Silverstone qualifying and race report

FIA International Formula 3000 Championship 1998 Round 4, Silverstone, May 16 by Stella Maria Thomas Changes: Rui Aguas moves to Coloni. "At least they all speak English here," was the only comment we could get from him on the ...

FIA International Formula 3000 Championship 1998 Round 4, Silverstone, May 16 by Stella Maria Thomas

Changes:

Rui Aguas moves to Coloni. "At least they all speak English here," was the only comment we could get from him on the subject.

Practice:

In a reverse of what happened with the British F3 practice sessions, the majority of the best laps in the F3000 practice came in the 2nd session, after everyone had taken a good look at the track and the GT cars had been out, leaving all sorts of rubber and oil around. Odd that. Even odder were claims by a number of drivers that traffic had spoiled their run. With 35 cars out on the full circuit, it was the same for everyone. If Juan Pablo Montoya could find enough space, it seemed likely to expect that the others could too. The Colombian looked relaxed in the extreme all weekend, charging round the paddock on a paddock bike giving people lifts here, there and everywhere and hanging out with his flatmate (and partner-in-mischief) Brian Smith. A sign of just how relaxed Montoya was came when he set pole in what looked like an effortless manner, getting into the 1.38s, only Heidfeld of the other 34 being able to get near him.

Heidfeld on the other hand looked to be feeling the pressure. It may be proving too much at present for the German who comes from F3 with one hell of a reputation to live up to and is now busy building himself a reputation for the occasional rash move. Even so, he took a fine 2nd slot.

One man very annoyed by his inability to get a clear lap in the first session was Gareth Rees, his first run leaving him in 19th place and not at all happy. However, by the end of the second session he was all smiles, having grabbed fourth on the grid just behind his team-mate, the irrepressible Jason Watt. The Dane with the startlingly orange hair was more than happy to be up at the front, though he would have preferred Nick Heidfeld not to bump him down a place to third.

Behind this foursome, Gaston Mazzacane was showing strongly, not what anyone would have expected from him after last year when he seemed to spend a lot of time getting tangled up with Stephen Watson. He was joined on the third row by Max Wilson, the tiny Brazilian also having a poor first session (18th at the end of it). A chat with Luciano Burti seemed to help, the PSR F3 driver no doubt being able to offer some useful advice to his friend.

Bruno Junqueira, who was to provide one of the drives of the race was another to improve from the first session, pulling himself up to 7th, just ahead of Nicolas Minassian who was another in a very relaxed frame of mind. The Frenchman seemed to be running in a new haircut, which was causing a certain amount of alarm in his friends, but otherwise he was pleased to be back in England. In ninth at the end of Friday was Gonzalo Rodriguez, looking much fitter and therefore much faster than he did at the end of last year. Now he is taking his fitness very seriously, and presumably, also his racing, he is beginning to get the results he deserves. It's fair to say that back in F3 he often showed a massive turn of speed but getting round corners safely seemed to give him problems. All that is behind him now, it seems although his claims that his fellow competitors are all mad and he's the only sane one should be treated with scepticism! The top 10 was rounded out by Giovanni Montanari.

Further back was Brian Smith who would no doubt have liked to be nearer his flatmate. If Smith was unhappy in 12th, just behind Morelli, Kurt Mollekens must have been mortified to be so far back in 14th. The Belgian knows this circuit well, and he came to this round leading the series. He would be lucky to score points from back there. He was under no illusions about pole position, claiming "Its already been sold. We can only go for 2nd," but halfway back was not what he had in mind. Even so, he seemed as cool as ever.

Jonny Kane, on the other hand, was barely speaking to anyone, having qualified 18th on his home territory. Even the thought of getting home to Northampton that night and finding all his laundry done and ironed (thanks to his mother, Alice) couldn't lift the gloom that had descended. Strangely cheerful under the circumstances, Oliver Martini was smiling and making phone calls. He all but admitted that he and the team weren't too sure where they were going with the car and the experiment they tried in second practice failed, but Oliver wasn't especially worried. He has been through some truly awful times in underfunded F3 cars and seemed happy to have got this far on his limited funds. Another man short of funds, though never of an opinion, is Kevin McGarrity and he believed the team needed more personnel, specifically an experienced engineer. He also knew he wasn't going to get one, so he just carried on with the job, qualifying 31st. As the organisers had declared that only 30 cars would start, that should have been it for the Irishman. However, the circuit is licensed to run more than 30 cars so the stewards declared that everyone would start. This saved Walfisch and de Galzain from a non-start. It also allowed Vinella and Battistuzzi to take the start, these two suffering this season from a lack of experience. Neither of them has done F3 and it shows.

Of course, without the red flag that halted the second session with around five laps left to run, the grid could have looked rather different. With an out lap of around 2 minutes that meant there was only one chance left and the tyres would hardly be at their best. What followed was possibly not representative of some drivers at their best. However, that is the sort of thing that happens in motor racing and they would have to live with it.

Qualifying: 1st No. 1, Juan Pablo Montoya, Super Nova Racing Ltd, 1:38.602 2nd No. 30, Nick Heidfeld, West Competition Team, 1:38.910 3rd No. 3, Jason Watt, Den Bla Avis, 1:39.162 4th No. 4, Gareth Rees, Den Bla Avis, 1:39.198 5th No. 11, Gaston Mazzacane, Team Astromega, 1:39.476 6th No. 5, Max Wilson, Edenbridge Racing, 1:39.487 7th No. 14, Bruno Junqueira, Draco Engineering SRL, 1:39.539 8th No. 31, Nicolas Minassian, West Competition Team, 1:39.550 9th No. 12, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Team Astromega, 1:39.604 10th No. 15, Giovanni Montanari, Draco Engineering SRL, 1:39.674 11th No. 9, Dino Morelli, Autosport Racing, 1:39.806 (1st session) 12th No. 17, Brian Smith, Nordic Racing Ltd, 1:39.819 13th No. 32, Alex Mueller, RTL Team Oreca F3000, 1:39.870 14th No. 23, Kurt Mollekens, Arden KTR, 1:39.887 (1st session) 15th No. 2, Boris de Richebourg, Super Nova Racing Ltd, 1:39.921 16th No. 33, Dominik Schwager, RTL Team Oreca F3000, 1:39.997 17th No. 21, Soheil Ayari, Durango Formula, 1:40.002 (1st session) 18th No. 24, Jonny Kane, Redmann Bright F3000, 1:40.098 19th No. 7, Jamie Davies, DAMS, 1:40.374 20th No. 34, Andre Couto, Prema Powerteam SRL, 1:40.380 21st No. 25, Mark Shaw, Redmann Bright F3000, 1:40.477 22nd No. 20, Bertrand Godin, Durango Formula, 1:40.483 23rd No. 19, Rui Aguas, Coloni Motorsport, 1:40.486 24th No. 35, Paolo Ruberti, Prema Powerteam SRL, 1:40.538 25th No. 28, Stephane Sarrazin, Apomatox, 1:40.565 26th No. 22, Christian Horner, Arden, 1:40.568 (1st session) 27th No. 36, Cyrille Sauvage, GP Racing, 1:40.568 28th No. 6, Werner Lupberger, Edenbridge Racing, 1:40.708 29th No. 10, Oliver Martini, Auto Sport Racing, 1:40.765 30th No. 38, Fabrizio Gollin, GS SRL, 1:40.951 31st No. 37, Kevin McGarrity, Raceprep Motorsports, 1:40.994 32nd No. 16, Fabrice Walfisch, Nordic Racing Ltd, 1:41.124 33rd No. 18, Giorgio Vinella, Coloni Motorsport, 1:41.293 34th No. 29, Marcelo Battistuzzi, Apomatox, 1:41.588 35th No. 8, Gregoire de Galzain, DAMS, 1:42.048 (1st session)

Race:

At the green light, Montoya wasn't messing around. He made a storming start, setting off into the distance almost before the others had realised it was time to go. Heidfeld tried to keep pace but there was no stopping the Colombian and the young German settled down to what was to be a very lonely race in second. He had a brief moment of excitement when a piece of protective bodywork got loose and he had to disentangle himself. Otherwise, it was a very quiet afternoon.

Rees also got away well, getting the drop on Watt and muscling up into third ahead of the Dane. He might have hoped that he could get away from his team-mate after that but there was no such luck. However, before anyone could make much of a break for freedom, Cyrille Sauvage and Marcelo Battistuzzi tangled on lap 5 and were left stranded. The pace car had to come out and everyone bunched up behind it for two laps.

As soon as the incident was cleared, Watt began his fight back, diving up the side of Rees whenever the opportunity presented itself and generally harassing the Englishman. The two of them fought it out for several laps until Watt forced a small mistake at Copse. He was through into third and then Gareth returned the favour, making the Dane suffer for the rest of the race. He just wouldn't give up, showing a terrier-like persistence as he tried time and again to get past. One can only assume that team boss David Sears has issued no orders to his team apart from telling them not to run into each other. Probably the only thing that saved Watt from a severe savaging was the fact that Max Wilson quickly joined in the fight and so Rees couldn't give all his attention to what was going on ahead because he was having to defend himself from the Brazilian. At half distance Wilson mounted a determined attack but then had to back off because he had to defend his own place.

