The International Formula Master championship, running a one-make chassis developed by Tatuus, and powered by 2 litre engines supplied by Heini Mader Racing Components, is a new development for this season. It's part of the highly entertaining World Touring Car Championship programme, and at Brands Hatch today, despite a dominant performance by series leader Jerome D'Ambrosio (Cram Competition) of Belgium, it provided a highly entertaining recovery drive from 15th on the grid on the part of Chris van der Drift (J. D. Motorsport), the Dutch Kiwi just missing out on a podium position and proving that you can actually overtake at Brands Hatch, provided you're brave enough.
Even before the race started there were signs of drama in the pit lane, with Kasper Andersen (J. D. Motorsport) looking unlikely to actually start the race, never mind complete it. After an overnight engine rebuild the Dane must have been wondering what on earth was happening when he started revving the engine in the pitlane, only to have massive clouds of white smoke billow out of the exhaust. People were muttering about left over oil burning off from the exhaust, but it didn't look that way from just behind the S2000. Still, he rolled out onto the grid, hoping that the engine wouldn't let go again.
At the start, D'Ambrosio showed no sign of difficulties in getting away into the lead from pole, while Michael Meadows (Euronova Racing) crept before the start, and gave away any chance he might have had of improving on 4th place. Behind the rapid Belgian, however, Frankie Provenzano (ADM Motorsport) and Andersen were scrapping over 5th place, while Norbert Siedler (ADM Motorsport) was in hot pursuit of Salvatore Gatto (Promotorsport) for 2nd. Meanwhile, van der Drift made a good start to grab 10th by the end of the first lap. It remained to be seen what he could do in the course of the 23 minute race.
It also remained to be seen whether anyone could do anything about D'Ambrosio, who was now breaking away from the pursuing pack. A little further back. Luca Persiani (Scuderia Fama) made a dive up the inside of Pablo Sanchez Lopez (Alan Racing), for 8th, only to find that van der Drift was trying to get past the Mexican too. It didn't quite come off, and van der Drift settled in temporarily.
Elsewhere, the man who started alongside him, Juho Annala (Jenzer Motorsport) was busy plummeting down the order, dropping to last and staggering into the pits. Someone who wasn't showing signs of pitting yet was Andersen, who set about recording the fastest lap of the race so far. You could only wonder how long he could last.
Anyway, things were progressing nicely when Siedler tried a move on Gatto into Paddock, and Meadows joined in, only to spin out at Surtees, ripping the rear wing off. In addition, Nicolas Maulini (Iris Project) managed to spin at Druids, ending up last, just as the Safety Car picked up the field so that Meadows could be recovered.
The order behind the Safety Car was D'Ambrosio, leading from Gatto, Siedler, Provenzano, Andersen, Arturo Llobell (Cram Competition), Sanchez Lopez, van der Drift, Rodolfo Avila (Cram Competition) and Johnny Cecotto Jr. (Ombra Racing). 11th was Pierre Ragues (Euronova Racing), ahead of Marcello Puglisi (Promotorsport), Nick de Bruijn (ISR), Sami Isohella (Euronova Racing). Giuseppe Terranova (Alan Racing), Michele Caliendo (ADM Motorsport), Oliver Campos Hull (Iris Project), Rahel Frey (Jenzer Motorsport), Massimo Torre (Scuderia Famà) and Alberto Costa (Euronova Racing). 21st was Claudio Cantelli Jr (J.D. Motorsport), ahead of Dominick Muermans (Ombra Racing), Mattia Pavoni (Promotorsport) who had started last after failing to set a proper qualifying time, and Maulini.
It took three laps to get the wreckage cleared, and at least Annala managed to rejoin and catch up the back of the field. With the race now live again for around 25 minutes, D'Ambrosio controlled things beautifully, thoroughly enjoying himself round the tricky Kentish corners, even if he did describe it as being "like being at Walt Disney". Mind you, he also reckoned afterwards that parts of the track were like "Eau Rouge the wrong way round," so he may not be the sanest judge of things. Once the dust settled, van der Drift was now 8th, which was very much to his benefit. If he stayed there he would start the race on Sunday from pole. However, he clearly didn't feel inclined to do any such thing. He immediately set about Sanchez again, trying to squeeze past at Surtees but not quite making it. Meanwhile, ahead of him, Andersen and Llobell were slugging it out at close quarters, with the bespectacled Spaniard trying everything he could think of to get through.
At the sharp end, D'Ambrosio was simply streaking away, setting a series of fastest laps and looking very much like a man intending to wrap up the title this weekend if he possibly can. Other people were simply wrapping up their chances of a result, among them Terranova, who found a way past Isohella, only to then have to pit because his front wing was no longer attached to the nose but was instead stuck underneath the S2000's front end. He would pit, which was what de Bruijn should have done too, the Dutchman now lacking a properly attached rear wing. He was trying to ignore it, but the officials thought otherwise and would eventually call him in using the orange and black flag. There was further change when Llobell lost out to Sanchez, and van der Drift went with him, gaining another place in his bid to get on the podium. The trouble was that in front of him Gatto, Siedler, Provenzano and Andersen were now locked into a four-way fight for 3rd place, and Sanchez and van der Drift were now on the back of the 16- wheeler that was developing.
There was another attack of unscheduled exits, when Costa went off up the inside at Druids and ended up backwards in gravel on the outside of the track, while Torre went off at Westfield and just missed being collected by a number of other competitors. The next to fall off was Avila, but the Macanese only bounced across the grass after having a go at Cecotto and failing to pull the move off. Considering their relative experience levels (Avila knows Brands, Cecotto doesn't), it should probably have gone the other way round, but with Avila there's no telling.This time, however, he was able to recover well enough and slotted in on the tail of Llobell and Cecotto, the three of them now very close together, at least until Avila had to pit.
Anyway, someone else making a mistake was Sanchez, who slowed enough to let van der Drift come through. That was all he needed - he now set off after Andersen, who was amazingly still running. With warnings of debris on the track at Druids, it was beginning to get a little treacherous out there. However, that didn't stop van der Drift from playing catch up and he was soon right with Andersen. It didn't take him long to deal with the Dane, (who pulled off shortly afterwards anyway) and he was now 5th. Not bad as he'd started from 15th. And he wasn't finished yet. Provenzano was now in his sights and it looked like 4th could be possible. A brave move round the outside at Hawthorn Bend and he was through. And that left a potential podium place within reach.
While Siedler tried to get by Gatto at the Paddock run in, van der Drift was catching them up at an alarming rate, gaining a second a lap on the squabbling duo. It wasn't long before he was looming large in Siedler's mirrors, meaning that with 4 laps left the Austrian had to stop trying to find a way past the Italian, and start finding ways to keep the Dutchman at bay. Gatto was probably very pleased at this development, even though D'Ambrosio was so far off in the distance now that no one was going to catch him. With two laps to go, van der Drift tried to go outside Siedler on the way to Westfield. It didn't work, and he fell back slightly, but on the final lap, he'd caught up again and was 0.2 seconds behind the 3rd placed man. A desperate last lap lunge at Druids didn't come off, and van der Drift would have to settle for a well-earned 4th place, while D'Ambrosio romped home to an unchallenged win, ahead of Gatto and Siedler. 5th was Provenzano, from Sanchez Lopez, Llobell, Cecotto Jr, Puglisi and Ragues. 11th was Isohella, leading home Caliendo, Frey, Campos Hull, Muermans, Cantelli Jr, Maulini, Pavoni, Annala and Avila.