Race Report: Weather: Dry, sunny. After a somewhat eventful morning, the 21st round of the 2004 British Formula Three Championship finally got underway a little late on Saturday afternoon. And the result - the minute the starting gantry lights...
Weather: Dry, sunny.
After a somewhat eventful morning, the 21st round of the 2004 British Formula Three Championship finally got underway a little late on Saturday afternoon. And the result - the minute the starting gantry lights went out - was instant chaos. Most of it was down to Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports), who was on pole, and set to try and claim the championship under his father's watchful gaze. Except that the minute the race started, Piquet simply didn't as he stalled the engine. By the time he got moving almost everyone else had gone, Clivio Piccione (Carlin Motorsport) making the most of the opportunity he'd just been presented with to shoot into the lead. Unfortunately, Nicolas Lapierre (Opel Signature Plus) thought he'd like the lead too and the result was a fit of wheel banging at the top of Eau Rouge that left Lapierre in the barriers and Piccione in the lead. Piquet, meanwhile, was trying to recover, but instead managed to spin and lose even more ground, while Lucas di Grassi (Hitech Racing) spun at Les Combes and also plummeted down the order. Piccione was now coming under large amounts of pressure from Adam Carroll (P1 Motorsport), the latter trying to get ahead of James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport) in the title chase - though realistically the best either of them can really hope for now is 2nd to Piquet. Certainly Carroll seemed to have the faster car, and was trying all sorts to get through.
Meanwhile Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport) was having a rather lurid time, which evolved into a bit of a moment at Pif Paf. He sorted it out quite well, but the chaos wasn't over yet. Rossiter was busy taking himself out of the running by throwing his Dallara into the gravel, while Piccione continued on his way, leading from Carroll, and Danilo Dirani (Carlin Motorsport), Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) and Danny Watts (Promatecme F3). Behind them Greg Franchi (Opel Signature) was the sole survivor in the Invitation Class, running in 6th with the recovering di Grassi just behind. The first lap wasn't even over when it all went seriously pear-shaped at the back end of the field, mostly thanks to Fairuz Fauzy (P1 Motorsport), who'd picked up a puncture at the start but was still on the racing line. Piquet came up on the Malaysian as they reached La Source, Fauzy panicked and spun, clipping Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) and giving the Scholarship Class champion a right rear puncture. In addition, Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing) and Adam Smith (Alan Docking Racing) were involved, Jelley ending up trapped underneath Smith's car. The resultant blockage meant that the Safety Car had to be deployed, while the wreckage could all be cleared away and Jelley extracted from the accident. The English driver was a mite surprised to find: "suddenly there's a car on my head!" He admitted that his first though was that if he could just push the ADR car off, he could get going again. Score +10 for optimism and around -100 for common sense there. The car was a mess, which was an appalling shame after the amount of work the Performance team had done getting it repaired. Smith was seriously annoyed at being wiped out by someone else's accident, and his carefully considered opinion of Fauzy can't be reproduced in a public forum of any kind. Suffice it to say, he wasn't at all impressed with the Malaysian.
For the next four laps the remaining runners sat behind the Safety Car, with Piccione leading from Carroll. Dirani was 3rd from Watts, Asmer, Franchi, di Grassi, Will Power (Alan Docking Racing), James Walker (Hitech Racing) and Barton Mawer (T-Sport). 11th was Alexandre Negrao (Carlin Motorsport), while the recovering Piquet was now bottled up in 12th. Vasilije Calasan (Promatecme F3) was leading the Scholarship Class, which seemed very unlikely, although the usual front-runners appeared to be out of the race altogether. Certainly Jelley wouldn't be back because one side of his car was flat (to say nothing of the tyre marks on the steering wheel), while Lewis was in the pits while T-Sport sorted out his dead tyre. That left Ronayne O'Mahony (Performance Racing) 2nd (and last) in class, while Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing) and Parente brought up the rear.
