1999 Autosport British Formula Three Championship - Round 3 - Thruxton, April 11th. Race Report by Stella-Maria Thomas
Still missing were Warren Hughes, John Ingram and Gavin Jones. There are also rumours that Richard Westbrook may join Alan Docking Racing but this is apparently quite a way from becoming reality at present. Now included in the field are Alex Yoong (No.8, Malaysia, Alan Docking Racing, Dallara 399 Mugen Honda, Championship Class) and John Bender (No. 54, USA, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara 398 Mugen Honda, National Class). Qualifying: Weather - dry, sunny, strong gusting wind This was a typical Thruxton Sunday, with strong winds, fierce sunshine and a lot of very twitchy drivers. Thruxton does that to people. It looks very simple but it isn't; the long fast sections are much trickier than they look, and anyone who says they aren't a little afraid of Church either has no brain to speak of or is lying.
Anyone with any experience of the place could also tell you that the fastest times were going to come from the first session, and that the only second session improvements would be from anyone who seriously messed up in the morning or in testing. There was a distinct possibility that the Manor Motorsport drivers, Marc Hynes and Tor Sriachavanon, would fall into the latter category. They had managed to miss a large part of the official FOTA test day when the truck got a puncture en route to the track, and into the bargain Hynes wasn't at all well. The lanky youngster had a nasty head cold and was trying to keep going on a steady diet of throat pastilles. It didn't stop him putting in a respectable time, and he was quite happy with 4th on the grid.
At Stewart things were also going badly, at least for Luciano Burti. His Dallara Mugen-Honda developed a fuel pump problem during practice and he spent a lot of time sitting around waiting for it to be fixed, having to make do with 3rd on the grid yet again. The team eventually opted to take the engine apart during the lunch break. It was fortunate for them that they had more time than they expected, after the Palmer Audi race turned into a bit of a shambles on the grid and delayed the whole programme by a substantial amount.
For Andrew Kirkaldy, however, life could hardly have been sweeter, as he grabbed his first F3 pole position, just beating Jenson Button to the place. He wasn't prepared to relax between the first and second sessions though, despite reassurances. "There's still another session," he said, announcing that he thought my claim that no one would go faster was "a brave statement." Still, he's not seen as many F3 races round here as I have... Button was in fine form too, making the most of the fact that engine power doesn't matter as much at Thruxton as it does at places like Silverstone. The entourage around him seems to be increasing exponentially from race to race and now includes a massive Marlboro hospitality unit that looks somewhat out of place in an F3 paddock these days. However, he seems untroubled by all the attention, which says a lot for how well balanced he seems to be. His team mate was also in fine form in qualifying.
Aluizio Coelho, last year's Formula Renault champion, is now much more comfortable in the car, feeling that it was as good as he could get it for Sunday. This showed in his qualifying although he was frustrated not to be further up the grid. For a driver who starts as rapidly as he does, he has a point; if he isn't going to get caught in the traffic he really needs to be at the front.
In 6th, perhaps surprisingly, was Alex Yoong, the Malaysian driver having finally rounded up his budget. He was sensational under the circumstances, as the car had hardly turned a wheel, having been delivered in the two weeks between now and Silverstone. Paul Anthony was his usual cool self about it however, saying "It's fine. It's got 50 laps on it. No problem." Problems or no, it was quite clear that Alex hasn't lost his touch, and he will certainly give his team mate something to think about. Yudai Igarashi was a distant 14th and not looking at all like a veteran of three seasons.
Two other drivers in trouble were the Fortec pair of Kristian Kolby and Matt Davies. The cars were a handful, mishandling everywhere. The really odd thing about this was that in testing they had been fine; of course a windy day at this place can completely wreck the best laid plans, but even so, you wouldn't expect Kolby to be only 7th and Davies a baffled 12th.
