by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite - Motorsport.com
48th Macau Grand Prix, November 15th/18th 2001
Weather: warmer, strong winds off the coast.
After a morning of bouncing off walls (Taylor) and scraping against barriers (Kovalainen) we finally got a real practice session. And for our sins, the first thing that happened was that Yuji Ide (Signature Competition) went off on his out lap and swiped the barriers in front of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. This was not a good start for one of the Japanese F3 series front-runners. He managed to get going again before coming to an embarrassing halt against the tyre wall at the Hairpin. Of course anyone getting stuck there is likely to create a major traffic jam just behind them and so it proved. The three cars immediately behind Ide all ground to a complete halt and Raffaele Giammaria (Team Kolles Racing) parked himself against the barriers. Eventually it all got sorted out but the whole thing was more than a little unnecessary and a few drivers were left feeling rather stupid. The only person to get through before Ide parked up was Andy Priaulx (Promatecme UK), the Guernseyman having done his usual trick of getting out ahead of the hordes. He and Anthony Davidson (Carlin Motorsport) were the first drivers to break the 2 minutes 22 barrier in the session. While fellow GB-series runner Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport) was out early too, but was also an early pit visitor at the end of his out lap to have various minor adjustments made, Davidson took an early pole, quite clearly revelling in the challenge presented by this incredibly demanding street circuit. He didn't get to keep it for long before Priaulx snatched it back from him but with a 45 minutes session each day much of this was purely academic. With Enrico Toccacelo (Opel Team BSR) rocketing up to 3rd place before getting kicked back down the order by Bjorn Wirdheim (Prema Powerteam) and Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme UK), it was clear that this would be an absorbing battle for supremacy. And then we got the first of what would turn out to be a number of red flags during the course of the weekend. The officials decided that they needed to recover Ide's stricken Dallara and called a temporary halt to proceedings just as Tiago Monteiro (ASM-Elf) went to provisional pole. With 37 minutes to go at the restart, the top 10 now contained Monteiro, Tristan Gommendy (ASM-Elf), Priaulx, Kosuke Matsuura (Prema Powerteam), Wirdheim, Jouanny, Davidson, Toccacelo, Toshihiro Kaneishi (Opel Team BSR) and Paolo Montin (TOM'S).
At the restart things were scarcely less bizarre. Davidson, running at quite a pace now, rounded a corner to find Lei Kit Meng (Fortec Motorsport), local hero and pretty nervous F3 driver and more than a little out of his depth, gently drifting into his path. By the time Ant could react he had run into the back of the hapless Macanese (the oldest man in the race) and launched his car skywards. The Carlin car came to earth with bent wishbones and ripped its nose off. Ant slowly limped back to the pits where the team were ready and waiting with a new nose. They replaced the necessary bodywork and administered some strategic kicks to straighten out the bent bits before sending their driver on his way again!
While all this was going on, Kaneishi claimed pole from Monteiro, only for Takuma Sato (Carlin Motorsport) to warm up enough to demote the both of them. Monteiro and Kaneishi began drop down the order now as Montin again went fastest, from Priaulx, and Joao Paulo de Oliveira. The order began to change almost as fast as blinking. While yet another of the seemingly ubiquitous Japanese Champions, Kaneishi, moved to 2nd, his compatriot Kurosawa ripped a wheel off against the barriers as we reached the 15-minute mark. You began to wonder just why these guys are considered professionals. On the other hand, the very experienced Pierre Kaffer (Team Kolles Racing) was moving up the order and was now 3rd, so there was some hope. Montin was also beginning to charge, as was Jonathan Cochet (Signature Racing), the two of them now 3rd and 4th behind Sato. And just as people should have been really getting up speed, we had yellow flags all over the place. Mark Taylor, after a somewhat extended pit stop, and in effect on his first flying lap, tripped over Bobbi, and both of them went off. The car was in the barriers and looked to be extensively modified, and Taylor was looking likely to be dead last with a time in the 15-minute range on a circuit where 2:12s are what you might reasonably expect.
Meanwhile, Gommendy's strategy appeared to be to follow Sato as if glued to his rear wing, presumably to try and see what the little Japanese was doing to go as fast as he does. It made interesting viewing but probably did nothing to make Sato happy. Eventually Sato dived into the pit lane to shake off the French driver and the Carlin boys spent some time peering at the underside of his car before sending him back out to play. While all this was going on, Davidson was down in 20th place and still trying to find a line he liked. And suddenly another of the Japanese drivers was off. Sakon Yamamoto (TOM'S) had clouted the barriers a hefty whack. This meant yet more yellows on the circuit, though no one seemed to slow down appreciably. In fact the times were still changing and Joao Paulo de Oliveira (Swiss Racing Team), the desperately underfunded Brazilian, was now sitting in a provisional 2nd place, just ahead of Monteiro. Davidson had found his groove at last as well and was now 8th - the car was obviously still all right after his encounter with Lei. With 20 minutes still to go, Sato was still topping the times, but the margin had reduced to a mere 0.02 seconds... Anything could happen in the remaining time. And shortly thereafter it did. Monteiro, on his 4th visit here, found an advantage of a quarter second and looked set for provisional pole. However, de Oliveira had other ideas and promptly went faster. The challenge was then taken up by Sato who went ahead again while his teammate slid back to 9th although he was still in possession of a fresh set of tyres and a belief that he could win this one.
At the 30-minute mark the top ten was Sato, de Oliveira, Monteiro, Kaffer, Ryo Fukuda (Saulnier Racing), Kaneishi, Montin, Cochet, Davidson and Wirdheim.
Still the changes continued at the top of the order. Montin moved to 2nd while Gommendy fell off and ended his afternoon parked by the Armco. Cochet was also beginning to show what he is capable of, while the surprise of the afternoon to some came when Andy Priaulx (Fortec Motorsport) suddenly hit the top spot. Desperation seemed to be setting in now in some quarters though, as Monteiro took an unscheduled excursion up the escape road. Luckily, he escaped unscathed and was able to rejoin. Davidson was on a charge now though, and was soon sitting just behind Priaulx in the order until Sato went out to reclaim what he regarded as his rightful place. Priaulx was now the filling in a Carlin sandwich and the British series appeared to have locked out the front of the grid. However, it wasn't over yet from where Cochet was sitting.
The wiry French driver really wanted to do well here and a determined effort moved him to pole. Fukuda was involved in what may well be regarded as an even fiercer fight, that to be best Japanese, and he was now 3rd, just behind Sato. This left Davidson in 4th, the highest placed rookie, ahead of Treluyer and Priaulx. Monteiro moved to 3rd, displacing Fukuda, the man who beat him in the French series this year, but Sato was back at the top now. But not for long. Montin was still on flyer and took pole just as the season came to a painful end for Davidson. Flying round to try and improve on 5th, the English driver lost control at the same place that Karthikeyan wiped himself out last year. The No. 5 car struck the barriers very hard, the rear end swinging round and hitting first before he pitched in sideways on the other side and came to rest broadside across the track. Monteiro came round the corner and hit the stranded Dallara side on, thus effectively blocking the track. Davidson, fortunately, had already scrambled out and was on the other side of the Armco but he was concussed and not too sure where he was or what had happened. This was the third accident to occur just in front of the Portuguese driver and he was beginning to wonder why they were all out to get him. One of the last gentlemen in the business, Monteiro made sure Ant was alright, positioning him against the wall so he would not move his head, before returning to the pits to report what had happened, carrying the nose of his car as he drove. There was less than a minute of the session left at this point so that effectively put paid to any more improvements for the day.
Someone having a rather more interesting time than he would have liked was Heikki Kovalainen. Drafted in to Fortec at the last minute, when Gianmaria Bruni couldn't make it, the likeable and talented Finn felt he had nothing to lose. On the other hand, having been gifted an F3 debut when he wasn't expecting it, he didn't want to do anything stupid and blot his copybook. Four hours testing at Pembrey really had not prepared him for this. "I have to learn the car still and I'm trying to find out where the limits are. I know I need to brake later but I'm not able to just now. I'm not always sure where I am on the circuit just yet."
Just as the red flags came out, with 57 seconds still on the clock, Peter Hackett (Carlin Motorsport) fell off too, possibly in sympathy with his teammate. He'd had an eventful day anyway and had started the session by accidentally pushing Giammaria off. Now the refreshingly honest Australian owned up to being to blame. "I fucked up!" he said. Either way, there were two very sad looking cars in the garage afterwards. Proof that the lucky shoes worked came in the shape of the Sato car, which was pretty well unscathed apart from a scuff or two.
