1999 Autosport British Formula Three Championship - Round 16 - Thruxton, October 17th. Race Report by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite
Changes: Doug Bell and Yudai Igarashi were both missing from Alan Docking Racing but since they had been replaced with Warren Hughes (in Yudai's car, running number 7) it is unlikely that anyone at the team was too unhappy about the change. Toby Scheckter was feeling much better after his bout of flu and was back in at SpeedSport.
Qualifying: With the title at stake, tensions were high in the Manor garage and in the Stewart camp. The calculations done, everyone knew that Luciano Burti (Stewart) could only win the title by taking victory and fastest lap, and then only if Marc Hynes (Manor) finished outside the top 5. By the end of practice, though, it looked as if that could still be a possibility. The second session proved to be somewhat superfluous with only Michael Bentwood making any improvement, and effort that moved him from fifteenth to fourteenth on the grid. As the person thus overtaken was Martin O'Connell, who is of course a National Class runner, it made little difference. It was what was happening at the front that really gripped the attention. From the start, Burti made it clear that he hadn't given up on the title, and in very little time at all he had cracked the 1 minute 7 seconds barrier, the only driver to do it. And he only needed a handful of laps to do it. After that, he simply sat in the pits, saving his tyres for the race, and watched the others failing to get anywhere near that time. He was a good half-second ahead on his nearest rival on the day, Kristian Kolby (Fortec). The Dane couldn't see what he could do to get near Burti, but if he was baffled, Andrew Kirkaldy (Stewart Racing) was delighted with the fact that he too was running very well. He was in an unaccustomed third place, which is a terrific improvement on his form during the rest of the season. He was even ahead of local hero Jenson Button (Promatecme UK). The Renault-engined cars were always going to be at a bit of a disadvantage here and not even the teenager's immense talent could make any difference to the end result. Not at all happy with his performance was Marc Hynes (Manor Motorsport). The series leader knew he would be champion so long as he didn't end the day any further back than he qualified, but as Warren Hughes was right next to him, there was no guarantee of this. Hughes is a wily driver with talent to spare and has more experience of F3 than most of the rest of the field put together. It was no surprise to see the ADR Dallara so far forward with Hughes at the wheel. All bets were suddenly off as regards the end result of this race. Tim Spouge (S S Sport) was again on good form, slotting into seventh on the grid, just ahead of Kolby's teammate, Matt Davies. The Fortec driver was probably suffering from lack of experience round Thruxton as it isn't much used for testing. Whatever the case, he was a long way off Kolby's pace. Narain Karthikeyan (Carlin Motorsport) seemed to still be suffering from confusion about how best to tackle this circuit in an F3 car too. His own diagnosis of overdriving seemed to still be holding good but at least he was ahead of Toby Scheckter (SpeedSport), the young South African rounding out the top ten. Eleventh was Tor Sriachavanon (Manor Motorsport), whose nerve seems to have recovered after the trauma of Spa. He was just ahead of National Class pole position man John Bender (Carlin Motorsport). The American certainly seemed to have mastered Thruxton, setting a time that was almost half a second faster than Martin O'Connell's. Obviously that sort of gap between pole and second was the order of the day. Odd, really. After gaining his best placings at Spa and Silverstone, Aluizio Coelho (Promatecme UK) was seriously in the dumps, back in thirteenth. The car looked utterly undrivable, causing one observer to wonder whether the team had actually set the car up for Thruxton at all or if they had left it just as it was at Silverstone. The little Brazilian was markedly less than delighted with the state of affairs, sandwiched as he was between two National Class cars. Fifteenth was Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing), just behind Michael Bentwood (Carlin Motorsport), another not having a very happy afternoon. Takuma Sato (Diamond Racing) was sixteenth, ahead of the almost habitual seventeenth place man Warren Carway (SpeedSport). Last of all was Nick Eliades (SpeedSport) who missed quite a lot of the first session and all of the second after the HKS-Mitsubishi engine of his Dallara F398 blew up in a big way while he was on a flying lap. Some things never change and the ability of the Mitsubishi to make a terrible mess when it fails has been a constant for a long time.
