Race Report - Round 2:3
Weather: Cold, windy, dry.
There's something about Thruxton. It can be a great circuit but on other days, you just don't want to be there. Some of the worst days in racing have happened here, and then all you want is to get out of the place and be somewhere else. When things go wrong at Thruxton, they usually go seriously wrong. It looked as if they were about to start even before the race got underway, at least if you were Alan van der Merwe. The Carlin Motorsport driver had qualified well for the first race of the day but then his car developed clutch problems before the start. The team hastily bled the clutch on the number 2 car and hoped it would all hold together for the 18-lap race.
On the green flag lap, Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International) was indulging in a spot of what looked suspiciously like gamesmanship as he slowed right down to allow the field to bunch up behind him. By the time they reached the Chicane, the mid-field cars were almost tripping over each other, they were going so slowly. On the way back to his pole position spot, Jouanny then almost did a practice start, as did some of the other front-runners. It availed Jouanny nothing. The lights turned green, the field tore away. Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport), having dispatched Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) with ease, simply drove round the outside of Jouanny in Complex, taking the lead from a somewhat surprised Frenchman and never showed the slightest inclination to give it back for the remainder of the race. At the same time, James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) tried to get round the inside of Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing), but the move failed. Still, if there's one thing you can say for Courtney, it's that he really doesn't seem to know when he's beaten these days. He certainly didn't stop trying to get past Kerr, even though Kerr slammed the door firmly on the first attempt. Behind the top four, Stefan de Groot (Menu Motorsport) had lost out to Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport). De Groot was now in a Carlin sandwich, Alan van der Merwe slotting in behind him.
And then the trouble started. Both Gavin Smith (Meritus Racing) and Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing) seemed to have been involved in some sort of fracas round the far side of the circuit. As a result, they came back in the last two places, and in Smith's case with his rear wing at a deranged angle. This wasn't too bad for Thruxton, but it was about to get worse. Courtney had another go at driving up the inside of Kerr, and was again firmly rebuffed and then found himself under attack from Keohane. Courtney's chances of trying to get on terms with Kerr again were about to evaporate. Billy Asaro (Sweeney Racing) lost a place to Clivio Piccione (T-Sport), while van der Merwe found that things were still not working properly and had fallen to the back of the field. And Stefano Fabi (Team Avanti) still hadn't got the hang of the Chicane and had fallen off. He got out of the car, leaving the marshals to try and move it. They couldn't. Into the bargain they were also faced with needing to reconstruct the Chicane by putting the blocks back where they were supposed to be. As if all that wasn't enough, Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) had gone off at Village, and was unable to recover.
With the amount of chaos there was now, the officials scrambled the Safety Car (not for the last time, as it would turn out). The order behind it was Kovalainen, Jouanny, Kerr, Courtney, Keohane, de Groot, Richard Antinucci (Manor Motorsport), Robert Dahlgren (Sweeney Racing), Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport), Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport), Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport), Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport), Stefan Hodgetts (Motaworld Racing), Shinya Hosokawa (Formula Dream Team Carlin), Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing), John Antoniades (Duma Racing), Stephen Colbert (Meritus Racing), Piccione, Asaro, Matthew Gilmore (Promatecme International), Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing), Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing), Harold Primat (Diamond Racing), Tor Graves (Alan Docking Racing), Pedro Barral (Diamond Racing), Mayall, Smith and van der Merwe (with a seriously sick-sounding car). The order changed when Primat dived into the pits, where he stayed for a lap, emerging just as the Safety Car period came to an end. At the restart, Kovalainen was right on it again, and Jouanny had no chance to get back at him. Primat pulled back into the pits again, while Mark Taylor also drove straight in to the pits and got out of the car, after having been overtaken by teammate Bremer. That was the last we would see of him in the race, and in fact in British F3 - he had quit the team and the series with immediate effect. It was unusual, but it seemed the disappointment of the year had finally proved more than he could stand. In addition, and probably not wanting to be left out, Barral pitted to join Primat. It seemed that the various hooligans out there had finally settled into a sensible pattern now, but then Jouanny managed to get it all wrong at Village as he tried to get into position to take a run at Jouanny. The resulting loss of down force caused the Frenchman to spin, letting Kerr and Courtney into 2nd and 3rd, and by the time he had got going again, most of the field had already passed him. He then pitted to get the Dallara's nose replaced, while further down the order Sherwood was another man with a damaged rear wing. On the same lap, Hosokawa had a huge off, barrel-rolling the Carlin car and causing the race to be red-flagged. After a long pause, while Shinya's car was retrieved, and the Japanese was taken to hospital for a thorough check-up (concussion was the verdict), everyone sat around on the grid, parc ferme having been declared, waiting to see what would be decided.
