Race Report - Round 18:
And for anyone who thought there was more than enough excitement in Round 17, we give you Round 18, which was much worse in some ways.
Again we had people diving for the pits before the race got started, this time though, it was Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport), who had the disturbing experience of finding his brake cable jamming open. Admittedly, it could have been worse; he could have had no brakes at all, which is really not an experience you want around Thruxton!
This was always at risk of being a rather odd race. After all, Fairuz Fauzy (Promatecme F3) was on the front row, and no one would have bet on that happening at the start of the year. He wasn't on pole, that honour having gone to Eric Salignon (Hitech Racing), a Renault-Sodemo engine once again proving to be the power unit to have around here. However good your engine is, though, is of minimal importance if you fail to make a good start. Salignon promptly proved that, getting away very slowly and allowing Fauzy to charge into the lead, closely followed by Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport). Suffice to say, this was all pretty weird.
A certain amount of mayhem quickly ensued anyway, the worst sufferer being Billy Asaro (P1 Motorsport). The Canadian had had his best ever qualifying and started from 4th, but it quickly came to nothing as he spun under braking into the Complex and dropped way back. Just for good measure, there was soon another spinner, this time Danny Watts (Hitech Racing). He and Will Power (Fortec Motorsport) made contact and the Englishman was the loser, Power continuing on his way. The other Fortec car was not so lucky, Robert Dahlgren pulling into the pits at the end of the first lap and retiring from the race, shortly after Keohane had vacated the area and taken to the track. He was at least safer in the pits than out on the track. Adam Carroll (Menu Motorsport) was busy trying to take 4th place away from Jamie Green (Carlin Motorsport), while also having to fend off Power. Additionally Salignon had barged van der Merwe out of the way to take 2nd and was now in pursuit of Fauzy, while Will Davison (Alan Docking Racing) was on a charge as well, trying to make up for his truly awful qualifying. It was getting rough out there again!
A lap later and Carroll was attempting to get Green by going up the inside at Allards. As a result, the two of them and Power all arrived together at the Complex. The spectators held their breath and by some miracle, despite Carroll locking up, no one went off. And you thought this would be a quieter race? It was anything but. It wasn't long before another driver was in trouble. In recent races Nelson Piquet Jr. (Piquet Sports) has got used to being at or near the front (at least until the lights go green anyway) but this time he started 11th. From there he was swamped in the pack, and within two laps had managed to spin out of contention altogether, in effect scuppering not only his race but his championship chances as well. The resultant outbreak of yellow flags while he got going at least calmed the rest of them down for a split second or two.
Just for good measure, Clivio Piccione (Manor Motorsport) also seemed to feel the need to join in, spinning at the Complex. That meant that Piquet, Watts, Asaro, Keohane and Piccione were all now circulating at the back of the field, fighting each other for positions, while trying to claw their way back up the order.
Just for good measure, while the battle for the overall lead was a war of attrition, the top three in the Scholarship Class were running in close formation too, with Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport) leading the pack from Karun Chandhok (T-Sport), and Steven Kane (T-Sport), the latter having bundled Tor Graves (Manor Motorsport) out of his way in order to try and get on terms with his team-mate.
At the very front, Salignon was now reeling Fauzy back in, although he wasn't yet close enough to do anything about the Malaysian. However, the way things were going it might just be a matter of waiting as yet another spinner caused further yellow flag waving. This time it was Can Artam (Promatecme F3), the Turk finding Thruxton something of a challenge at this stage of his career. The question that was beginning to form in the mind, though, apart from an exasperated "And they call themselves professionals?" was "Do we have a tyre problem here?" Now Avons are usually pretty trouble free, but on Friday they had been splitting after a few laps. Perhaps there was something wrong with the compound this time out, perhaps not. Perhaps the strong winds were ruffling the drivers badly; perhaps they were just in the grip of some sort of mass stupidity. It was hard to tell.
At least this time the Safety Car wasn't needed, and Artam's car was eventually dragged to a place of safety. As soon as the front-runners were clear of the area, Salignon gave it one more go, snaking to the inside and then the outside, and finally passing Fauzy to snatch the lead! This left the little Malaysian to face the daunting prospect of having van der Merwe looming in his mirrors, while he tried to answer Salignon.