Qualifying Times: First Session 1st - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:07.955 2nd - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.529 3rd - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.594 4th - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme UK, Dallara F399 Renault, 1:08.677 5th - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.744 6th - No 7 - Warren Hughes, Alan Docking Racing, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.764 7th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S Sport, Dallara F399 Spiess-Opel, 1:08.799 8th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.834 9th - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.839 10th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.911 11th - No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.072 12th - No 54 - John Bender, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.201 13th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme UK, Dallara F399 Renault, 1:09.259 14th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan Racing, Dallara F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 1:09.620 15th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.629 16th - No 77 - Takuma Sato, Diamond Racing, Dallara F398 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.687 17th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, Dallara F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:10.424 18th - No 57 - Nick Eliades, SpeedSport, Dallara F398 HKS-Mitsubishi, 1:11.645
Combined Times: 1st - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:07.955 2nd - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.529 3rd - No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.594 4th - No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 1:08.677 5th - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.744 6th - No 7 - Warren Hughes, ADR, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.764 7th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S Sport, F399 Spiess-Opel, 1:08.799 8th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.834 9th - No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.839 10th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:08.911 11th - No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.072 12th - No 54 - John Bender, Carlin, F398 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.201 (National Class Pole) 13th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 1:09.259 14th - No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.408 15th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan, F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 1:09.620 16th - No 77 - Takuma Sato, Diamond, F398 Mugen-Honda, 1:09.687 17th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, 1:10.424 18th - No 57 - Nick Eliades, SpeedSport, F398 HKS-Mitsubishi, 1:11.645
Race: Weather: Cold, dry, sunny. As the grid lined up to take the start, all eyes were glued to what was going on at the front. Luciano Burti (Stewart Racing), needing fastest lap and a win to stand a chance at the title, streaked away into the lead, closely followed by teammate Andrew Kirkaldy. In hot pursuit was Kristian Kolby (Fortec), the Dane having made one of his less effective starts. He wouldn't let it hold him back though. "I didn't get off the line like I wanted but I knew I was quick enough to win it. Once I was third I knew I had to take my opportunity early so I passed Kirkaldy on the inside. I put Andrew in a position where if he turned in we were both going off and if he didn't turn in we could maybe both continue. It was a good move from my point of view." It was pretty ruthless too, though it could not really be described as unfair. Over the years, Kristian has pulled a number of moves that defy belief and while it wasn't quite one of those, it was impressive. He was through and in pursuit of Burti, a battle that would effectively destroy the Brazilian's chances of being crowned Champion when Kolby set a blindingly fast time on the second lap to take the point for fastest lap of the race. Although Burti didn't know it, it could have been all over there and then. Except that further back down the field Marc Hynes (Manor Motorsport), the championship leader and the only other man who could win it, so long as he finished fifth or higher, was in trouble. "The race was difficult, a lot more difficult than I hoped. A couple of times I thought I was going off at the Chicane and I'd been around the paddock telling people not overtake me but they didn't seem to pay much attention to me - cheers Warren for that." For one of the people who didn't take any notice was Warren Hughes (Alan Docking Racing). Returning to the series for a one off run (and replacing Yudai Igarashi and Doug Bell), the Geordie was right on the pace from the beginning despite one or two unexpected problems. "It was a last minute opportunity and it was a shame that we didn't have a chance to really test the car. We had a brief run at Mallory on Wednesday just to get comfortable and it turned out that was one of my biggest problems. As the race wore on I was actually sliding down in the seat a lot and couldn't really see where I was going too well." It didn't seem to be slowing him up any and he was through into fourth place before Hynes had got going. And then Jenson Button (Promatecme UK) went through too, demoting Hynes to sixth. Now it looked like the title might be Burti's, if only he could get that elusive fastest lap. Despite the huge amounts of pressure being piled on by Kolby, the Brazilian remained cool, putting in an impressive performance. For lap after lap, he kept his head while Kolby tried everything he could think of to get by. "He was able to brake later than me and put the power down later so I concentrated on not making any mistakes. He almost got a chance to overtake me once going into Coram but he spun off and then I had 11 seconds lead." And then, suddenly, the inevitable mistake came but