1999 Autosport British Formula Three Championship - Round 14 - Spa-Francorchamps, September 24th/25th/26th.
Race Report by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite
Qualifying: Dry, cool.
The foreign contenders might have expected to do better than they did at the annual trek to Spa, but by the end of qualifying it was pretty much business as usual for the regular front runners, Marc Hynes (Manor Motorsport), Luciano Burti (Stewart Racing) and Jenson Button (Promatecme UK). They had been fast in testing and they were taking no prisoners when it came to qualifying. After all, all entrants were entitled to score points, as they had been required to register in the Championship before they were allowed in. It should have been no surprise though that the essentially private party at the front stayed that way, with pole finally going to Button who really showed his mastery of this tough track. However, in some respects he wasn't looking forward to the race, not with the two title front runners (Hynes and Burti) where they were.
Burti, sporting a hideous new haircut that made him look like an axe-murderer, was next up and then Hynes. And just behind the leader of the British series, Hynes, was Kristian Kolby (Fortec Motorsport). The Dane was having a much better time than he had at Donington and was in buoyant mood this time out. He was also ahead of another series leader, the first of the interlopers, Christijan Albers (Bertram Schaefer Racing). The young Dutchman had considered himself badly done by at Zandvoort and he was inclined to bitch about the unfamiliar Avons and the effect they were having on his car's handling but he was close to the pace and really had very little to complain about. It made a nice break from the German series too and he couldn't understand why more of his colleagues hadn't entered. In sixth place was the next regular runner, Aluizio Coelho (Promatecme UK). The Brazilian was very close to the top of the table in the second session, which seems to be a habit of his, not helped by the fact that for the first session the team had lost ten minutes for him when they couldn't start the Renault engine. Unfortunately, the second session was slower, but even so he was not at all displeased with his pace. Little Al was separated from his more usual companions by Yves Olivier (JB Motorsport), Julien Beltoise (ASM Fina) and Tiago Monteiro (ASM Fina). The Portuguese was one of the few to improve their positions significantly in the second session. Andrew Kirkaldy (Stewart Racing) rounded out the top ten, despite some time spent playing pinball with the barriers in the first session.
Tim Spouge (S S Sport) was another who improved despite a spell in the gravel traps. He would have Sebastien Dumez (ASM Fina) for company, and the two of them would start ahead of a somewhat baffled Matt Davies (Fortec Motorsport). Matt had a number of lurid moments at the Bus Stop and probably still didn't really trust the brakes on his car. When questioned as to what was wrong, he simply didn't know. Nor did Toby Scheckter (SpeedSport), the South African putting in a disappointing performance after his fine drive at Donington. He was alongside Peter Sundberg (Prema Powerteam), the Swedish driver who currently leads the Italian series. Considering Sundberg had thrown it into the gravel in the early session, this was a commendable performance, particularly given that the Italian series contains about ten drivers on a good day and is hardly what might be described as fiercely competitive.
In sixteenth was Michael Bentwood (Carlin Motorsport), who was complaining that the Bus Stop was giving him a headache. Given the interesting lines he was taking it wasn't too surprising. The confusion had also spread to his teammate, Narain Karthikeyan, who was suffering from understeer and just did not seem able to get comfortable. The next of the Italians was Giorgio Pantano (Prema Powerteam), and he was probably also the most impressive, as he was making his car racing debut. Of the places you could choose to do this, Spa is not the one that most people would select, but he put in a creditable performance, though he did go off in testing. The third of the Italian runners was Gabriele Varano (RC Benetton). There is talk that this team may come and race in Britain next season but they may have changed their minds after this. The final runner in the top twenty was Tor Sriachavanon (Manor Motorsport). The Thai had a wildly torrid time in testing, going off in both sessions and taking three corners off. The team was cynically remarking that he only needed to do the rear right hand corner and he would have a full set of new suspension! He finished the job by going off in the second qualifying session too, just after setting his fastest lap, but at least this time he only filled it with gravel.
