Matt Rao finished the 20-minute race in 3rd place.
At Donington Park this afternoon Hongwei “Martin” Cao (Fortec Motorsport) moved a step closer to claiming the 2014 title with the closest of wins over Max Marshall (Double R Racing), while Cao’s rival for the title, Matt Rao (Fortec Motorsport) finished the 20-minute race in 3rd place, claiming the fastest lap of the race on his way to what was a fine recovery drive.
The reason Rao was forced to put on such a show lay in what happened at the start. As Cao powered off the grid and away into the lead, Rao, alongside him on the front row, stalled. He eventually got going, but by then the other four cars were disappearing round Redgate and the youngster found himself with a lot of work to do if he wanted to keep his championship hopes alive.
Cao was already comfortably ahead of Marshall, the latter appearing to start out of position to claim 2nd. Either it was a trick of the light or the officials didn’t notice, but no penalty was forthcoming, so Marshall continued on his way, while at the back Rao was pushing to recover from his initial error.
Setting the first of what would turn out to be several fastest laps of the race, Rao began to claw his way back into contention. An 8-second gap was soon reduced to 6 and before long he could see the rear wing of Li Zhi Cong’s (Carlin) car more clearly and more closely by the lap. By lap six he was on the Chinese driver’s gearbox and it didn’t take him long to get past to claim 4th place.
Shortly after that Camren Kaminsky (Double R Racing) was in his sights, the latter running close to Marshall. A lap later and Kaminsky ran out of road at the Esses and spun out of contention, letting Rao up to 3rd by the end of lap 8. Meanwhile, Marshall was busy closing the gap to Cao, but also now having to keep a wary eye on the other red and white car in his mirrors.
With time running out, the gap Cao had established over Marshall began to evaporate, with Marshall, despite a self-proclaimed lack of race fitness, closing hand over fist on the leader. Behind him Rao was still slamming in fastest lap after fastest lap, and the gap between 2nd and 3rd was closing just as fast as that between the leader and the second placed man.
Cao briefly rallied to set a new fastest lap of his own, but Rao responded by going even faster, reducing the gap to Marshall to just under a second. Admittedly along with his new fastest lap he also got a warning for exceeding track limits, but provided he didn’t do it again he looked like he’d be home and dry, and he might also manage to snatch 2nd from Marshall.
However, time was against everyone except Cao, the chequered flag falling at the 20-minute mark, just as Marshall had closed the gap to under a second (in fact to 0.863 seconds), with Rao about the same distance behind the Double R car. Cao was the winner, increasing his championship lead but not giving him the title yet, while Marshall was delighted with 2nd. Rao, 3rd and still in with a mathematical shot at the title if Cao has a bad day tomorrow, simply looked resigned.
Behind them, Kaminsky was caught by Li on the last lap and lost 4th to the Carlin driver almost within sight of the flag. Li starts tomorrow morning’s race from pole after Cao drew 4 to decide the point at which the finish order today is reversed to form the grid and it is all still to play for tomorrow, with Rao starting from the front row and Cao from the second row.
Fastest lap of the race went to Rao.
Race 1 Results:
1st – No. 57, Martin Cao, CHN, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 14 laps, 20:02.845
2nd – No. 18, Max Marshall, GBR, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, gap 0.863
3rd – No. 7, Matt Rao, GBR, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, gap 1.911
4th – No. 1, Li Zhi Cong, CHN, Carlin, Dallara F308, Volkswagen, gap 30.751
5th – No. 34, Camren Kaminsky, USA, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, gap 31.539
Race 2 Grid:
1st – No. 34, Camren Kaminsky, USA, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes
2nd – No. 7, Matt Rao, GBR, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes
3rd – No. 18, Max Marshall, GBR, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes
4th – No. 57, Martin Cao, CHN, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes
5th – No. 1, Li Zhi Cong, CHN, Carlin, Dallara F308, Volkswagen