Weather: Yes. Lots. At Spa this afternoon Adriano Buzaid (T-Sport) gave his team their second International Class win of the year after coping with everything that the Ardennes weather gods could throw at him (which was pretty much everything ...
Weather: Yes. Lots.
At Spa this afternoon Adriano Buzaid (T-Sport) gave his team their second International Class win of the year after coping with everything that the Ardennes weather gods could throw at him (which was pretty much everything including the kitchen sink) to win from championship leader Daniel Ricciardo (Carlin Motorsport). 3rd went to Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing) after his team-mate Renger van der Zande mysteriously lost pace on the last lap to let the Austrian through. In the National Class Gabriel Dias (T-Sport) also won, making it a good day to be a Brazilian in the T- Sport team. Daniel McKenzie was 2nd after losing an early lead to the treacherous conditions, while Esteban Gutierrez (ART Grand Prix) was the only survivor of the five Invitation Class cars that started the event.
It was always likely that the weather would play a significant part in this event, and so it would prove. As they lined up on the grid everyone was on slick tyres, which had looked like a sensible idea when they left the collecting area. By the time the formation lap started, it wasn't looking at all sensible as the heavens opened. The organisers stopped them on the grid and declared a wet race. More significantly they also declared that the race start would be delayed by 10 minutes, which would give everyone plenty of time to switch to wet weather tyres. So everyone proceeded to do just that. Except that it then stopped raining after about five minutes. The result was a mad flurry as everyone then swapped back to slicks, with two exceptions. Those exceptions were both Invitation Class runners, Jake Rosenzweig (Carlin Motorsport) and Nico Marroc (Racing Experience). It might turn out to be a move of inspired genius or they could be about to end up looking incredibly stupid. Only time would tell.
At the start Buzaid made the most of his pole position to pull into the lead with Ricciardo following him. Behind the leading two though it all went extremely pear-shaped very quickly. By some miracle they all made it through Eau Rouge, even with van der Zande making a mad lunge at Wayne Boyd (T-Sport), but the trouble started soon after that. Carlos Huertas (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) then attempted to get past Boyd at Les Combes, while Henry Arundel (Carlin Motorsport) was all over Grubmuller. Meanwhile Daisuke Nakajima (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) had a bit of an off at Pouhon. Meanwhile, Rosenzweig seemed to be in trouble with a gaggle of cars all backed up behind him and all desperately trying to make up ground. You couldn't call something that unruly a train! Needless to say that was where the trouble broke out, with Stephane Richelmi (Barazi Epsilon) losing control in the midst of all of it. By the time he was done, Rosenzweig and Marroc - both on wets of course on a rapidly drying track - were out on the spot as well, while Valtteri Bottas (ART Grand Prix) was able to limp back to the pits with a badly damaged rear wheel. Just as well his young team- mate Gutierrez had made a blinding start from 24th and last and was now 12th after just one laps. It was absolutely chaotic out there.
A lap later and van der Zande made a move on Huertas, which unsettled the Colombian so much that he wobbled off and back on at the complex. He got going again but it had cost him an awful lot of time and ten places! Meanwhile McKenzie was leading the National Class comfortably - or at least he would have been comfortable were it not for the fact that there were ART cars coming up behind him. Meanwhile, Boyd was still in trouble, the youngster sliding off and dropping behind Christodoulou by the time he'd sorted everything out and got himself pointing the right way. And that meant he had Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3/Bridger Motorsport) all over him now. He was having quite the afternoon. Behind them, Grubmuller, Arundel and Max Chilton (Carlin Motorsport) were battling fiercely for position, and at this stage it was going the way of Grubmuller, especially after Arundel rattled off the track at Stavelot and rattled back on again at the back of the trio.
A lap later and Buzaid ran wide, allowing Ricciardo to catch up and swarm all over the back of him. On the run up from Eau Rouge the Australian squeezed through but Buzaid wasn't letting anyone spoil his race. He wanted his first win, and at les Combes he fought back, getting back ahead of Ricciardo. Behind the two of them van der Zande was currently having a quiet enough time of it, although Christodoulou was catching him quite rapidly. Boyd, on the other hand, was not having quiet time and now had Bridger and Grubmuller all over him. In fact he was starting to build his own train of cars which stretched all the way back to Gutierrez in 11th. It couldn't last and it didn't, Bridger coming through at les Combes in a typical F3 overtaking move. However, he then went wide which was all the opportunity Boyd needed. They were side by side after that, but in the end Bridger just had the speed to hold on to the place. It could have been worse but wasn't because behind the two of them Grubmuller was having all sorts of trouble holding off Chilton. However, Boyd's resulting loss of ground was enough to drop him into their clutches, and at the Bus Stop Grubmuller hacked past him. And even then the pressure didn't let up, because now there was Chilton and Arundel. At the same time, just ahead of them, Christodoulou was now right with van der Zande for 3rd and appeared to really, really want that place.