In twenty-first was a very fed up Doug Bell (Alan Docking Racing), who is another suffering from having a teammate who can't teach him anything useful. His only consolation was that he was ahead of that teammate. In twenty-second was Formula Three's current oldest rookie Walter van Lent (JB Motorsport), the 31 year old beating youngster Patrick Friesacher (Bertram Schaefer Racing). Juan Manual Lopez (Prema Powerteam) demonstrated the range of speed in the Italian series by qualifying 24th, just ahead of National Class pole man Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing). Warren Carway (SpeedSport) was struggling too, but this should not surprise anyone. And he wasn't last in class. That distinction went to Yudai Igarashi (Alan Docking Racing) whose performance was less than impressive. It is, perhaps, time he moved on or even quit. He quite obviously gets no pleasure from what he's doing and his results are getting worse by the race. He was only just ahead of the second placed National Class driver, his compatriot Takuma Sato (Diamond Racing). The remaining National Class men, John Bender (Carlin Motorsport), Charles Hall (Rowan Racing) and Nick Eliades (SpeedSport) were twenty-ninth, thirtieth and thirty-first. In the case of Eliades this was despite going off quite early on in the session. He and Hall both made huge improvements in the second session and could feel pleased with their performances.
Qualifying Times First Session: 1st - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme UK, Dallara F399 Renault, 2:16.173 2nd - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 2:16.266 3rd - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 2:16.278 4th - No 28 - Christijan Albers, Opel Team BSR, Dallara F399 Opel-Spiess, 2:16.615 5th - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 2:16.986 6th - No 24 - Yves Olivier, JB Motorsport, Dallara F399 Opel-Spiess, 2:16.993 7th - No 22 - Julien Beltoise, ASM Fina, Dallara F399 Renault-Sodemo, 2:17.012 8th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme UK, Dallara F399 Renault, 2:17.252 9th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 2:17.567 10th - No 25 - Peter Sundberg, Prema Powerteam, Dallara F399 Opel-Spiess, 2:17.614 11th - No 20 - Sebastien Dumez, ASM Fina, Dallara F399 Renault-Sodemo, 2:17.671 12th - No 21 - Tiago Monteiro, ASM Fina, Dallara F399 Renault-Sodemo, 2:17.695 13th - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 2:17.718 14th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S Sport, Dallara F399 Spiess-Opel, 2:17.829 15th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 2:18.251 16th - No 27 - Giorgio Pantano, Prema Powerteam, Dallara F399 Opel-Spiess, 2:18.367 17th - No 30 - Gabriele Varano, RC Benetton Junior Team, Dallara F399 Opel-Spiess, 2:18.388 18th - No 8 - Doug Bell, Alan Docking Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 2:18.393 19th - No 23 - Walter van Lent, JB Motorsport, Dallara F399 Opel-Spiess, 2:18.482 20th - No 26 - Juan Manual Lopez, Prema Powerteam, Dallara F399 Opel-Spiess, 2:18.594 21st - No 29 - Patrick Friesacher, Opel Team BSR, Dallara F399 Opel-Spiess, 2:18.807 22nd - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 2:18.835 23rd - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 2:18.954 24th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 2:19.015 25th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan Racing, Dallara F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 2:19.130 26th - No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 2:19.237 27th - No 54 - John Bender, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, 2:19.363 28th - No 77 - Takuma Sato, Diamond Racing, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, 2:19.407 29th - No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, Alan Docking Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 2:19.718 30th - No 57 - Nick Eliades, SpeedSport, Dallara F398 HKS-Mitsubishi, 2:21.118 31st - No 52 - Charles Hall, Rowan Racing, Dallara F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 2:21.540
Combined times: 1st - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 2:16.173 2nd - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, F399 Mugen, 2:16.266 3rd - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, F399 Mugen, 2:16.278 4th - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, F399 Mugen, 2:16.499 5th - No 28 - Christijan Albers, BSR, F399 Opel, 2:16.615 6th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 2:16.657 7th - No 24 - Yves Olivier, JB, F399 Opel, 2:16.993 8th - No 22 - Julien Beltoise, ASM, F399 Renault, 2:17.012 9th - No 21 - Tiago Monteiro, ASM, F399 Renault, 2:17.120 10th - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, F399 Mugen, 2:17.319 11th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S, F399 Opel, 2:17.428 12th - No 20 - Sebastien Dumez, ASM, F399 Renault, 2:17.449 13th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec, F399 