Race Report - Round 2: Weather: Cool, sunny, messy track after BTCC sprint race. The question in everyone's mind this time was whether James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport), sitting on pole for the second time this weekend, could actually get it...
Race Report - Round 2: Weather: Cool, sunny, messy track after BTCC sprint race.
The question in everyone's mind this time was whether James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport), sitting on pole for the second time this weekend, could actually get it off the line fast enough to win the race this time. After Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) got the drop on the Aussie in the first race, he wouldn't be too pleased if it happened again. The field of 30 cars took up position, the lights turned green and again Kerr got the better of Courtney. And just to rub it in, so did Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International). The Frenchman made a terrific getaway from third on the grid and simply out-dragged Courtney into Paddock and up into second place. However, it was all pretty academic as they had barely got up to Druids when the red flags were hung out for a restart. There was chaos on the grid. Fortec Motorsport's Heikki Kovalainen stalled as the lights went green. His teammate Fabio Carbone tried to avoid the Finn and in so doing stalled himself. Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing), starting from a long way back, arrived to find the stricken Brazilian in his way and couldn't avoid him. None of this explains the tyre mark on the nose of Kovalainen's car, but that seemed to be the only damage he sustained. The other two were not so fortunate. They were both out of the race immediately and although they were both unhurt the resulting debris was spread over a wide area of the grid. Everyone who could would take the new start and the two non-qualifiers would be let out as first and second reserves. Which was fortunate for Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing), as he had not managed a lap in qualifying when his car's fuel line failed before he could even leave the pits. Billy Asaro in the other Sweeney car was not so fortunate. When his engineer was examining his car after Round 1, the team discovered that the tub was cracked. So even though he was first reserve, he would not be able to start the race. He wasn't too happy about that, needless to say.
After a very long break while the race officials tried to get the grid clean enough to try again, the remaining 29 cars lined up with Carroll at the very back. Courtney was getting another chance. Would it be third time lucky? Well, no, it wouldn't. Jouanny had seen what it looked like in front of Courtney and he wanted to be there. The lights again when green and this time Jouanny squeezed through on the inside to take the lead away from both Courtney and Kerr. Kerr tried to follow and was close to making it stick when Courtney collected himself together enough to shut the door on the Englishman. Kovalainen, to whom nothing seemed to stick, got it off the line on the second time of asking, while this time Giandomenico Brusatin (Menu Motorsport) was the one in trouble, getting away dead last. He was obviously in trouble long before he got to Dingle Dell where his weekend turned into a complete nightmare. The resulting crash made a dreadful mess of his car and when Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport) also joined in, it was time to get the Safety Car out. One or two people would be grateful for the resulting 2-lap respite (the first three laps under Safety Car conditions do not count towards the race distance, so the race, which had been shortened by two laps as a result of the aborted start, was now back to 20 laps). Kovalainen, now known as the Teflon Finn, was having all sorts of trouble holding off Robert Dahlgren (Duma Racing), and Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport) was just about to make a move to get past Ernani Judice (Promatecme International) when the yellow flags sprouted everywhere. They all settled into formation and trailed round in an orderly manner while the used car park at Dingle Dell was cleared to make room for anyone else who might want to park there! When the Safety Car pulled off into the pits Jouanny again made a copybook start, holding his lead despite Courtney's efforts. There then followed a race long battle with Jouanny not daring to make a mistake and Courtney trying to pressure him into one, while at the same time he was having to hold off Kerr. While Jouanny drove brilliantly to hang on to his lead despite immense pressure, some of what went on behind him was more than slightly questionable, with Courtney resorting to some vicious blocking in the closing stages of the race in order to hold Kerr off. Courtney did himself no favours with his tactics on lap 15 and could expect to get the same sort of treatment should the situation be reversed, were it not for the fact that Kerr seems too relaxed to resort to such behaviour. The worst part of it is that Courtney knows better - and is a better driver than that, but the pressure he is under at present may not be doing him any good at all. Kerr and ADR team manager Paul Anthony viewed the video footage with the race officials, but the Stewards decided to take no action. However, Courtney can expect no quarter from Kerr from now on. As a result of all of this the second and third placed drivers began to fall back into the clutches of Judice, who would have loved to be able to join his teammate Jouanny on the podium. It was perhaps fortunate that Judice also had his hands full with Taylor. In a replay of Round 1, Taylor was behind the Brazilian all the way (when he wasn't almost alongside him!) and he wasn't ready to concede until they passed the chequered flag. And if it all went wrong, Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) was keeping a cool head as he had in Round 1; sitting just far enough back from the squabbling duo, he was maintaining a watching brief until he saw his opportunity. When it came he started to harass Taylor and so the duo became a trio in a copy of what was happening ahead of them.
