Race Report: Weather: damp, standing water in places. There'd been a brief but torrential downpour about half an hour before the second F3 race of the day at Castle Combe (yes, the mid-Summer meeting, folks - don't you just love English...
Weather: damp, standing water in places.
There'd been a brief but torrential downpour about half an hour before the second F3 race of the day at Castle Combe (yes, the mid-Summer meeting, folks - don't you just love English weather?). It looked as if it would certainly rain again before the afternoon was out, but it had at least stopped some while back. Consequently everyone lined up on the grid with wets strapped on. One or two of the drivers seemed to be in two minds about this, but in the usual manner, if no one else was about to change tyres, then they wouldn't either, and you can see where that sort of thinking leads, can't you? Yep. No one was changing to slicks. To be fair, with about three minutes to go, someone at Piquet Sports took the decision that Nelson A Piquet would be better off on slicks, and so the mechanics went and got the tyres and returned to the start line with them, by which time it was way too late to bolt them on. It seemed somehow very Brazilian.
Right at the back of the grid, Bruce Jouanny was trying very hard to explain something to Promatecme F3's Vasilije Calasan. As various team members also joined in, it became obvious that he wasn't getting the message. Meanwhile, the track surface was starting to dry, but the multiple undulations (Danny Watts' word of the day!) were still full of rainwater. This had the look of a race that would probably end up being run behind the Safety Car for at least part of the 20-lap distance. Oh, and that rule had also changed again, with laps behind Safety Car no longer being added on to the scheduled distance (up to a maximum of three laps).
When the race finally started, and the starting gantry lights glowed red and then went out, both Adam Carroll and Ernesto Viso bogged down badly, both P1 drivers finding that Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport) was far more awake than them, and more to the point he was in the lead long before they went streaking into Quarry. Someone had a moment there, and though it was impossible to tell who it was in the giant ball of spray that constituted most of the field, it certainly wasn't any of the top three. In fact, when the dust - or should that be spray - finally cleared there was no one there, which was a bit odd.
The trouble, in fact, started a lap later for once. Fighting for 6th place behind Clivio Piccione (Carlin Motorsport), Piquet had a go at James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport) as the pair of them neared Camp. It all went wrong at that point, and the Brazilian's lilac-painted car speared off into the cornfield opposite the pits. He stayed with it for a while, revving frantically and throwing grass in a great arc. Then he gave up, got out and started trying to drag the Dallara back towards the track, pulling it by its front wing. Eventually, it became clear he was wasting his time, and he finally sat down for a while, before running across the track back to the pits, his race over.
Meanwhile, Parente was starting to make a break for it, while Carroll was suffering from dejà vu as he'd once again got Viso looming large in his mirrors. Watts was the one keeping his distance this time, as he let the P1 boys get on with their own personal vendetta. Elsewhere, the rate of attrition was about to increase. Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing) lost a place to his teammate Lucas di Grassi, only to go off at Old Paddock and clobber the barriers hard. On the same lap, Calasan went off at Tower and ripped the wheels off his Dallara. You had to wonder how he could have done that amount of damage, given how fast he usually goes.
Di Grassi then turned his attention to Ryan Lewis (T-Sport), the Scholarship Class leader wisely not making an issue of it, allowing the Brazilian through neatly and efficiently). At the front, while Parente escaped from their clutches, Viso was now speeding up, and Carroll had to work very hard to keep him at bay. However, it was clear that there weren't going to be any further changes anytime soon, whatever di Grassi and Viso thought.
Parente was still leading, from Carroll, Viso, Watts, Piccione, Rossiter, Fairuz Fauzy (Menu Motorsport), Danilo Dirani (Carlin Motorsport), Will Power (Alan Docking Racing) and Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing). In 11th was Karun Chandhok (T-Sport), ahead of di Grassi, Lewis, James Walker (Hitech Racing), Stephen Jelley (Performance) who was 2nd in the Scholarship Class, and last of all, Marcus Marshall (Fortec Motorsport). And so it stayed, until around half distance, by which time the top three were desperately looking for wet parts of the circuit in an effort to keep their tyres cool now that the track surface was beginning to dry rapidly. Interestingly, Watts wasn't looking for puddles, which suggests that tyre wear on a Lola is significantly different to that of the Dallaras. It makes you think.