Mugen, 2:18.453 14th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen, 2:17.567 15th - No 25 - Peter Sundberg, Prema, F399 Opel, 2:17.614 16th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, F399 Mugen, 2:17.633 17th - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, F399 Mugen, 2:17.685 18th - No 27 - Giorgio Pantano, Prema, F399 Opel, 2:18.000 19th - No 30 - Gabriele Varano, RC Benetton, F399 Opel, 2:18.031 20th - No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, F399 Mugen, 2:19.296 21st - No 8 - Doug Bell, ADR, F399 Mugen, 2:18.393 22nd - No 23 - Walter van Lent, JB, F399 Opel, 2:18.460 23rd - No 29 - Patrick Friesacher, BSR, F399 Opel, 2:18.586 24th - No 26 - Juan Manual Lopez, Prema, F399 Opel, 2:18.594 25th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan, F398 TOM'S, 2:18.597 (National Class Pole) 26th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen, 2:18.954 27th - No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, ADR, F399 Mugen, 2:19.083 28th - No 77 - Takuma Sato, Diamond, F398 Mugen, 2:19.164 29th - No 54 - John Bender, Carlin, F398 Mugen, 2:19.363 30th - No 52 - Charles Hall, Rowan, F398 TOM'S, 2:20.046 31st - No 57 - Nick Eliades, SpeedSport, F398 Mitsubishi, 2:20.362
Race: Weather: Cloudy, rapidly drying line.
There was drama even before the start. As the cars congregated on the grid, it was clear that Christijan Albers (Bertram Schaefer Racing) was in trouble. Having had his on-board computer disconnected at the request of the scrutineers (the only driver selected on this occasion), he tried to start the Opel engine manually. The whole system flooded with fuel and would not start. The hapless Dutchman was left stranded on the grid as the green flag lap started, his arms raised in warning, a marshal with a yellow flag standing right behind his rear wing. It is probable that they should not have been waved away at all with the BSR car clearly unable to move. After the rest of them had gone, Albers was pushed into the pit-lane and his car was worked on as he stomped around, a study in absolute fury. He would eventually start dead last, two laps after everyone else, and was so fired up that he set fastest lap en route to the finish.
And things had still not calmed down any. At the start there were more problems. Matt Davies (Fortec Motorsport) stalled on the grid and was hit with some force by Tor Sriachavanon (Manor Motorsport). This put both of them out of the race immediately, and also claimed John Bender (Carlin Motorsport). As the safety crew rescued Sriachavanon, the Thai collapsed, obviously in great pain. He was taken to hospital in nearby Verviers, where he was found to have damaged some muscles in his back, but was otherwise pronounced well enough to go home, to his great relief. "I thought, hospital food! Oh no!" he commented.
As if that were not enough, the battle at the front turned decidedly nasty. Jenson Button (Promatecme UK), got away into the lead but just behind him, Luciano Burti (Stewart Racing) was trying to make good on his promise that if anyone tried to pass him, they would crash. With series leader Marc Hynes (Manor Motorsport), alongside him, Burti simply moved over on the Englishman, though he would later claim he was only defending his line. Whatever Burti thought he was doing, he hit Hynes fairly hard and the Manor driver was furious afterwards. "It was bloody dangerous," he said. "We could both have gone off if I'd tried to push it, but there were thirty or so cars behind us and we were going pretty fast just there." The result of the move was that everyone had to back off, though Aluizio Coelho (Promatecme UK) had a go at passing Hynes for third place. The two made contact and Little Al sensibly backed off having taken advantage of the space left by Albers to make a phenomenal start that saw him slam the door very forcefully in Yves Olivier's (JB Motorsport) face. And then there was no more action for a while, as the race officials sent out the Safety Car while Sriachavanon was being collected by an ambulance and his car was dragged out of the way.
During the following two laps, the most bizarre event of race occurred when Sebastien Dumez (ASM Fina) ran into Italian series leader Peter Sundberg (Prema Powerteam) as they both slowed behind the Safety Car, or rather Sundberg did and Dumez didn't. Dumez was out there and then, while Sundberg pitted and rejoined to finish two laps down. The battle for the lead took a further turn when the Safety Car pulled off and both Burti and Hynes got the drop on Button. The latter wasn't quite sure what was happening but he was very sideways and the other two simply took advantage to barge through. Thereafter, Hynes hounded Burti to the finish and beyond, the former missing the press conference because he and team boss John Booth were busy lodging a protest about the Brazilian's tactics. The result was inconclusive and Burti got to keep his win, as there were no observer's reports available.