A third of the way through the race, Salignon was leading from Fauzy and van der Merwe. They were well clear of Green, Carroll and Power, who seemed to be glued together and an equally alarming trio in the shape of Ronnie Bremer (Carlin Motorsport), Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing) and Richard Antinucci (Promatecme F3). Quite what Andrew was doing caught up in the Richard and Ronnie Roadshow was hard to say at the time. Enjoying himself immensely, as it turned out later. Stefano Fabi (Manor Motorsport) had Davison all over him and behind them the Scholarship Class trio of Viso, Chandhok and Kane looked as if it too could turn nasty at a moment's notice. Graves now had to fight Rizal Ramli (Team SYR) for his place, while Joel Nelson (Alan Docking Racing) was an alarmed observer. Behind him Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing) was holding off Masato Shinoyama (Team SYR), probably well aware that he could expect to see Piquet, Watts, Asaro, Piccione and Keohane in his mirrors pretty soon. Except that he wouldn't get all of them, because Keohane pitted again, the brake problem continuing to trouble him.
Predictably perhaps, it all got too much for Fauzy, spinning off at the Complex and losing 2nd to van der Merwe. By the time he was able to sort himself out, he was at the back of the field, stuck behind Shinoyama, who had not only failed to pass Sherwood, but had been forced to give ground to Asaro and Piccione. Of all the places to make a debut in British F3, Thruxton is probably the toughest. The Japanese was certainly well aware of this by now. In addition, a little further forward Piquet had barged his way past Nelson, which was weird if not unexpected and was trying to claw his way back into the points.
And now, Salignon was coming in for the same tough treatment that van der Merwe had dished out to Watts in the first race of the day. Encouraged by the spectre of the Carlin car right behind him, Salignon went wide, van der Merwe made a dive for it at the Chicane, and failed. He settled in, ready to try again and again if necessary. The trouble is, it probably wasn't really necessary, except in Alan's own mind.
A lap later, he tried again, and again failed. Except this time he spun out of the race and delayed Salignon to such and extent that Green, the one man who could still take the title, grabbed the lead.
The initial upshot of this was a whole bunch of people cursing roundly and asking "Why did he do that?" because, instead of leaving circuit with a 86 point lead, he might well be leaving with a 64 point lead, or 63 if he was very unlucky. The only thing that could derail Green looked to be Carroll. Adam could now scent at least the possibility of his first ever F3 victory and started to pressure Green mercilessly. Green responded with a display of excessive weaving that really ought to have earned him a slap from the Clerk of the Course.
In the Scholarship Class battle, meanwhile, Kane had overtaken Chandhok to maintain his lead in the category title chase.
Carroll was still trying to wrest the lead from Green, although his next attempt to get past the Carlin car had to be abandoned because of the waved yellow flags at the Chicane to warn of van der Merwe's parked car. As soon as he could, Carroll piled on the pressure again, and was all over Green's rear wing. In 3rd, Power was sensibly keeping his distance, waiting for it all to end in tears. It looked as if it was about to on Lap 14. This time Carroll was just about under the gearbox of Green, and Green had to defend for all he was worth. They were side-by-side into the Chicane, and Carroll left his braking incredibly late, locked up and was forced to lift. A lap later it finally did end in tears. Carroll tried one more time when Green went wide. Carroll dived up the inside and was pushed into a spin. He barely missed a beat in recovering, but it was enough to let Power through into 2nd. And that was the order they finished in.
Another driver in trouble was Asaro, who came out of the Chicane, lost the car completely, and spun it into the pit wall. Luckily for him he was able to extract the car and limp back round to retire from the race.
The battle for 4th was still raging too, with Bremer having to give ground to Thompson, only to get the Scotsman back a lap later. Perhaps he was inspired by the need to keep ahead of Antinucci. Perhaps not. Either way, he would hang on to 4th for the rest of the race, despite the huge queue that had built up behind the three of them.
The whole circus decamps to Spa-Francorchamps, in Belgium, in two weeks time. It is to be hoped that they have got all the silliness out of their systems. If they start behaving the same way in the Ardennes, the consequences could be very serious indeed. Perhaps the Clerk of the Course needs to have a very severe word with the lot of them!
-by Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas, Guest Writers