When they all seemed to be settling down there was a sudden attack of yellows at Paddock Hill Bend on lap 6 when Shinya Hosokawa (Carlin Motorsport) shot across the gravel trap and came to rest, the engine steaming gently, up against the barrier. Perhaps this is God's way of telling Trevor Carlin that he should only be running a two-car team and not a four-car team! After all, only two of them survived Round 1 and the same thing was happening again. Whatever the case, seeing Hosokawa in the gravel seemed to calm some of the others down a little.
The Scandinavian battle had dispersed somewhat with Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport) settling in to 7th place, with a healthy gap between himself and teammate Richard Antinucci. This was probably because Antinucci had Alan van der Merwe (Carlin) sitting right on his rear wing for most of the race, while the South African was trying to avoid falling prey to Kovalainen, his sparring partner from Round 1. Kovalainen, on the other hand, was in no position to challenge van der Merwe unless he wanted to fall foul of Robert Dahlgren (Duma). There was no way on earth the Finn was going to let a Swede pass him! And so it would prove. For most of the race Dahlgren was trying to keep the Scholarship Class leader Clivio Piccione (T-Sport) at bay. It would prove a rather costly exercise in the end. It might have worked out for Clivio if the Monegasque had not had troubles of his own. Adam Carroll, after being let into the race as a reserve driver was making the most of his opportunity. He had charged up through the field, setting a number of fastest laps and with less than a quarter distance to go was rapidly closing on Piccione. With Dahlgren holding him up, there was little Piccione could do to stave off Carroll as the Sweeney Racing driver produced the drive of the day. If he was lucky, Piccione might survive the inevitable attack. What he couldn't survive was another car suddenly slowing in front of him. Having to take avoiding action, Clivio spun out allowing Carroll through to victory. It made up for his luck running so much against him in Round 1 though Piccione will undoubtedly challenge strongly before the season gets much older. This time Gavin Smith (Meritus) picked up second in class (14th overall) while Jesper Carlsen (Essencial Motorsport) was 3rd, his second podium placing moving him to a points lead in the class. Scattered between them were Dahlgren, who coasted to a halt on the slowing down lap, Tom Sisley (Motaworld) and Tor Graves (Alan Docking Racing). The final championship Class positions went to Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing) in 17th, and Stefano Fabi (Avanti), while Fabi's team-mate, Matthew Gilmore in the only Ralt in the field retired a lap from the end after a suspension failure.
Off the podium but in the points in the Scholarship Class was Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing Europe) who came home just ahead of Karun Chandhok (T-Sport). In a distant 6th was Diego Romanini (Scuderia Etruria), who had a lonely race not really seeing any action. Harold Primat (Diamond Racing) was the last runner to complete the full race distance while Piccione salvaged something from his afternoon when he was classified 7th in class. Three points were better than nothing. A further lap down was the last classified runner, Stephen Colbert (Team Park).
The fastest lap in the Championship Class went to Courtney, to put him on equal points with Kerr.
It was an intriguing start to the season and it raised more questions than it answered. Donington in two weeks time will be very interesting.