Needless to say both drivers had rather different views of what had happened. Hynes said: "I got a good start and went alongside. Luciano was a little aggressive." He was quite clearly not at all happy about what had happened. Burti's approach to charges of being too aggressive was: "I hope I was. People have been throwing the car into me and being very aggressive to me." Perhaps, but Hynes has not been one of them, and this in no way justifies what happened.
With a two-point gap between them (Hynes leads), and no one else able to take the series, things have become deadly serious between these two. The next two races look likely to be something of a grudge match unless the officials act to stop it. Hopefully, though, we will see a good clean fight between these two very talented drivers.
Meanwhile, back in third place, another highly talented driver was suffering the attentions of two more of the same. Button made a slight slip at Les Combes only to have his teammate, Coelho, outbrake him in a very brave move. The Brazilian claimed third place and what looked likely to be his first podium position. Little Al was seriously fired up, and wasn't about to relinquish his place, though Button would claim it was achieved under yellows. The officials didn't think so, however. And the battle then raged unchecked for the next fifteen laps. Button made a number of attempts to pass, having initially lost ground on Coelho. However, he caught up again after being shown a rather mysterious pit signal, "IGN 2". Whatever it is, it seems Coelho doesn't have one and Button does. Even so, Jenson would have to be very careful. Finally, after it started raining around the back of the circuit, Button would get through but still would not get his podium place back. This was because Kristian Kolby (Fortec Motorsport) was about to make the move of the race, and possibly of the season. In a do-or-die move, the Dane saw a gap and went for it. He went into La Source behind Button as Button pulled alongside Coelho, and saw a gap, or at least part of a gap. Even Kris wasn't sure it was going to work: "I expected to come out in last place with bent suspension, but you have to go for it sometimes," he said afterwards, trying to make light of a very impressive passing manoeuvre. He made contact with Coelho, who lifted to avoid going off, knowing that if he turned in as normal he wouldn't get much further. Not content with that though, Kolby then charged past Button into Eau Rouge, the Dane seemingly using as much will power as engine power to grab third place. It still wasn't over though. Coelho tried again to get ahead of his teammate, but this time Button wasn't playing. He slammed the door and that was that. Coelho then discovered that he had been joined by Yves Olivier, Tiago Monteiro (ASM Fina) and Julien Beltoise (ASM Fina). The Brazilian would spend the rest of the race holding the three of them off. He was probably saved from worse harassment when they started scrapping with each other.
Andrew Kirkaldy (Stewart Racing) and Toby Scheckter (SpeedSport) rounded out the top ten, these two having spent a lot of the race fighting with each other. Toby and Andrew seem to like playing together, and least this time they managed to play nicely.
Tim Spouge (S S Sport) finished just outside the points, followed by Narain Karthikeyan and Michael Bentwood, the two Carlin Motorsport drivers having swapped places but otherwise having made very little progress. Doug Bell (Alan Docking Racing) wasn't too happy, but then he's been complaining about the hills even when he was on foot. Someone who could be quite proud of his efforts was Giorgio Pantano (Prema Powerteam). For his first ever car race, the Italian had stayed out of trouble, which was more than some of his more experienced colleagues could manage. Walter van Lent (JB Motorsport) and Juan Manual Lopez (Prema Powerteam) were sixteenth and seventeenth respectively.
In eighteenth overall was National Class victor, Takuma Sato (Diamond Racing). The tiny Japanese was overjoyed, especially as he had beaten this year's National Class Champion Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing) in a straight fight for the first time. It had been a close battle too, and Sato had a right to be pleased with himself. It was a terrific performance from a very promising driver. In twentieth was the other Japanese driver, Yudai Igarashi (Alan Docking Racing). Igarashi had been challenged by Gabriele Varano (RC Benetton Junior Team) for most of the race but this resolved itself when the Italian tried to second-guess Yudai and came off trying to pass the ADR driver at Les Combes. It was a popular place, Warren Carway (SpeedSport) having gone off there all on his own straight after the restart.
