This afternoon at Oulton Park Jean-Eric Vergne (Carlin) cemented his reputation as the man to watch this year in F3 with a fine win in the 40-minute feature race. It was plain sailing for the Frenchman despite the attentions of Oli Webb (Fortec Motorsport), the only man who got anywhere near him once the field had left the grid. 3rd place went to Rupert Svendsen-Cook (Carlin).The National Class went to James Cole (T-Sport) after Menasheh Idafar (T-Sport) managed to crash out early on after the pair clashed at Shell.
Before the start there had already been a problem for Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing with Manor), the Welsh driver having problems on the warm-up lap and failing to start the race at all. And at the start it was Carlos Huertas (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) who had it all go pear-shaped. As the lights went out to signal the start of the race, the Colombian stalled on the grid and the rest of the field had to take avoiding action. As the last of them headed into Old Hall, he finally got moving and set off in pursuit of the pack. It was a terrible waste of 3rd on the grid...
Up on pole, Vergne seemed to be plugged into the starting gantry, such was the speed with which he got away at the start. Webb tried to stay with him, but it wasn't possible. Svendsen-Cook was 3rd with Gabriel Dias (Hitech Racing) was 4th ahead of fellow Brazilian Adriano Buzaid (Carlin). Just behind them was Daisuke Nakajima (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), the Japanese having gained a number of places during the first lap. Meanwhile, Idafar had gone off at Shell, while Cole had to pit for some high speed repairs before rejoining a long way back.
It didn't take Vergne long to really get on a roll as he set the first of what would turn out to be a series of fastest race laps, though Webb was still trying to find a way through, knowing he needed to do it as quickly as possible if he was going to make it stick at all. It looked likely to be a tall order... Further back, Nakajima was busy doing his roadblock impersonation, driving what may be the world's widest Dallara. This time it was Jay Bridger (Litespeed) and James Calado (Carlin), the latter in particular looking very quick as he tried to make up for his less than happy qualifying session. It didn't take Calado long to find a way past Bridger, and on lap three he was up to 7th. Huertas was also busy staging a recovery and was now back up to 14th and catching Felipe Nasr (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) hand over fist, though in that he was aided somewhat by the fact that Nasr was busy trying to find a way past Max Snegirev (Fortec Motorsport), which can be tricky at the best of times.
There was nothing tricky about the time that Vergne was having; he was steadily edging away and Webb was desperately trying to stay with him but the two of them were well clear of Svendsen-Cook and getting ever more distant. The main entertainment now was watching Calado struggling with Nakajima, but eventually the struggle was resolved in favour of the Englishman who the started to close in on Buzaid. On the same lap Nasr finally managed to get past Snegirev and was then free to try and chase down the back end of the field. He needed to get a move on or he was going to run out of time, even in a 40-minute race. While Nasr pulled away from the Russian, Huertas arrived and promptly took over from Nasr in harassing the Fortec driver.
It didn't take long for Huertas to squeeze past Snegirev too, who was still coming under pressure, this time from Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin), the Malaysian having made a poor start. However, after he despatched Lucas Foresti (Carlin) he was then right with Snegirev, and setting about him. The Russian was certainly having an interesting afternoon! He wasn't the only one. Calado was right with Buzaid and was considering whether he could risk the wrath of Trevor Carlin by doing something rash to try and get past his team-mate. Meanwhile, Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport) was busy attacking Alex Brundle (T-Sport), starting a battle that would last for the remainder of the race. He couldn't quite make it but it was clear that he really wanted that 9th place.
Elsewhere, things were getting a bit strange. Hitech Racing had formed up as if they were expecting a pit visit from William Buller. They had a set of tyres and the jacks all ready and seemed poised to spring into action. Buller came past and they simply put everything away again. Quite what all that was about was about as clear as mud. Meanwhile, Jaafar barged past Snegirev and began to pull away, while Calado took a good look at Buzaid at Hislops but Buzzy defended and Calado thought better of it. He wasn't alone in having to work hard. Brundle was still staving off McKenzie, the latter trying all sorts of lines in an effort to find a way past.
At the front the leading pair were so fast that they'd caught up with Cole who moved over with alacrity and let Vergne and Webb through. It did cause Vergne a bit of a slow-down which allowed Webb to edge closer but he still had a long way to go to really get on terms with Vergne. The others were very distant now, partly because Svendsen-Cook had created a train, with Dias, Buzaid and Calado all bunched up but completely unable to make a break. Further back and Huertas was now 12th and setting about Buller.
As Nasr pulled into the pits after a couple of painfully slow laps, Vergne continued to extend his lead and McKenzie went wheel-to-wheel with Brundle at Old Hall and then tried it again at Cascades, though he once again had to back off. He wasn't giving up though, having another go at Deer Leap where he attempted to go round the outside. Again Brundle resisted, determined not to give up his place if he could help it. Vergne, on the other hand, was making it look easy, and extended his lead by ? a second in the course of lap 18. At the rate he was going it wouldn't just be Cole who would get lapped.
You might think that with ten minutes left drivers would be looking to preserve their tyres, but not a bit of it if McKenzie was anything to go by. With terrier-like determination he went for it again, this time as they came out of Old Hall. In response Brundle placed his car squarely in the middle of road and there was no way through for McKenzie. In fact he fell back a little as a result. Meanwhile Calado was still right on Buzaid's tail, but he too didn't have an answer to the resistance he was encountering.
In a last ditch attempt, Webb took one last run at he man ahead of him, bringing the gap down by 4/10ths of a second with a couple of laps left to the flag. It would likely prove too little too late, but he was going to give it a good try at least. Unfortunately, with tyres now going off, life was getting trickier out there. Dias was now closing on Svendsen- Cook, and McKenzie had yet another go at Brundle at Hislops and was once more rebuffed. Huertas was all over Buller and Calado was doing much the same to Buzaid. The closing stages were proving exciting if inconclusive.
As they started the last lap Webb was still closing but Vergne still looked very much in control. And so it proved. Vergne came home to complete an impressive run (two poles, three fastest laps and two wins) and has done much to justify his advance reputation. Webb was 2nd and the only man to stay close to the winner. 3rd was Svendsen-Cook, from Dias, Buzaid, Calado, Nakajima, Bridger, Brundle and McKenzie. Buller was 11th, from Huertas, Jaafar, Snegirev, Foresti, Adderly Fong (Sino Vision Racing) and National Class winner Cole.
Fastest laps went to Vergne and Cole.
Weather: Cold, windy, overcast.
Next Meeting: Rounds 4-6, Silverstone, Northamptonshire, 1st/2nd May 2010