While the survivors trailed round like ducklings behind a mother duck, the cameras panned round to show us a disconsolate Lapierre gathering together the various broken bits of his car, while somehow Rossiter had been extracted from the gravel and was running again. He was last of course, but probably wouldn't be for long. However, it seemed unlikely that he would even get back into the points, unless the rest of 'em continued to run in demolition derby mode once the race resumed. In addition to Rossiter, Lewis was back out too, and hadn't even lost a lap, which just went to show how very slowly the Safety Car was going. Perhaps the driver mistook the F3s for the hobby racers in the Palmer Audis. Anyway, when it finally came to the moment for the race to resume Piccione controlled the restart beautifully, making his way very slowly over the start/finish line before flooring it. He seemed to have it all in hand as he led the pack up towards les Combes, but Carroll had other ideas. He seemed to be hanging back a long way, but suddenly he was right there, and there was absolutely nothing the Monegasque could do to stop him snatching the lead from under his nose. Meanwhile, Dirani was having a very hard time holding off Watts, who clearly wanted that 3rd place and was prepared to do everything he could to get it. They were nose to tail up les Combes, with Watts all over the back of the Carlin car.
While Piccione started to fall away from the hard-charging Carroll, Dirani locked up and Watts saw half a chance. It came within inches of getting through, but then found that Asmer was trying to join in, and was now on the trail of the battling duo. Even so, Watts wasn't that discouraged, and as they rounded la Source he made an attempt to get up the inside of the Brazilian, backing off only when it looked as if he was going to end up in the pit wall if he didn't give way. He still wasn't about to quit though; it's not as if he knows the meaning of the word, it seems.
Meanwhile, Piquet was also on the move, and was in the points, in 9th place in class, 10th on the road behind Franchi, who had just been mauled by di Grassi and was probably getting a bit fed up of Brazilians. Di Grassi set off after Power, while Piquet started to look for a way round the Belgian.
A few places ahead, Asmer was now clinging to the rear of Watts' car, like some sort of over-enthusiastic terrier, though he couldn't quite find a way by, no matter what he tried. Piquet, on the other hand, was still playing with Franchi, and with Power, who can be - how can we say this charitably - difficult to pass. It was vital that Piquet take no chances, especially as Rossiter was still completely out of the running, and looked likely to stay that way, as he was still behind the Scholarship Class runners, having been passed by Lewis, as the latter started a recovery drive that was in some ways quite as impressive as anything else that was going on out there. Considering he'd been dead last, and had made a pit stop, he'd probably got no business being in the lead of the class, although to be fair O'Mahony was chasing him hard. The Irishman was probably less than happy at losing out to the Englishman, especially after he'd gone to the trouble of wresting the lead from Calasan once the race went live again.
And at the front, Carroll continued on his majestic way, lapping Rossiter with two laps still to run. Behind him, Piccione had a lonely but satisfying run to the flag, 2nd doing his confidence no harm after a couple of disappointing recent races. Watts was still savaging Dirani, though the Brazilian's nerve was holding well, while Asmer had dropped back a little, and was beginning to watch his mirrors as Piquet stormed on through, passing Power as Power took a place from Franchi at les Combes. It was a bit messy, to say nothing of melodramatic, but it worked, and Piquet was through, gaining two places with one very brave manoeuvre. And now he was in hot pursuit of di Grassi, who ought to have been worried and probably was. With a lap to go, the Hitech driver was trying hard to resist the man who has to be regarded as Champion Elect, even if he seems not to want to take the title. He wanted that 6th place though, and duly proved way too strong for di Grassi. With a lap to go, the lilac Piquet car was through. It was too late for him to hunt down Asmer, but he'd made a great recovery (though he should never have had to put in a run like that; he should have been awake at the start).
And so, Round 21 came to an end, with a superb performance from Carroll to claim enough points to move back ahead of Rossiter and into 2nd in the Championship chase. Piccione claimed 2nd place, while a rather stunned looking Dirani clambered onto the last step of the podium, having held Watts off for most of the race. Asmer was 5th, from Piquet, di Grassi and Power. Franchi won the Invitation Class by virtue of being the only remaining runner in the class, which meant that Parente was 9th (10th on the road), ahead of Negrao who scored his first point in his first race. Mawer was 11th, ahead of the much more experience pair of Walker and Thompson. Lewis took yet another Scholarship Class win, just ahead of O'Mahony, who got the extra point for the fastest race lap. Calasan was 3rd (and last) in class, while Rossiter was last with absolutely nothing to show for his afternoon's efforts.
By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite