Race Report - Round 24:
Weather: Cold, windy, dry.
After the morning's chaos, hopefully this would be much calmer. After all, they should have got it out of their systems by now. Certainly at Carlin dire threats were being issued against any driver even thinking about bringing their car back without the requisite four corners (James Courtney had brought his back with only one corner still intact after Round 23 - or to be more accurate it had been brought back on a tow-rope - and the team had worked a minor miracle to get it ready for the race). Long-term hospitalisation, it was suggested, would be involved… Luckily, perhaps, there was no onus on the team to fix Shinya Hosokawa's car, as he would not be taking part in Round 24. His trip to the hospital had revealed no long-term damage, but he was concussed and as his teammate could no doubt tell him, concussion can be unpleasant! Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing) was also out of the race, his car a mess and his leg very sore after his encounter with Courtney earlier in the day. The other non-starter was Mark Taylor, whose car was in one piece but who had decided he didn't want to play any more and had quit Manor Motorsport halfway through Round 23.
It didn't seem plausible, but as the lights turned to green to get Round 24 underway, Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport) pulled exactly the same stunt on pole-sitter Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International) as he had in the morning's race. And once again it worked! Jouanny simply didn't have the answer to the Finn. Heikki, on the other hand, was in two minds about the situation, as he had rashly promised that if he won both races, he would shave his head! Now it looked as if would have to make good on that promise. Certainly it seemed he was just going to drive away from Jouanny. At the same time, Courtney had lost a place to Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing), which was the last thing he needed to have happen. Kerr already had a substantial points advantage after Courtney failed to finish in the previous round and if James still wanted to win the championship he couldn't afford to have Robbie get away from him. He settled in behind the blue-and-white car with intent to try again.
And then it all fell apart yet again. This time the trouble occurred a long way back. Stefano Fabi (Team Avanti) had a small off somewhere in the countryside, got going again and came round at the back of the field. Then things got really weird, when the two Diamond Racing drivers tripped over each other at the Chicane. This lead to the unprecedented spectacle of the normally mild-mannered Harold Primat gesticulating furiously at Pedro Barral and having to be restrained by a couple of burly marshals. Just for good measure, Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) pulled into the pits and out of the race. There were now only two Carlin cars left, Courtney and Michael Keohane. The officials looked at the chaos and came to the inevitable conclusion. Although the Safety Car had already been working overtime at Thruxton, it was readied to pick up the leaders yet again.
With Kovalainen once more needing to hold his nerve behind the Safety Car, the remaining runners lined up behind the Finn in his yellow Fortec Dallara. Jouanny was still 2nd, from Kerr, Courtney, and Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport). Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport), suffering from what he claimed was flu, was next up, ahead of Robert Dahlgren (Sweeney Racing), the Swede once again leading the Scholarship Class. Behind him were Richard Antinucci (Manor Motorsport), Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport), Keohane, Stefan de Groot (Menu Motorsport), Stefan Hodgetts (Motaworld Racing), Stephen Colbert (Meritus Racing), Billy Asaro (Sweeney Racing), Karun Chandhok (T-Sport), Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing), Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing), John Antoniades (Duma Racing), Matthew Gilmore (Promatecme International), Clivio Piccione (T-Sport), Tor Graves (Alan Docking Racing), Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing) and the hapless Fabi. And that's how they stayed for the next three laps.
At the restart Kovalainen's nerve held - as it should, he'd had a lot of practice at restarts during the day. Jouanny didn't even look faintly able to challenge his rival, while both the remaining Carlin drivers were sizing up the guys in front. Courtney had a go at passing Kerr to no avail, while Keohane was more fortunate perhaps in his opponent, getting past the less-experienced de Groot relatively easily, and then dealing with Austin a lap later. The Irish driver would not stop there either, finding Dahlgren, who had just lost a place to Antinucci, presented no challenge either.
Courtney's overtaking attempts had not been so successful, the Australian failing to get past Kerr and then dropping back within reach of Carbone and having to defend his 4th place from the Brazilian. Closer to the rear of the field, Antoniades was also on the move, passing Sherwood and then Chandhok as he began to get the hang of the circuit. In the middle of the field, the battle of the Sweeney drivers was raging too - Carroll finally getting past Asaro at the halfway stage of the race. Despite the tussles going on throughout the field, most eyes were riveted to the scrap at the front. Jouanny was applying tremendous pressure to Kovalainen, hoping to get him rattled, make him make a mistake. However, he'd chosen the wrong man to try that routine on. If the Finn has nerves, they were not visible now, even when Jouanny made a move to take the lead. Kovalainen held steady, and firmly but fairly closed the door on the Frenchman. Jouanny settled down to wait for another opportunity, only to find that Kerr was now right on his exhaust and he would have to concentrate on holding him off as well as trying to find a way round the pesky Finn ahead of him!
The battle for the final Championship Class point was getting a bit fraught now, as the two Stefans (de Groot and Hodgetts) set about each other, the Dutchman finally getting the better of it, and moving up another place when the Manor Boys, Antinucci and Bremer, had a rather embarrassing moment scuffling for 6th. That particular fight resolved in Bremer's favour after Antinucci managed to ride over the Dane's rear wheel and out of the race when his overtaking manoeuvre at the Complex didn't quite work as planned and he ended the afternoon in the barriers. It really wasn't Richard's day!
And that was the end of any excitement, with Kovalainen taking a second superb victory from Jouanny. The title fight isn't over yet either, although Kerr looks likely to do it. With just two races left to run, and therefore a maximum of 42 points up for grabs, the English driver's 33 point lead over Courtney looks comfortable. On the other hand, as this season has already shown anything can happen in British Formula Three.