By lap 10, Parente's lead had reduced substantially, and Carroll, Viso, Watts and Piccione were all right with him. Rossiter was a long way back, though it's unlikely that that information cheered Parente at all, or Viso for that matter, when it all went badly awry at Tower and the Venezuelan crashed out of what he clearly believes will be his last ever Formula Three race - this wasn't how he'd intended going out. With the rain starting to fall again, and a number of cars parked at odd places round the track, it was beginning to seem as if the Safety Car might well be needed, very much in line with our pre-race predictions.
However, it took another three laps before the Safety Car lights came on, indicating that it was ready to go out on the track. Even then, it took another lap before the order was given, which must have really frustrated Piccione. More than something of a wet weather specialist, the Monegasque was thoroughly enjoying himself, and more to the point was beginning to menace Watts convincingly, Watts having replaced Viso as the image in Carroll's mirrors. Now he would have to back off. Asmer, too, had been having fun, setting the fastest lap of the race just as the Safety Car picked up the field, and beginning to threaten Power.
While the Safety Car led the field round, three breakdown trucks and a course car appeared and had their own race to the various corners, the slowest presumably failing to catch a Dallara, as it finally returned with just an empty flatbed. And so, for four laps, they followed the Safety Car round, with Parente still in the lead, from Carroll, Watts and Piccione. Rossiter was 5th, from Fauzy, Dirani, Power, Asmer and di Grassi. Chandhok was now 11th, with teammate Lewis behind him, while Walker, Jelley and Marshall occupied the remaining three slots. For a while, it seemed that the rest of the race might well be run behind the Safety Car, which wouldn't have been a bad thing in some respects. However, at the end of lap 17 the Safety Car's lights went out and it pulled off, leaving us with the worrying prospect of a three-lap sprint to the finish.
Parente controlled the restart beautifully, and everyone behaved impeccably this time, unlike at Knockhill. The Portuguese was well away again, while Piccione was now pushing very hard. However, catching Watts in the time available might have been possible, but passing him didn't look plausible at all, not with less than three laps left now. The tyres would be cold after four very slow laps, even though the rain had stopped again and the track was once again starting to dry out. The fact that the going was still very slippery became apparent on the penultimate lap, when Power attempted to pull an overtaking move on Dirani as they headed through Camp, and the two of them pitched into a very stately series of pirouettes, that ended when Dirani hit the wall on the outside of the track. They both got going again, and Power drove away, 6 places further down than he had been when he'd started the move. Dirani, on the other hand, was not so lucky. He also managed to keep the engine running, but when he started to try and rejoin the race it quickly became apparent that he had broken the suspension on his Dallara. The only he would achieve by continuing would be to drive in an ever-shrinking circle, presumably till he vanished up his own exhaust pipes. It was a shame to lose a place through no fault of his own, though at least his wasn't the last accident of the race. That dubious honour fell to Walker, who managed to go off in pretty much the same place as Dirani, but without the assistance of Power, or anyone else for that matter. He did this all on his own, on the very last corner of the last lap. It didn't look too clever.
Meanwhile, Parente continued on to the chequered flag, to become the 8th winner of the season (from 12 races), and the third and final Carlin driver to win a race this year. He was quietly delighted afterwards, as was Carroll when he realise his 2nd place means he is now within 5 points of Piquet in the championship fight. Watts was 3rd, and he, Promatecme and the Lola project team were all justifiably pleased with themselves after a rewarding weekend in Wiltshire. Piccione was 4th, finally looking like the winner he should be, though it may be too late for him to salvage much from this season, and Rossiter was 5th (with an additional point for fastest lap). 6th was Fauzy from Asmer, who snagged himself some much-needed points. In 8th place was di Grassi, just ahead of Chandhok, who didn't have much to show for his weekend, despite most of India being present to support him. 10th overall - and, needless to say, the Scholarship Class winner - was Lewis, ahead of Jelley, while 10th in the Championship Class, but 12th overall, was Walker. The final two places went to Power and Marshall, so clearly there is no longer any luck to go round the Australians anymore. Perhaps Davison took it away with him.
Oh, and in case you need to ask, Lewis got the point for fastest lap in the Scholarship Class.
Next Races: Rounds 13 & 14, Castle Donington, Leicestershire, June 25th - 27th
By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite