12th Marlboro Masters, Zandvoort, Holland
August 10th/11th 2002
Weather: very hot, sunny.
The 12th annual running of the Marlboro Masters Formula Three race got off to a slightly chaotic start, which is always highly likely with 37 cars lining up to take the green light. The first indication of trouble came on the green flag lap when Robert Doornbos (Team Ghinzani) braked rather harder than Stefan de Groot (JB Racing) was expecting. The two Dutchmen collided and Doornbos was out of the race before it had even started. De Groot limped into the pits for a new nose and was able to rejoin at the back of the field. All of this meant that a third Dutch driver, Jaap van Lagen (Van Amersfoort Racing), was allowed to take the start; as is often the way at the Masters, the reserve driver would get to play after all.
Further problems broke out at the actual start, when de Groot's teammate, Rob Austin, stalled on the grid and was collected by Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport). Taylor would get no further, while Austin would lurch round for ten laps with wishbone damage until he could continue no further. Nearer the front, Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport) made no mistakes, and shot into the lead as the field streamed towards Tarzan for the first time. Meanwhile, the second Fortec driver, Heikki Kovalainen, was trying to get ahead by driving up the inside of Tristan Gommendy (ASM) and Olivier Pla (ASM). It didn't quite work and he had to back off, but he seemed to startle Pla, who had to give way to Gommendy and settle in to 3rd place. Kovalainen came out of it in 4th. Behind him were Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport), Bruno Besson (Serge Saulnier), Kousuke Matsuura (Prema Powerteam), Vitantonio Liuzzi (Opel Team BSR), Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport), Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing), James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) and Milos Pavlovic (Target Racing).
The drama wasn't over yet though. On the second lap, Van der Merwe, Kerr and Courtney all arrived at Tarzan pretty much together, Kerr trying to dive up the inside of van der Merwe. The lead Carlin car was flipped into the air, looking for one awful moment as if it would flip over, before coming back to rest in the gravel bed on the outside of the corner. In all the confusion, Ross Zwolsman (Team Kolles) managed to go off as well, but he was able to drive back out of the gravel and continue on in the race, albeit back in 28th place. A lap later Pavlovic was in trouble after someone, and all clues point to Frank Diefenbacher (Opel Team BSR) being the guilty party, made a mistake, putting the leader of the Italian championship out of contention. The Yugoslav made a fairly rapid recovery, but was stuck near the back of the field, and not in the least bit happy about it afterwards. Simon Abadie (Serge Saulnier) was also in trouble, falling to the back, while Ryan Briscoe (Prema Powerteam) and Joao Paulo de Oliviera (Team Kolles) swapped places in mid-field. In addition, Yuji Ide (Arta Signature) was handed a stop/go penalty for a jumped start.
When the dust finally settled, the order was Carbone, Gommendy, Pla, Kovalainen, Bremer, Besson, Liuzzi, Matsuura, Kerr, Courtney. Diefenbacher was now 11th, ahead of a fast-moving Bruce Jouanny, (Promatecme F3), who had started 20th. 13th was local boy Jeroen Bleekemolen (Team Avanti), but he was under serious pressure from Cesar Campanico (Prema Powerteam). 15th was de Oliveira, from Briscoe, Bernhard Auinger (Opel Team BSR), Katsuyuki Hiranaka (Swiss Racing Team), Matthew Gilmore (Promatecme F3), Mathieu Zangarelli (Signature Elf) and Ide. Marc Benz (Passoli Racing) was 22nd, ahead of Renaud Derlot (Arta Signature), Raffaele Giammaria (Team Ghinzani), Shinya Hosokawa (Formula Dream Team Carlin), Jeremie de Souza (Signature Elf), Austin, Richard Antinucci (Manor Motorsport), de Groot and Cristiano Citron (Target Racing). 30th was Pavlovic, from Zwolsman, van Lagen, Abadie and Tatsuya Kataoka (Swiss Racing Team) was bringing up the rear.
Although the order seemed to have stabilised, there was a long way to go yet, and Carbone just could not seem to make the break. Gommendy was still breathing down his neck, although Pla was also posing a threat to his teammate ahead of him. In addition Kovalainen was not about to slacken off in his attempts to get closer to the front. Bremer, on the other hand, was having quite a peaceful afternoon, not really in touch with what was going on up ahead, but not far enough back to be involved in the battle for 6th place that was raging behind him. It would cost Liuzzi dearly, as he tried to pass Besson, failed, and lost ground to Matsuura, Kerr, Courtney and Diefenbacher. The next to get it wrong was Matsuura, who was promptly collected by Diefenbacher. Matsuura was able to drive back out of the gravel at Tarzan, while Diefenbacher joined van der Merwe in the used car park at Tarzan. Courtney was lucky to escape the mayhem, but was able to drive around the Japanese to continue his pursuit of Kerr. Further back, Bleekemolen appeared to be slowing, and lost a place to de Oliveira.
And then, a lap later, Gommendy made a small mistake. It was enough for Pla, and he was through into 2nd place. Kovalainen has never been a man to fail to accept an invitation like that either, and he followed Pla while Gommendy was trying to sort himself out. Besson, Matsuura and Kerr were locked into a scuffle for 6th still, while Courtney was beginning to lose touch and was dropping back a little, the Australian still suffering the after-effects of the concussion he collected when he crashed the Jaguar F1 car at Monza in testing. Courtney was now the only surviving Carlin driver, after Hosokawa crashed out on Lap 7.
Matsuura would not remain in contention much longer either, his progress slowed dramatically, probably as a result of damage sustained in his earlier adventures. Suddenly, Besson no longer had the Japanese in his mirrors. Instead, he had Kerr, who was able to concentrate now that Courtney was no longer looming behind him. Courtney was fully occupied trying to hold off Jouanny, while the second Promatecme driver, Matt Gilmore, was trying to pass Ryan Briscoe, the two of them going through Tarzan side-by-side, shortly before Briscoe went missing altogether.
Further down the order, as the race progressed, de Groot was still fighting to make up places. That meant he had to get past de Souza, which wasn't easy. On the other hand, he still had Antinucci to deal with, and that might prove even harder. He also had Pavlovic to contend with, as the two of them were intent on pretty much the same thing. De Groot's cause was not helped by the fact that the handling of his Dallara had been somewhat altered by his clash with Doornbos, eventually forcing him into retirement. The excitement at the front wasn't over yet either, with Gommendy having a go at getting what he regarded as his place back from Pla. A little further back, Courtney finally lost out to Jouanny, whose determined rise through the field was now at an end, but who had managed to set the fastest lap of the race.
In the middle of all of it, Renaud Derlot and Raffaele Giammaria were trading places when Derlot dropped out of the running. They had Antinucci and Pavlovic right behind them, the Yugoslav finally getting the drop on the American when Antinucci made a mistake going through Tarzan on the penultimate lap. Pavlovic didn't hesitate and was through, back up to 19th after his earlier excursion.
As the race moved into its final laps, the top eight were bunching up again, although it still looked like it wouldn't change much before the flag fell. And so it proved, Carbone crossing the line less than two seconds ahead of Pla, while Gommendy and Kovalainen were still very close too. The French drivers had sewn up the Nations Cup between them and Jouanny added to French glory by winning the Kumho Tyres Trophy for fastest lap. The day, however, belonged to Fabio Carbone, the little Brazilian carrying on the standard set last year by Takuma Sato when he, too, couldn't get the cork out of the winner's massive champagne bottle. It meant he lost the battle of the champagne shower on the podium, but he didn't care. He had won the battle that mattered. In taking his first ever F3 victory, in front of 60,000 people, he couldn't have chosen a better place.