The last classified runners to complete full distance were Patrick Friesacher (Bertram Schaefer Racing) and Charles Hall (Rowan Racing), the young Englishman choosing a very difficult venue for his second F3 outing.
Results: 1st - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, F399 Mugen, 37:50.948, 154.643 kph 2nd - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, F399 Mugen, Gap: 0.899 3rd - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, F399 Mugen, Gap: 4.740 4th - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, F399 Renault, Gap: 5.351 5th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme, F399 Renault, Gap: 8.833 6th - No 24 - Yves Olivier, JB, F399 Opel, Gap: 11.755 7th - No 21 - Tiago Monteiro, ASM, F399 Renault, Gap: 12.292 8th - No 22 - Julien Beltoise, ASM, F399 Renault, Gap: 13.396 9th - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, F399 Mugen, Gap: 14.913 10th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen, Gap: 15.360 11th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S, F399 Opel, Gap: 17.342 12th - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, F399 Mugen, Gap: 18.890 13th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, F399 Mugen, Gap: 21.812 14th - No 8 - Doug Bell, ADR, F399 Mugen, Gap: 25.690 15th - No 27 - Giorgio Pantano, Prema, F399 Opel, Gap: 27.122 16th - No 23 - Walter van Lent, JB, F399 Opel, Gap: 27.795 17th - No 26 - Juan Manual Lopez, Prema, F399 Opel, Gap: 35.200 18th - No 77 - Takuma Sato, Diamond, F398 Mugen, 38:29.210 (National Class Winner) 19th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan, F398 TOM'S, Gap: 42.630 20th - No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, ADR, F399 Mugen, Gap: 43.200 21st - No 29 - Patrick Friesacher, BSR, F399 Opel, Gap: 44.598 22nd - No 52 - Charles Hall, Rowan, F398 TOM'S, Gap: 58.339 23rd - No 25 - Peter Sundberg, Prema, F399 Opel, Gap: 1 Lap 24th - No 30 - Gabriele Varano, RC Benetton, F399 Opel, Gap: 2 Laps 25th - No 28 - Christijan Albers, BSR, F399 Opel, Gap: 2 Laps
Not Classified: No 57 - Nick Eliades, SpeedSport, F398 Mitsubishi, Lap 7 No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen, Lap 3 No 20 - Sebastien Dumez, ASM, F399 Renault, Lap 2, Hit Sundberg during Safety Car period No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec, F399 Mugen, Lap 1, Startline accident No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, F399 Mugen, Lap 1, Startline accident No 54 - John Bender, Carlin, F398 Mugen, Lap 1, Startline accident
Fastest laps: Championship Class: No 28, Christijan Albers, Lap 10, 2:17.333, 182.657 kph National Class: No 77, Takuma Sato, Lap 13, 2:19.461, 179.870 kph
Championship Standings: Championship Class: 1st - Marc Hynes - 191 points 2nd - Luciano Burti - 189 points 3rd - Jenson Button - 147 points 4th - Kristian Kolby - 129 points 5th - Narain Karthikeyan - 98 points 6th - Matt Davies - 92 points 7th - Andrew Kirkaldy - 60 points 8th - Michael Bentwood - 50 points 9th - Alex Yoong - 37 points 10th - Tim Spouge - 34 points 11th - Aluizio Coelho - 32 points 12th - Toby Scheckter - 23 points 13th - Doug Bell - 22 points 14th - Tor Sriachavanon - 14 points 15th - Yudai Igarashi - 11 points 16th - Yves Olivier - 6 points 17th - Warren Carway/Tiago Monteiro - 4 points 19th - Julien Beltoise - 3 points 20th - Christijan Albers - 1 point
National Class: 1st - Martin O'Connell - 205 points 2nd - John Bender - 112 points 3rd - Jeremy Smith - 111 points 4th - Takuma Sato - 71 points 5th - Gavin Jones - 45 points 6th - Stephen Shanley - 22 points 7th - Nick Eliades - 15 points 8th - Charles Hall - 12 points 9th - John Ingram - 8 points
Next Round: Silverstone - October 9th/10th