As if all that excitement wasn't enough it suddenly started to rain again and it was coming down hard now. This was going to get interesting. The teams were on standby in the pits with wet weather tyres, but you really don't want to have to do a pit stop in an F3 race, not when the race is only half an hour. It was going to be interesting to see how well the various drivers coped (or didn't) with running on slick tyres in very wet conditions. Someone we wouldn't be seeing cope was Bridger, as he was now running very slowly and eventually coasted to a halt with a broken driveshaft out on the track at Eau Rouge. Luckily he wasn't in the way so a Safety Car was not needed. The rain did play into the hands of Arundel, as he once again looked for a way past Boyd, going round the outside while Chilton attempted to get up the inside. Arundel was successful, but Chilton couldn't quite do it without running out of road. The National Class was still in the grip of McKenzie, who had now barged ahead of Gutierrez, meaning that the Invitation Class leader had just been taken by a National Class man. It probably wasn't what ART had been hoping for when they accepted the invitation to compete. It was at this point they also seemed to decide they had nothing to lose now, and called both Jules Bianchi (who, having stalled on the grid, was running along way back considering he's one of the Euroseries front runners) and Gutierrez in for wet weather tyres. Victor Garcia (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) also came in for wets, but as he was a lap behind at this stage it didn't matter that much, and Double R also called Kevin Chen in for a tyre change. The only other driver to pit for tyres was Boyd.
The leaders weren't going to come in unless they had absolutely no choice and Buzaid was still leading with Ricciardo seemingly content to let him rather than risk everything for a win. Van der Zande in 3rd was suddenly all over the place, after a major moment, which led to a clash with Christodoulou. Van der Zande survived in 3rd place, while the Fortec driver was off at La Source with broken suspension. His body language as he stomped away from the car made it crystal clear what he thought of the incident.
And then the weather shifted yet again, the raining stopping as abruptly as it had come. The improved weather justified the majority decision to stay out and not pit, but it came too late to help some people, most notably Victor Correa (Litespeed F3), the Brazilian going off and ending up deep in the gravel. He sat there for a while furiously spinning his wheels in an effort to get back out but only succeeded in digging himself deeper in.
Meanwhile, the National Class lead had changed hands after leader McKenzie got tangled up in a battle with Huertas and Gutierrez and ended up losing his lead to Dias after Huertas barged past the Englishman. He later came back at Gutierrez but wasn't able to do anything about reclaiming his lead. Dias was now in firm possession of the National Class lead and that was that. It was all over.
It was a long way from over in the International Class, especially if Arundel and Chilton had anything to do with it. Arundel was now towing Chilton along and for a moment or two they seemed to have forgotten they drive for the same team (do what you like but don't hit your team mate is the golden rule). Meanwhile, the wet shod runners were now having their own battle, with Boyd attempting to pass Bianchi and Gutierrez if he possibly could. With it raining still - though nowhere near as much - the wet shod runners were that much faster. However, the track was starting to dry out again, which meant that the front runners soon speeded up again, so much so that they were soon lapping backmarkers. This led to a truly heart-stopping moment as Buzaid came up hard and fast behind Chen. The Taiwanese appeared utterly oblivious to the fact that the leaders were upon him and showed no inclination to make way. It was some time and several corers before Buzaid was able to get through, and the Ricciardo was faced with the same problem. Luckily Chen suddenly woke up and smelled the coffee and Ricciardo too was through.
And with two laps left the sun came out and Bianchi celebrated by spinning off. That was the final straw for the Frenchman and he pulled into the pits and got out of the car a lap later. He wasn't the only one to have a moment and Boyd took to the grass at les Combes, only to recover and slot back in to 14th. And then, with a lap to go, van der Zande suddenly and mysteriously hit problems and had to let Grubmuller, who is of course the Dutchman's team-mate (and the son of the team owner) through. After doing the same thing last weekend at Donington, this seems like too much of a coincidence to be anything but team orders, which really should have no place in this series.
There might be team orders at Hitech but there clearly aren't at Carlin as was obvious from the way that Arundel and Chilton were still battling it out as they crossed the line on the very final lap, both of them having driven well in difficult conditions. They could both be very pleased with their efforts. However, no one was as pleased as Buzaid, the Brazilian dedicating his first win to the memory of his friend Henry Surtees who lost his life at Brands Hatch last weekend. Coming home in 2nd to increase his lead in the points table to 37 was Ricciardo, from Grubmuller, van der Zande, Arundel, Chilton, Huertas, Nakajima, Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing) and Invitation Class winner Gutierrez. 11th was Dias, taking National Class honours, from Boyd, McKenzie, Philip Major (Carlin Motorsport), Chen and Garcia.
Fastest laps of the race went to Huertas, McKenzie and Bianchi.
Next Rounds: Silverstone, Northamptonshire, August 15th/16th 2009.