SPEEDY DAN'S A MACAU FAN
21 November, 2005: The raw speed of British F3 driver Dan Clarke wowed the crowd at this weekend's highly prestigious Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix, and his impressive driving and professional attitude earned him high praise from team boss for the weekend, Davide De Gobbi of top Italian F3 outfit Prema Powerteam. This was Clarke's first ever appearance at Macau -- one of the biggest F3 races of the season -- and he had been looking forward to the challenge of racing on one of the most challenging race circuits in the world, "I came out to Macau with one objective, and that was to learn. Guia Circuit is renowned for being tough, and this was a great opportunity for me to gain valuable experience with a successful Euroseries team; and take on some of the most highly rated F3 drivers in the world."
Clarke spent most of the first practice session familiarising himself with the long and windy Macau circuit, but soon started to build in both confidence and speed, setting the eighth fastest time in the second practice session.
"It was a case of 'the tortoise and the hare'", commented Clarke. "In the opening practice session I was more of a tortoise, but by the end of the second session the hare in me was starting to come out. I was getting faster with every lap, and seriously challenging some of the guys with quicker engines."
Teams powered by Opel engines were at a disadvantage all weekend and were always going to struggle for pace against the more powerful Mercedes and Honda powered cars. This made Clarke's time of eighth fastest in second practice all the more impressive. While Clarke was quick in practice, luck was not on his side during either of the two qualifying sessions. The first was hampered by yellow flags and, eventually, a red flag, while the second was effectively reduced to just two laps after Dan swerved to avoid an accident in front of him, losing a wing in the process.
After a lengthy pit stop, Clarke had just enough time to put in a couple of competitive laps, posting the sixteenth fastest time of the session and claiming a combined qualifying position of seventeenth. In Saturday's Qualifying Race Clarke put in another determined drive to set the thirteenth fastest time of the race, moving up a further four places for Sunday's grid. What's more, the confident 21 year old was putting in faster race lap times than his highly regarded team mate, and Toyota F1 test driver, Franck Perera.
"Franck has been great this weekend", commented Clarke. "He's given me little bits of advice here and there, so I felt a bit bad when we started looking through the lap times. I soon got over it though. Once the helmet goes on, you're here to do a job and race. It's been great working with him though - I've picked up a huge amount from him and the team."
When it came to the race, Clarke powered away from row seven of the grid to make up three places on a stunning opening lap and, despite having a slower engine, Dan continued to reel in his rivals as he moved up a further two places over the next few laps. Having passed all of his British F3 Championship colleagues, Clarke was now in eighth place and hot on the heels of the driver in front.
However, Dan soon moved up to seventh place when race favourite, Loic Duval, was forced to pit for a penalty drive through. By the time Duval exited the pit lane he rejoined the race behind Clarke, but his more powerful Mercedes engine enabled him to reign in Dan, slipstream the Prema Powerteam driver, and overtake on one of the longer sections of the circuit. Not one to sit back, Clarke continued to push and challenge Duval through Macau's infamous twisty mountain section but, in an attempt to avoid a late breaking manoeuvre by Duval, Clarke went into a spin before being collected by fellow British F3 Championship drivers Charlie Kimball and Danny Watts.
Clarke's race was over but, despite the result, it had been an extremely worthwhile weekend, "Throughout the race I just focused on getting past the next car in front," said Dan. "I was gutted to go out when I did. I was the fastest man in an Opel and made up six places in ten laps. I was really enjoying the race, and I think I also set the fastest time for a non-mercedes through the long second section. I was going really well and making my way through the field, so it was hugely disappointing to spin while trying to avoid Duval.
"That said, it's been a great four days for me. The experience of working with a Euroseries team, and driving on one of the most difficult circuits in the world has been fantastic. I really feel as though I've taken two or three steps forward as a driver. I'd like to thank the guys at Prema Power too -- they've been really great to work with.
"Overall it's been a fantastic experience. I came to Macau to learn, and I'm definitely leaving with a few more strings to my bow. Coming here has opened a few new doors for me, and I can't wait to come back again next year."
Clarke's approach to the weekend certainly impressed his new team mates at Prema Powerteam. Team boss, De Gobbi, had seen Dan race in the British F3 Championship, but he was pleasantly surprised by Clarke's professionalism, "We knew Dan was a good driver, but Macau is very difficult and, if I'm honest, we didn't expect him to do as well as he did. Being a rookie at Macau is not easy. He did very well to learn the circuit so quickly, and I knew, within two days, that Dan was one of the top five drivers. His approach was 100% correct - both with the team and with the race.
"He was unlucky in qualifying and did not have much time on the circuit. But, in the race he was very committed and drove superbly to make up several positions before unfortunately crashing out. There was nothing he could do to avoid Duval. He was very fast all weekend and really impressed us. I think he set the fourth or fifth best lap time of the race -- we really didn't expect this much. We were really pleased with Dan and his professional approach."