Martin O'Connell again had National Class pole with 8th on the grid, which was pretty impressive considering the Rowan Racing outfit was once again experiencing engine problems. Next up was Narain Karthikeyan, who seems to be struggling to find his form in the dry. Certainly on the strength of last years drives the tiny Indian should be much further forward, but apart from the wet session at Donington, he seems to have temporarily lost his way. The top 10 was rounded out by Michael Bentwood (Carlin), and then came the first driver to improve in the second session, Doug Bell (S S Sport), who must be wishing he had stayed with Manor. Davies was behind him, and then Toby Scheckter, the second SpeedSport driver having a decidedly lacklustre outing this time round. In 15th was Tor Sriachavanon (Manor), who by his own admission had messed up the first session and was now paying the price. Then came Tim Spouge (S S Sport) who improved on his first session times but not his grid position before the Opel-Spiess engine let go big time. Bringing up the Championship Class rear was Warren Carway (SpeedSport) who seems to qualify in pretty much the same positions he did when he was running National Class. The last two slots fell to John Bender (Carlin) and Jeremy Smith (Jeremy Smith Racing), who also improved his times in the second session only to have them disallowed for a yellow flag offence. It didn't make any difference to his position on the grid though, and he is still leading the National Class Championship, though how long that will continue rather depends on O'Connell. Jeremy seems to be making progress now, though running your own team is hardly the easy way to go about things. His only comment was that he hoped he was going to get the hang of F3 business "before the season ends".
First Session Times: 1st - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.747, 107.09 mph 2nd - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 1:08.884 3rd - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.931 4th - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.973 5th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 1:09.081 6th - No 8 - Alex Yoong, Alan Docking Racing, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.212 7th - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.236 8th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan Racing, F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 1:09.244 9th - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.262 10th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.364 11th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.855 12th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.967 13th - No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, ADR, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.968 14th - No 16 - Doug Bell, S. S. Sport, F399 Spiess-Opel, 1:10.000 15th - No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:10.023 16th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S. S. Sport, F399 Spiess-Opel, 1:10.638 17th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:10.853 18th - No 54 - John Bender, Carlin, F398 Mugen-Honda, 1:10.885 19th - No 75 - Jeremy Smith, JSR, F398 Spiess-Opel, 1:11.691
Combined Times: 1st - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.747, 107.09 mph 2nd - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 1:08.884 3rd - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.931 4th - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.973 5th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 1:09.081 6th - No 8 - Alex Yoong, Alan Docking Racing, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.212 7th - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.236 8th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan Racing, F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 1:09.244 (National Class pole) 9th - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.262 10th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.364 11th - No 16 - Doug Bell, S. S. Sport, F399 Spiess-Opel, 1:09.830 12th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.855 13th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.967 14th - No 7 - Yudai Igarashi, ADR, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.968 15th - No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:10.023 16th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S. S. Sport, F399 Spiess-Opel, 1:10.399 17th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:10.853 18th - No 54 - John Bender, Carlin, F398 Mugen-Honda, 1:10.885 19th - No 75 - Jeremy Smith, JSR, F398 Spiess-Opel, 1:11.087 (2nd session times disallowed later)
Race: If there is a theme to the 1999 series, it seems to be that the guy who starts from 2nd on the grid will win and Luciano Burti will be 3rd. Well, one out of two...
With the grid forming up, the guys from Rowan Racing had the engine cover off Martin O'Connell's car and were still working on it when the five minute board was shown. With seconds to spare they bolted everything back into place and left the grid. It looked like it might be touch and go for the National Class pole sitter. Meanwhile, at the front, Jenson Button (Promatecme) made a storming start from 2nd to grab the lead. Behind him, pole man Andrew Kirkaldy (Stewart) and Luciano Burti (Stewart) slugged it out for 2nd place, safe in the knowledge that JYS was in Brazil and wouldn't be able to give either of them a talking to until he got back! Burti came off worst, the Brazilian being forced onto the grass as Andrew refused to give way. And so Burti was 3rd, the natural order of things prevailed. A further victim of the scrap was Aluizio Coelho (Promatecme) who made another of his by now trademark lightening starts but then had to lift to avoid the Stewart duo. Having done that he was never to quite recover his momentum and eventually ended up in a series of scraps he had no business being in. While Little Al took to the grass but came back, for Narain Karthikeyan (Carlin) things were even worse. He would again fail to complete the race, this time not even finishing the first lap.
From this point on, the excitement was intense. Kirkaldy made a number of runs at Button, but the teenager was having none of it, rebuffing the Scot's attentions. And just to make life more difficult for Andrew, Burti was loitering just behind waiting for a mistake. He got his chance on lap 8, when a particularly spirited attack by Kirkaldy on Button failed, and he was able to squeeze through and have a go himself. At first the gap opened out but Luciano knows a thing or two about F3 now and he was soon back with the leader. On lap 10 the Brazilian went for it, trying to outbreak Button into the Chicane. It was a brave manoeuvre but it failed, and he was sideways before he could collect himself. Kirkaldy slipped back through and suddenly the engine on Burti's car failed. It had been losing water for some time, as Kirkaldy could testify, and on lap 11 it lost the will to live. And that was the end of the excitement at the very front. It was too late for Kirkaldy by the time he got into 2nd. He found he had to spend the rest of the race watching his mirrors for Hynes who wasn't about to give him any peace, seemingly only deciding at the very last minute that the points for 3rd would do very nicely thank you. It would certainly let him retain his lead in the series.