it was Kolby not Burti that made it. He arrived at the Chicane sideways as hell in a cloud of tyre smoke and disappeared from view behind the polystyrene blocks, only to emerge still in second place. The gap the two of them had opened up over the rest of the field was so substantial that the little off course excursion made no difference to his overall position. It was a Kolby Moment to savour, a real classic. Or as Kris would later explain. "I tried to pressure Luciano. I felt I was quicker most places but being behind someone for lap after lap - I think it was twelve laps - I didn't have the downforce by being in the dirty air going through the fast corners all the time so the car was sliding and sliding and sliding and towards the end the rear was just stepping out like crazy because I'd cooked the tyres. And then I just managed to lose it, or so I've been told by Marc. Yeah, great race! I can't believe the gap we actually had. I can't believe I drove off when I was in second place. It was unbelievable. I never though that that was going to happen - I thought I'd end up like P11 or something like that with a shouting team manager but instead I ended up like P2 with a team manager who just went 'well, you were lucky.' When I started the race I decided it was win or nothing. If I fell off I'd be fourth in the championship and if I won I'd still be fourth in the championship so I had to go for the win and that's what I tried and I failed." There was no chance now to catch Burti, but equally, the third placed man couldn't catch Kolby. And in third place now was Hughes. He would stay there to the end. It was quite a comeback and in one race he scored two points less than Igarashi managed in 15 races. Afterwards, the 1999 MGF Champion was feeling rather pleased with himself, with some justification, but was even more delighted for ADR. "I just wish this was my first race in F3 and I was starting again now. I'm pleased more for Alan Docking than I am for myself because they've had a very tough year and the team are a lot better than they've appeared to be this year. I'm glad that I've been able to give them a bit of a lift now they're going into the off season." On being asked if this was the start of a Warren Hughes comeback, he was flippantly offhand. "I was never away. It was more of an enforced layoff." Hughes fortune was due in part to the latest episode of the trials of Andrew Kirkaldy. He was having a difficult afternoon, which got worse when his Dallara shed its airbox. This meant the car was effectively illegal and would undoubtedly be excluded from the results by the scrutineers. As it turned out, this was a purely academic matter because instead of getting faster, which is the usual result of a cracked or lost airbox, Kirkaldy slowed and fell back into Button's clutches. It probably only could happen to Andrew. Button, in fifth, made an attempt to pass Kirkaldy. The Englishman and the Scot tangled at the Chicane and were both out of the race as a result. This let a relieved Hynes back up to fourth. "Jenson did me a favour really and took out Kirkaldy," he said afterwards. Even so, it wasn't the end of his problems. Tim Spouge (S S Sport) now had a go at passing the blue and white Dallara. While Marc could afford to drop one place, he preferred not to. Eventually Tim seemed to think better of the move and dropped back slightly, leaving Hynes to cruise round to fourth place and the 1999 title. The relief was palpable. "Having nearly gone off at the Complex on the first lap and a couple of people passing me we were quite lucky to come out of it like we did. But I'm not complaining..." said Hynes, only to be interrupted by Kolby's quick-fire reply of "I am!" Hynes was unfazed. "I think we were meant to win this one, because everything went right for us considering we struggled a lot today we got the result we needed. I was quite pleased. We won Zandvoort as well don't forget and that was a big one for us. We've still got Macau to go so there's still plenty of winning to do. With experience and Yorkshire grit we did it. It's been a pretty fantastic season for us and I only hope it continues." Matt Davies (Fortec Motorsport) led home Toby Scheckter (SpeedSport), Martin O'Connell (Rowan Racing) and Aluizio Coelho (Promatecme UK). This group were glued together for lap after lap, with the National Class winner and 1999 Class Champion O'Connell not too pleased that the team had finally got back into contention with the Championship Class boys rather too late in the day. He was having very mixed feelings about the state of things. "It's too late in the season. It's been a difficult year and I'm glad it's finished. It's been a long, hard season and the middle of the season was really hard for lots of different reasons and it was good to have a decent result today. I mean, we qualified fifteenth. Who knows what I'll be doing next. With the results of the last three or four months I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to give me a job but we'll have to see. At the moment I just want to go home and have a rest." Coelho had made up for an awful starting position down in thirteenth to claim some points, but he wasn't especially happy about much. The only thing that seemed to please him was seeing his old team, Manor, victorious, though he might have been wondering what would have happened if he had stayed with them to graduate to F3. John Bender (Carlin Motorsport) was tenth overall, just holding off fellow National Class runner Takuma Sato (Diamond Racing). In twelfth (and ninth in the Championship Class) was Tor Sriachavanon (Manor Motorsport) while Warren Carway (SpeedSport) finished a race for the first time in a very long time to snatch the final point. Nick Eliades (SpeedSport), with a new engine in his Dallara after the morning's blow up, was the final classified runner, one lap down. But the final word should go to the new British Formula Three Champion. On being asked where to next for Marc Hynes, Hynes was succinct. "The bar!"