After a bit of a pause, the stewards of the meeting gave various teams permission to work on cars on safety grounds, which resulted in Gavin Smith's rickety rear wing being replaced, and both de Groot and Colbert having new noses bolted on to their Dallaras. For reasons best known to themselves, the Fortec boys were tank-taping Fabio Carbone's car back together too. The main effect of all of this was that Smith now had no visible number on the rear wing, but at least the handling might now return to something approaching normal. Finally it was decided that the race would be restarted as a new race, so what had gone before served only to determined the grid for what would now be a 6-lap sprint race. The new grid would line up as follows: <pre> Kovalainen Kerr Courtney Keohane De Groot Antinucci Carbone Dahlgren Austin Bremer Hodgetts Antoniades Carroll Colbert Piccione Asaro Gilmore Fairuz Mayall Graves Smith van der Merwe Sherwood Jouanny </pre> And so the grid reformed. Could we perhaps get through this without any further chaos? Please? Well, no. At the start, it looked as if they might just be able to complete the race cleanly, with Kovalainen holding his line, and Keohane making one of those lightning starts that he specialises in, proving he's lost nothing during his two-month layoff. When asked about it afterwards, all he would say was, "Someone has to make it exciting!" Courtney once again tried to drive round Kerr, and again got the door slammed firmly in his face. De Groot was also looking for a way through but was unable to find it at this stage, and slotted back in behind the battling pair, before attacking Courtney again.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as they all came round at the end of the first lap, Kovalainen leading from Keohane, Kerr, and de Groot who had got the better of Courtney. Courtney was 5th, just ahead of Carbone, Antinucci, Austin, Hodgetts and Bremer. Dahlgren had fallen back to 11th overall but was still leading his class, from teammate Asaro. But then it all went horribly wrong once again after Carbone demoted Courtney to 6th. There are a number of versions as to what happened next at Goodwood corner, and all of them are contradictory, needless to say. Courtney's version first: "De Groot tried to take Kerr, and they both slowed down as a result. We were coming up behind them and then Carbone panicked and hit me!" Carbone's version was altogether different: "Courtney drove into me from behind! Just look at my car! And then Richard (Antinucci) was alongside me and he took his hands off the wheel to gesture... and I'm shouting 'Richard! The car! The car!' so he went off too..." The upshot was that Courtney was drifting across the track, while Carbone tried to get back on to the tarmac and Antinucci had stopped, none of this leaving much room for anyone else. Mayall was the one who ended up collecting the accident, T-boning the Carlin Dallara and doing his own car no good at all. So there were four cars off in one incident, with Piccione also joining in the fun and going off at Allard. It was a Dallara graveyard out there, with only Carbone being able to continue. Inevitably the Safety Car was back out immediately and it looked as if the race might finish behind it too. For one thing it would be safer, and for another it was obviously going to take a long time to clear up the carnage. The order now read Kovalainen, Keohane, de Groot, Kerr, Austin, Hodgetts, Bremer, Dahlgren, Carroll, Colbert, Antoniades, Asaro, Smith, Graves, Fairuz, Carbone, Gilmore and Sherwood. When Fairuz suddenly pitted and clambered out of the car, it left 6 runners in the Scholarship Class, and 11 in the Championship category. We were rapidly running out of cars; the whole thing was starting to look crazy. And even more craziness seemed guaranteed when, with one lap to go, the Safety Car pulled in and the race was back on. Keohane took a run at Kovalainen, but the Finn is no fool and he judged the restart perfectly yet again, coming home to his third victory of the season, and moving in on the third place slot in the series (as well as Rookie of the Year).
Curiously, despite the first part (or the first race, or whatever you choose to call it) not counting except to set the grid, it was later decided that the fastest laps were set in those first chaotic 10 laps and not in the race "proper" which meant that Bruce Jouanny got the extra point which would otherwise have been awarded to Heikki Kovalainen. No, we can't quite figure it out either...