lost out to Andrew Kirkaldy (Stewart Racing) after a brief grassy moment while Jenson Button, the other Promatecme driver, was trying to prove to Matt Davies (Fortec) that he is meaner than Matt. It came close to ending in tears and Davies barged past Button in a very forceful move. It was impressive. And while all this was raging, Kristian Kolby (Fortec) took advantage of the fact that no one was paying him any attention to grab 5th place, a distinct improvement on his starting place in 10th. At the front things were a little fraught. Hynes made an initial attempt to pass Burti into the Esses, but it didn't quite work, so he dropped back again and waited for the next lap. That attempt was even less successful, as Burti defended strenuously and Hynes went over the kerbs and across the grass, clipping Matt Davies on the way and allowing Button back to second. But not for long. Having seen Hynes trying to pass there, he too made a lunge going into the Esses. The result was a spectacular spin and the entire field passing him while he tried to figure out where he was and which way he was meant to be going. And so Hynes was back up to second. This time he wasn't about to try anything clever. He settled in to collect some points while Burti kept a sharp eye out for any more surprise attacks from anyone. Just for good measure Matt Davies (Fortec) and Andrew Kirkaldy (Stewart Racing) then had a slight dispute over third place and track space that pitched the Scot into a spin while Davies continued untroubled. And Button was no longer last, the Stewart driver rejoining just behind him, his miserable season getting steadily worse it seems. Meanwhile, Aluizio Coelho (Promatecme) has avoided the confusion to move up to fourth place. At least until Kristian Kolby decided he had to have that slot. He went through and Toby Scheckter (SpeedSport) followed, demoting Little Al to 6th. Just as the various battles appeared to be settling down, though, it all fell apart. Narain Karthikeyan was storming back up the field but then got caught behind Yudai Igarashi (Alan Docking Racing). Now Yudai can be a little unpredictable in his choice of braking points (and that's putting it mildly) and going into Russell, the Carlin car ran into the ADR Dallara's gearbox, pitching the Japanese into a spin that left him stranded. And the next thing everyone knew, they were queueing up behind the Safety Car for two laps. It remained there for two laps before they could race again. By then Button, who had earlier been nudging Karthikeyan to try to persuade him to get out of the way, had blotted his copybook for the second time. Not having the sort of day he will want to remember, he somehow managed to spin off on his own before the Safety Car had even pulled off the circuit. And he was last. Perhaps in a sense of solidarity, Andrew Kirkaldy also had a second spin, though he retired rather than sticking around to the bitter end. It was an awful afternoon for the two rookies, though they weren't alone. Tor Sriachavanon (Manor Motorsport) got embroiled in a fight with Tim Spouge (S S Sport) which nearly brought the Safety Car out for the second time. The Thai driver found himself on the rough stuff at Riches and was left with no alternative but to visit the vegetable field again. He wasn't too impressed and nor were the drivers when the SC board was waved at them very briefly before being rapidly withdrawn. The final disaster of the afternoon befell Scheckter and Coelho. The latter had steadily closed back in on the South African and on the last lap made an attempt to pass him for 5th place. Coelho pulled alongside on the approach to Riches, but Scheckter moved across, clipping the front of the Promatecme car. The Brazilian survived though with broken front suspension components and limped home unclassified. The Fortec car took off, rattled along he barrier with its driver a helpless passenger and came to rest on the grass. It was a very long time before the marshals were able to free Toby and he was then sent to hospital for a check-up and some precautionary X-rays. The doctors allowed him to go home. He was lucky to be unhurt apart from some bruising, and was man enough to own up to being at fault. Aluizio "tried to pass me round the outside. I moved over... and didn't leave him much option. It was definitely more my fault than his," he said afterwards. For Burti, it had been close to the perfect weekend. "We didn't make a mistake today... At the beginning it was very hard. They were catching me up on the straights. Then Marc tried to pass me on the outside, we almost touched and he went to the grass. Then Jenson was behind me and he made a mistake and went off on his own. I didn't make any mistakes. I almost had a few moments but so did everyone else. The Safety Car was OK. I didn't really have a lead anyway. It was really a very good race. It was like being in Vauxhall Junior again. It was really good to be racing again." Hynes too was not unhappy with his afternoon. "I was quite pleased to see Jenson spin. It was difficult to keep up today; it's very slippery. I just don't like Brazilians much today! Of course, I'm a bit disappointed but it's up to us not to make any mistakes now." He knows it is still all to play for. Burti leads by 3 points, which is nothing at this stage. "Pembrey could be the one that really decides the championship. It could make a difference. But then we could both win one each..." He was much happier when he got back to the garage and discovered what could have happened. As the lads were putting the car away, he got a good look at the floor and discovered a large hole, probably the result of his kerb-hopping activities trying to pass Burti. As it later turned out, he was very lucky to have been able to finish the race with any points at all, never mind in second place, since the skin had also been holed and a sharp edge was close to some vital pipes. Davies meanwhile, admitted that he had been "driving round trying to keep out of trouble. Marc was quite a bit quicker than me today. I just wanted to be on the podium." National Class victor was Martin O'Connell, a long way ahead of Sato. "My race was terrible really. I had a really bad start but then people started going off and crashing into each other for no reason. The car was pretty good today really. We survived. You can't complain too much. It's trying to keep up that's the problem. I think things will improve a bit when we get a few new bits and pieces that are coming along in the next week." The series moves to Pembrey for a double header next, but before then most of the main contenders will be paying their annual visit to Zandvoort for the Marlboro Masters. It should be very interesting, though it is a shame that Stewart Racing have opted to stay away.