With such a major scrap going on, it wasn't long before Gaston Mazzacane also joined in and eventually a high-speed train was going round the circuit as far back as 9th place. There was further excitement in this group with Rodriguez repeatedly trying to pass Minassian for seventh. And Gonzo repeatedly held him off. "He was a real pain," said Rodriguez afterwards. "At least it wasn't for points. I'd have been very annoyed then. But no, I have to say he drove a bloody good race. It's just that he was in front of me!" Just behind them, Mollekens was making progress having got a stunning start. He was up to ninth by the end of the third lap and was determined to get in the points if he could. Unfortunately for him he suddenly found himself at the back of the train and that was the end of his progress. He would gain a place five laps from the end when Rodriguez suddenly found himself without steering and had to retire, much to Minassian's relief. Having gained a place, Mollekens nearly lost it again. The sensation of the race had been Bruno Junqueira, the Brazilian making an awful start followed by a major charge to gain lost ground. Having escaped from the clump fighting for 11th (of which more later), he se6 about catching the leading group and was soon giving Mollekens a very hard time. With two laps to go he staged a do-or-die charge and very nearly demoted the Belgian. As a result, Kurt had to really fight back and the two were nose-to-tail as they crossed the line for the last time.

For the spectator, much entertainment was provided by Brian Smith who had a train of his own for 11th place. He was under pressure from Alex Mueller and Jonny Kane and was driving possibly the widest F3000 car in the world. As a result, Mueller was getting very sideways and everyone else kept having to back off. It was unlikely to win him most popular man of the meeting award and it would obviously not work forever but it was effective while it lasted. Mueller finally got through on lap 26 and soon left the rest of them behind. Jonny Kane was next to try, and in his case he came to grief. Spinning off at Abbey, the Irishman was unable to collect himself together in time to stop the rest of the group going through. He would rejoin in 24th place, a poor reward for a sterling effort. Smith seemed to lose heart after this though and was soon passed by another three competitors. It had been fun to watch.

With a remarkably low rate of attrition to this point, Andre Couto suddenly assaulted the barriers and was out of the race. Meanwhile, McGarrity, the unluckiest Irishman in the world was left high and dry too after a collision with Mark Shaw. Kevin has a theory that he must have accidentally wiped out a family of leprechauns; how else to explain his atrocious luck. The British contingent had been reduced even further on lap 16 when Horner had gone off too and just to round off the retirement, Fabrice Walfisch hurled himself into the gravel with three laps to go.

Results: 1st Juan Pablo Montoya - Time 1.10:08.886, 40 laps, Speed 82.55 mph 2nd Nick Heidfeld - Gap: 12.906 3rd Jason Watt - Gap: 25.300 4th Gareth Rees - Gap: 26.278 5th Max Wilson - Gap: 26.613 6th Gaston Mazzacane - Gap: 30.758 7th Nicolas Minassian - Gap: 35.132 8th Kurt Mollekens - Gap: 35.462 9th Bruno Junqueira - Gap: 35.813 10th Dino Morelli - Gap: 47.336 11th Alex Mueller - Gap: 47.899 12th Boris de Richebourg - Gap: 48.326 13th Giovanni Montanari - Gap: 49.204 14th Dominik Schwager - Gap: 49.758 15th Brian Smith - Gap: 58.584 16th Jamie Davies - Gap: 59.992 17th Rui Aguas - Gap: 1:01.298 18th Werner Lupberger - Gap: 1:01.760 19th Bertrand Godin - Gap: 1:02.953 20th Jonny Kane - Gap: 1:15.519 21st Paolo Ruberti - Gap: 1:29.412 22nd Giorgio Vinella - Gap: 1:40.892 23rd Gregoire de Galzain - Gap: 1:41.141 24th Stephane Sarrazin - Gap: 1 lap 25th Fabrice Walfisch - Gap: 5 laps 26th Gonzalo Rodriguez - Gap: 5 laps - Steering failure 27th Oliver Martini - Gap: 8 laps - Spin

Not Classified: Andre Couto - Lap 26 - ? Fabrizio Gollin - Lap 26 - ? Christian Horner - Lap 16 Kevin McGarrity - Lap 9 Mark Shaw - Lap 9 Soheil Ayari - Lap 7 Marcelo Battistuzzi - Lap 6 Cyrille Sauvage - Lap 6 Fastest Lap: Montoya - Lap 2, 1.41. 366, speed 182.55 kph

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