The following day there was a pretty sad looking Ant in the garage too. A trip to the hospital straight from the accident scene had led to a diagnosis of concussion, which was bad enough, and a crack in the C5 vertebra. He was medically prohibited from taking any further part in events, even if the team had been able to repair the car, which was "in a million pieces." As it was, he was now out of the Korean race the following week as well. Locked into a surgical collar and banned from driving for six weeks (later investigation would reveal there was no break and he would be back in action in around two weeks), he was less than happy. Former Carlin driver Narain Karthikeyan will replace him in Korea.
Davidson, not at all happy at being out of the race. <pre> Classification - First Qualifying:
1st - No. 12 - Paulo Montin, I, Tom's, Dallara F301 Toyota Toms 2:13.214 2nd - No. 6 - Takuma Sato, J, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F301 Honda-Mugen 2:13.546 3rd - No. 25 - Jonathan Cochet, F, Signature Competition, Dallara F399 Renault-Sodemo 2:13.676 4th - No. 18 - Tiago Monteiro, P, ASM-Elf, Dallara F399 Renault-Sodemo 2:13.776 5th - No. 5 - Anthony Davidson, GB, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F301 Honda-Mugen 2:13.839 6th - No. 1 - Toshihiro Kaneishi, J, Opel Team BSR, Dallara F300 Opel-Spiess 2:14.042 7th - No. 8 - Ryo Fukuda, J, Saulnier Racing, Dallara F399 Renault-Sodemo 2:14.047 8th - No. 30 - Andy Priaulx, GB, Promatecme, Dallara F301 Honda-Mugen 2:14.375 9th - No. 3 - Benoit Treluyer, F, Mugen X Dome Project, Dallara F301 Honda-Mugen 2:14.383 10th - No. 28 - Kosuke Matsuura, J, Prema Powerteam, Dallara F301 Opel-Spiess 2:14.483 11th - No. 19 - Joao Paulo de Oliveira, BR, Swiss Racing Team, Dallara F399 Opel-Spiess 2:14.529 12th - No. 10 - Pierre Kaffer, D, Team Kolles Racing, Dallara F300 Honda-Mugen 2:14.586 13th - No. 27 - Bjorn Wirdheim, S, Prema Powerteam, Dallara F301 Opel-Spiess 2:14.891 14th - No. 2 - Enrico Toccacelo, I, Opel Team BSR, Dallara F300 Opel-Spiess 2:14.894 15th - No. 15 - Derek Hayes, GB, Manor Motorsport, Dallara F300 Honda-Mugen 2:16.039 16th - No. 9 - Marchy Lee, C, Saulnier Racing, Dallara F399 Renault-Sodemo 2:16:094 17th - No. 23 - Heikki Kovalainen, SF, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F301 Renault-Sodemo 2:16.139 18th - No. 31 - Bruce Jouanny, F, Promatecme, Dallara F301 Honda-Mugen 2:16.426 19th - No. 17 - Tristan Gommendy, F, ASM-Elf, Dallara F399 Renault-Sodemo 2:16.643 20th - No. 11 - Sakon Yamamoto, J, Tom's, Dallara F301 Toyota-Toms 2:17.188 21st - No. 21 - Peter Sundberg, S, Three Bond, Dallara F301 Nissan-Tomei 2:17.363 22nd - No. 7 - Peter Hackett, AUS, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F300 Honda-Mugen 2:17.726 23rd - No. 32 - Michael Ho, MAC, Cram Competition, Dallara F301 Opel-Spiess 2:18.870 24th - No. 20 - Haruki Kurosawa, J, Swiss Racing Team, Dallara F399 Opel-Spiess 2:22:388 25th - No. 22 - Lei Kit Meng, MAC, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F301 Renault-Sodemo 2:23.472 26th - No. 29 - Jo Merszei, MAC, Cram Competition, Dallara F301 Opel-Spiess 2:26.044 27th - No. 36 - Matteo Bobbi, I, Target Racing, Dallara F301 Opel-Spiess 2:28.194 28th - No. 16 - Mark Taylor, GB, Manor Motorsport, Dallara F300 Honda-Mugen 15:47.588
No Time Set No. 26 - Yuji Ide, J, Signature Competition, Dallara F399 Renault-Sodemo No. 33 - Raffaele Giammaria, I, Team Kolles Racing, Dallara F300 Honda-Mugen