At Magny-Cours this afternoon Oli Webb (Fortec Motorsport) claimed his first victory of the season, after poleman Jean-Eric Vergne failed to capitalise on his advantage. 2nd was Gabriel Dias (Hitech Racing), from team-mate William Buller, the latter having to work hard in the closing stages to hold of a recovering Vergne. Menasheh Idafar (T-Sport) snatched the National Class victory from team-mate James Cole in the closing stages of the race.
There was drama at the start as Vergne simply failed to get off the line at the start, allowing Webb to pull away at speed, while behind Vergne, Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport) had to take avoiding action and fell back down the order. By the time Vergne got going he was 7th, while McKenzie lost 15 places as a result of the series leader's tardiness. Additionally, by the time the race was two corners old, Lucas Foresti (Carlin) and Alex Brundle (T-Sport) had clashed and were off, both drivers getting no further. Dias and Buller were the beneficiaries of Vergne's poor start, but they weren't the only ones who got an early present. Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin) was up in 4th from 13th, ahead of Carlos Huertas (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing), and Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing with Manor), none of whom could have expected to be that far up that early on. It had been a pretty major sort out. Unluckiest driver of the race was probably a toss up between McKenzie (who was now 17th) and Rupert Svendsen-Cook (Carlin) who ended up needing to pit for a new front wing and nose and was a lap down by the time his car was race-worthy again.
Meanwhile, Webb was leading from Dias, Buller, Jaafar, Huertas, a recovering Vergne, Lloyd, Adriano Buzaid (Carlin), James Calado (Carlin) and Felipe Nasr (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing). Cole was leading the National Class after Idafar lost out at the start as well, and just behind them was an infuriated McKenzie who was trying very hard to make up lost ground and was less than happy about it. As they settled in for the half hour race, there was a further incident when Rio Haryanto (C F Racing with Manor) managed to spin off. The Indonesian driver was able to get going again, but had lost an awful lot of ground by then.
More interesting was what was happening closer to the front. It took Verne all of 4 laps to get back into the top five, bundling Huertas out of the way unceremoniously and setting off after Jaafar. Huertas had no answer, and in fact was clearly holding up the guys behind, creating what amounted to a 20-wheeled Dallara consisting of Lloyd, Adriano Buzaid (Carlin), James Calado (Carlin) and Felipe Nasr (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing). Further back, McKenzie had finally found a way past Cole and was after Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3), but it was small consolation given that he should have been in the top 3 given his grid position.
While Webb continued on untroubled at the front, and Dias and Buller trailed after him, Jaafar was coming under pressure from Vergne who wanted that 4th place if at all possible. Vergne forced his way through and there was contact between the two, Jaafar dropping three places as he tried and failed to keep control of the situation. The top ten saw a further reshuffle when Nasr suddenly lost momentum, his car grinding to a halt out on the track on lap 9. The main action, though, was still towards the front, with Vergne now in serious pursuit of Buller and catching him at a frightening rate, while behind the Huertas had broken away from the train and taken Lloyd with him. He wasn't the only one gaining on his target - Cole was being reeled in by Idafar who was also looking very keen on the idea of taking a place - in this instance, the class lead - if he just got the opportunity. Ahead of them, it was now Jaafar's turn to lead a train as he held up Buzaid, Daisuke Nakajima (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Bridger and an increasingly frustrated McKenzie.
As the race drew to its close it was starting to look as if Vergne might actually end up on the podium, certainly given the rate he was now catching Buller, whittling the teenager's advantage away at over a second a lap. Despite the Frenchman's pace, Webb still held the fastest lap of the race, but that was small comfort for Buller, who could see the RedBull liveried car growing ever closer in his mirrors. Live for Jaafar, meanwhile, was about to take another turn for the worse. It happened when Buzaid made an attempt to get by which didn't quite work, but did result in Calado getting past to claim 7th. You had the feeling that the Carlin debrief might turn out to be a bit tense this evening!
With less than five minutes left of the race, Vergne now had Buller squarely in his sights, and was closing fast. A two second gap rapidly became a one second gap and quickly reduced even further. It was now just a question of whether he had enough time left. As it turned out, he didn't. Instead the man to gain a place was Calado, who benefited from a spin on the part of Lloyd, the Welsh driver losing out badly and ending up 14th, while Calado was the happy possessor of 6th place. In their efforts to avoid Lloyd, Cole lost out to Idafar and McKenzie ended up back behind the two National Class boys again, which probably didn't improve his mood at all.
And so it was that Webb won for the first time in F3. from Dias, Buller, Vergne, Huertas, Calado, Jaafar, Buzaid, Nakajima and Bridger. 11th was National Class winner Idafar, from Cole, McKenzie, Lloyd, Max Snegirev (Fortec Motorsport), Adderly Fong (Sino Vision Racing), Haryanto and Svendsen-Cook.
Fastest laps went to Webb and Cole.
Weather: Hot, sunny.
See also: Vergne dominates Magny-Cours qualifying