At Brands Hatch this afternoon, Oliver Webb (Fortec Motorsport) made a spirited attempt to keep his hopes of finishing second in the title fight alive, coming home well clear of second placed man James Calado (Carlin) and his team-mate Adriano Buzaid (Carlin) who was a distant 3rd. As the only three drivers still in the running for the runner-up slot to Jean-Eric Vergne (Carlin) there was a pleasing symmetry about the podium at the end of 23 laps. It was, sadly, an extremely dull race otherwise, with the field soon becoming strung out and the usual issues that it's almost impossible to pass at Brands and the cars here seem far more unsettled by the dirty air in the slipstream of the guy in front than they do anywhere else. For most of the 30 minutes it was about as thrilling as watching paint dry.
Before the start it was clear that Gabriel Dias (Hitech Racing) would be lucky to get out at all as the Hitech lads battled to rebuild the Dallara after his off in qualifying. Even if the race start had not been brought forward 5 minutes, they still wouldn't have completed the repairs as it turned out, but that didn't stop team manager Ryan Sharpe from being more than slightly annoyed at the deviation from the published schedule, and you couldn't help but feel he had a point.
At the start Webb made a determined lunge to claim the lead into paddock, pushing Calado wide and leaving him with little choice but to settle into 2nd. Behind him, Carlos Huertas (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) made a poor-ish start, getting off the line tardily and holding up both Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport) and Jean-Eric Vergne (Carlin) as they headed off into the countryside for the first lap. All of that helped Buzaid as he laid claim to 3rd, shutting out Rupert Svendsen-Cook (Carlin). Meanwhile in the National Class Menasheh Idafar (T-Sport) was in 11th overall, a long way ahead of title rival James Cole (T-Sport). And then they were 19 as Adderly Fong (Sino Vision Racing) crashed our before the first lap was completed.
And so they settled in for what would be one of the less exciting races we've seen this season. Webb set an early fastest lap, while Vergne tried to find a way past McKenzie but couldn't get close enough, and Idafar was challenged by International Class runner Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin). The Malaysian also couldn't get close enough as his car was unsettled in the dirty air, and he had to back off.
It didn't take long for Webb to start pulling out a gap on Calado and it looked as if the only excitement would be back behind Idafar, as the Bahraini was seriously holding up Jaafar and Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3). He didn't need to as he was 11th and Cole was back in 17th, but on the other hand if Jaafar and Bridger couldn't find a way past, that was hardly Idafar's problem.
There was brief excitement when it seemed William Buller (Hitech Racing) was catching Huertas for 5th but again, there was nothing to be done out there. Vergne, meanwhile, was looking pretty out of sorts and was getting increasingly frustrated at not being able to find a way past McKenzie because the line he needed just wouldn't dry. He wasn't much enjoying Brands Hatch it seemed. Certainly it looked as if Daisuke Nakajima (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) was catching him easily.
At the front Webb improved on his initial fastest lap, and Calado responded by going faster, but he really didn't seem to have the answer to the red and white car ahead. Idafar meanwhile was still holding Jaafar off and the frustration finally got to Jaafar who went off at Paddock in his efforts to get past. By the time he'd sorted himself out and got back on track Idafar was long gone and Jaafar was behind Lucas Foresti (Carlin) in 16th with Cole on his tail.
There was a brief frisson of excitement when the gap between the leaders came down, and Calado set a new fastest lap, but Webb responded by speeding up again and pulling away from his pursuer. The only real possibility of any excitement was behind Svendsen-Cook, who had Huertas, Buller, McKenzie and Vergne on his tail, all of them just waiting for an error. Instead, it was Vergne who made a mistake, running very wide at Graham Hill Bend, while Buller had a quick look at Huertas but thought better of it. Interestingly it was Nasr who seemed to be on a charge, setting a new fastest race lap and swarming all over Nakajima. The effect of that was to allow Vergne to catch up with McKenzie again, as Nakajima was now too busy holding off his team-mate. Meanwhile Buller had another look at Huertas but as ever at Brands it proved too unsettling for the car and he had to settle back in again.
While all this was going on, Dias finally got in the car and headed out onto the track. He wouldn't cover enough distance to be classified but would at least be able to check that all was well with the car and might even snag a point for fastest lap if he could find any clear air to run in. Meanwhile Max Snegirev (Fortec Motorsport) attempted to pass Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing with Manor Motorsport) for 18th but then seemed to think better of it as they went into Paddock; A year ago he would not have been in a position to even attempt to pass another car, so it says something for the Russian that he has come this far; he's never going to set the world alight but at least these days he's stopped crashing into it.
With the gap again extending at the front, Webb and Calado were circulating in splendid isolation, with Buzaid a pretty distant 3rd, allowing Webb to claim a new fastest lap just as the clouds started to spot with rain. Even the weather didn't seem interested however, and it failed to develop or provide any excitement, despite Calado losing 1.5 seconds in the middle sector unexpectedly, which suggested something had happened but not enough to make any difference to the order. In the closing stages the black and white driving standards flag was shown to Vergne, presumably for not respecting track limits, but again nothing came of that either. There was a mad wobble on the penultimate lap when Buller had a go at Huertas again. Buller then came under serious pressure from McKenzie, leading to McKenzie having to lift. That let Vergne take a good look as he tried to go all the way round the outside at Druids. That didn't work, which left him open to attack from Nakajima, and then Nasr edged up alongside the Japanese driver but also couldn't make it stick. The upshot of all of that was no change whatsoever, but at least it meant something had happened in an otherwise processional race.
And so Webb came home to a well-deserved win, over Calado, Buzaid, Svendsen-Cook, Huertas, Buller McKenzie, Vergne, Nakajima and Nasr. 11th and winning the National Class by a long way was Idafar, from Bridger, Alex Brundle (T-Sport), Invitation Class winner Pietro Fantin (Hitech Racing), Foresti, Jaafar, Cole, Lloyd and Snegirev.
Fastest laps went to Webb, Idafar and Fantin.
Weather: Cloudy, cold.