If you were a Fortec driver, however, there was more excitement than was strictly necessary. Matt Davies was carving his way through the field at a ferocious rate and with his customary determination to take 5th at the finish while Kristian Kolby was locked into yet another of those days. With 10 laps to go, the Mugen-Honda power unit blew a gasket. The Dane was left staring at a water temperature gauge that was going off the scale and was convinced he wouldn't finish. He had Hynes in sight but didn't dare press the point. " I was going past the pits screaming 'It's gonna blow, it's gonna blow'" he recounted afterwards. But oddly enough it didn't. He kept going to claim 4th place and only as he pulled into the pit lane did the engine go completely. It could probably only happen to him. He was cheered by the thought that his survival meant his two-and-a-half year long run of bad (or at least weird) luck might be over. We shall just have to wait and see. Watch this space...
Also showing well was Alex Yoong (Alan Docking Racing), taking a fine 6th place on his return to the category although he wasn't quite able to get on terms with Davies. They were followed home by O'Connell who again put in a solid drive to mix it with the Championship Class boys, while his only competitors trailed around near the back. John Bender (Carlin), making his debut, had managed to trip over Tor Sriachavanon (Manor) and had later spun out of contention, though not before Sriachavanon had also left the field. Jeremy Smith (Jeremy Smith Racing) finished ahead of Warren Carway (SpeedSport) to take second in class and maintain his championship lead, though only just. 8th place went to Coelho, who had a long battle with Tim Spouge (S S Sport) that saw both of them sliding about all over the place. Al in particular finished the afternoon with tyres that were a long way past their best after what he had been doing out there. The right front would certainly never see service again. He was fortunate to be there at all really, having had a spin in the later stages and having been demoted by Michael Bentwood (Carlin) who finished 7th in class.
The final points went to Toby Scheckter (SpeedSport) who did not look at all like the same driver who had given Button such a hard time at Silverstone the week before. Perhaps Thruxton just doesn't suit him, perhaps he just needs more time in the car. Whatever the reason, there was no sign of the fire he quite clearly possesses normally and I for one hope he will be back on form at the next round in two weeks time at Brands Hatch.
Results: 1st - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 23:42.508, 119.24 mph 2nd - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 1.861 3rd - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 2.300 4th - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 8.544 5th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 10.533 6th - No 8 - Alex Yoong, Alan Docking Racing, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 11.452 7th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan Racing, F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 23:54.354, 118.26 mph (National Class winner) 8th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 13.352 9th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme, F399 Renault, Gap: 16.237 10th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S. S. Sport, F399 Spiess-Opel, Gap: 16.602 11th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 24.716 12th - No 75 - Jeremy Smith, JSR, F398 Spiess-Opel, Gap: 47.212 13th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 1 lap Not Classified: No 54 - John Bender, Carlin, F398 Mugen-Honda, Lap 16 No 16 - Doug Bell, S. S. Sport, F399 Spiess-Opel, Lap 15 No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, Lap 11 - Blown engine No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, Lap 5 No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, Lap 1
Fastest laps: Championship Class - No. 1, Luciano Burti, 1.09.978, 195.05 kph, 121.20 mph (Lap 7) National Class - No. 51, Martin O'Connell, 1.10.568, 193.42 kph, 120.19 mhip Standings: Championship Class 1st - Marc Hynes - 53 points 2nd - Jenson Button - 43 points 3rd - Kristian Kolby - 34 points 4th - Luciano Burti - 25 points 5th Andrew Kirkaldy - 23 points 6th - Matt Davies - 20 points 7th - Narain Karthikeyan/Doug Bell - 10 points 9th - Michael Bentwood - 8 points 10th - Aluizio Coelho/Alex Yoong - 6 points 12th - Yudai Igarashi/Tim Spouge - 3 points 14th - Toby Scheckter - 2 points 15th Warren Carway - 1 point
National Class 1st - Jeremy Smith - 50 points 2nd - Martin O'Connell - 43 points
Next Round: Brands Hatch - April 24th-25th