Results: 1st - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 24:26.057, 100.65 mph 2nd - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 0.458 3rd - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 1.288 4th - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 2.198 5th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan, F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 24:32.250, 100.23 mph (National Class Winner) 6th - No 8 - Doug Bell, ADR, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 7.001 7th - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 11.526 8th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S Sport, Dallara F399 Spiess-Opel, Gap: 14.609 9th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 18.468 10th - No. 77 - Takuma Sato, Diamond, F398 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 21.9629 11th - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, F399 Renault, Gap: 25.972

Not Classified: No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, Lap 21, Accident with Coelho No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme, F399 Renault, Lap 21, Accident with Scheckter No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, Lap 18 No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, Lap 17, Spun off at Riches No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, ADR, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, Lap 16, Spun off at Russell No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, Lap 10, Spun off at Russell

Did Not Start: No 75 - Jeremy Smith, Jeremy Smith Racing, Dallara F398 Spiess-Opel

Fastest laps: Championship Class - No 1, Luciano Burti, 1:02.588, 180.69 kph, 112.28 mph National Class - No. 51, Martin O'Connell, 1.03.145, 179.10 kph, 111.29 mph

Standings: Championship Class: 1st - Luciano Burti - 142 points 2nd - Marc Hynes - 139 points 3rd - Narain Karthikeyan - 94 points 4th - Jenson Button - 85 points 5th - Kristian Kolby - 79 points 6th - Matt Davies - 68 points 7th - Andrew Kirkaldy - 46 points 8th - Alex Yoong - 37 points 9th - Michael Bentwood - 30 points 10th - Aluizio Coelho - 24 points 11th - Tim Spouge - 23 points 12th - Doug Bell - 21 points 13th - Yudai Igarashi - 11 points 14th - Toby Scheckter - 9 points 15th - Tor Sriachavanon - 8 points 16th - Warren Carway - 5 points

National Class: 1st - Martin O'Connell - 148 points 2nd - Jeremy Smith - 111 points 3rd - John Bender, 64 points 4th - Gavin Jones, 45 points 5th - Takuma Sato, 35 points 6th - Stephen Shanley, 22 points 7th - John Ingram, 8 points

Next Round: Pembrey - August 14th/15th