Results: 1st - No 1 - Luciano Burti, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, 23:23.183, 120.89mph 2nd - No 4 - Kristian Kolby, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 11.319 3rd - No 7 - Warren Hughes, ADR, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 13.931 4th - No 17 - Marc Hynes, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 18.393 5th - No 15 - Tim Spouge, S S Sport, F399 Spiess-Opel, Gap: 20.854 6th - No 3 - Matt Davies, Fortec, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 23.006 7th - No 9 - Toby Scheckter, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 23.292 8th - No 51 - Martin O'Connell, Rowan, F398 TOM'S-Toyota, 23:47.244, 118.85 mph (National Class Winner) 9th - No 5 - Aluizio Coelho, Promatecme, F399 Renault, Gap: 24.740 10th - No 54 - John Bender, Carlin, F398 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 31.814 11th - No 77 - Takuma Sato, Diamond, F398 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 33.481 12th - No 18 - Tor Sriachavanon, Manor, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 39.079 13th - No 10 - Warren Carway, SpeedSport, F399 Mugen-Honda, Gap: 43.992 14th - No 57 - Nick Eliades, SpeedSport, F398 HKS-Mitsubishi, Gap: 1 lap
Not Classified: No 2 - Andrew Kirkaldy, Stewart, F399 Mugen-Honda, Lap 10, Accident with Button No 6 - Jenson Button, Promatecme, F399 Renault, 28:15.956, Lap 9, Accident with Kirkaldy No 14 - Michael Bentwood, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, Lap 7 No 12 - Narain Karthikeyan, Carlin, F399 Mugen-Honda, Lap 6
Fastest laps: Championship Class: No 3, Kristian Kolby, 1:09.104, Lap 2, 197.52 kph/122.73 mph National Class: No 51, Martin O'Connell, 1:09.338, Lap 20, 196.85 kph/122.32 mph
Final Standings: Championship Class: 1st - Marc Hynes - 213 points 2nd - Luciano Burti - 209 points 3rd - Jenson Button - 168 points 4th - Kristian Kolby - 153 points 5th - Matt Davies - 113 points 6th - Narain Karthikeyan - 104 points 7th - Andrew Kirkaldy - 64 points 8th - Michael Bentwood - 50 points 9th - Aluizio Coelho - 45 points 10th - Tim Spouge - 42 points 11th - Alex Yoong - 37 points 12th - Toby Scheckter - 27 points 13th - Doug Bell - 22 points 14th - Tor Sriachavanon - 17 points 15th - Yudai Igarashi - 14 points 16th - Warren Hughes, 12 points 17th - Warren Carway - 7 points 18th - Yves Olivier - 6 points 19th - Tiago Monteiro - 4 points 20th - Julien Beltoise - 3 points 21st - Christijan Albers - 1 point
National Class: 1st - Martin O'Connell - 242 points 2nd - John Bender - 139 points 3rd - Jeremy Smith - 111 points 4th - Takuma Sato - 103 points 5th - Gavin Jones - 45 points 6th - Nick Eliades - 35 points 7th - Stephen Shanley - 22 points 8th - Charles Hall - 12 points 9th - John Ingram - 8 points