At Spa this afternoon, after a day and a half of flogging round in the wet and the fog, the sun came out and it shone on Daniel Ricciardo (Carlin Motorsport), the Australian claiming an apparently effortless victory over the Invitation Class - and...
At Spa this afternoon, after a day and a half of flogging round in the wet and the fog, the sun came out and it shone on Daniel Ricciardo (Carlin Motorsport), the Australian claiming an apparently effortless victory over the Invitation Class - and Euroseries regular - Jules Bianchi (ART Grand Prix), and his team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Second in the International Class went to Renger van der Zande (Hitech Racing), ahead of Victor Garcia (Fortec Motorsport) although only after a selection of penalties were handed out for starting out of position. The National Class was won by Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Racing), from Victor Correa (Litespeed F3) and Gabriel Dias (T-Sport), the latter running a very long way up the overall order to start with only for his car to take sick towards the end. Jake Rosenzweig (Carlin Motorsport) was 3rd in the Invitation Class though he failed to appear on the podium.
A lot happened between the start and the end though... It began on the warm up lap, as it so often does, when Bottas failed to pull away cleanly and Carlos Huertas (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) had to stop or hit the Finn. By the time Huertas sorted himself out he was behind the Safety Car, which he then overtook and to compound his sins he failed to take his proper place on the grid, as did Adriano Buzaid (T-Sport). This would have repercussions later, needless to say. Anyway, that aside the field lined up on new tyres - at least the smart ones did - and the lights went out. Ricciardo made a smooth get away and was leading comfortably by the first corner. Max Chilton (Carlin Motorsport) on the other hand, didn't. As he sat there hoping nothing would hit him, Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing) starting from just behind didn't quite clear the stricken Dallara, instead clipping Chilton's right rear wheel and letting Bianchi and Bottas climb up the order. As Lloyd continued towards la Source the telltale puff of smoke showed that he'd collected a puncture, or worse. So too had Chilton. As Ricciardo led the pack round on the first lap, the two of them could only limp round to the pits. At least they got that far. An altercation between Daisuke Nakajima (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing), Riki Christodoulou (Fortec Motorsport) and Walter Grubm?ller (Hitech Racing) ensured that none of them got further than Eau Rouge, and brought out the Safety Car before the race was a lap old.
Chilton and Lloyd both pitted for new tyres and both rejoined as Ricciardo backed the field up behind the Safety Car. The order was Ricciardo from van der Zande, Bianchi, Huertas, Bottas, Buzaid, Dias, Rosenzweig, Wayne Boyd (T-Sport) and Esteban Gutierrez (ART Grand Prix). 11th was Victor Garcia (Fortec Motorsport), from Philip Major (Carlin Motorsport), Stephane Richelmi (Barazi Epsilon), McKenzie, Kevin Chen (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing), Correa, Henry Arundel (Carlin Motorsport) and Nico Marroc (Racing Experience). Chilton and Lloyd soon joined in too, easily catching the field as they crawled round waiting for the wreckage to be removed.
At the restart, two laps later, Ricciardo controlled things nicely, again pulling smoothly away from van der Zande as they headed down to la Source again. His task was made easier because van der Zande had his hands full trying to hold off Bianchi, the Frenchman making an attempt to get by at the Bus Stop at the end of the lap and ending up half spinning instead. He got going without even losing a place though he did fall back a little, giving Renger some breathing space, but which probably didn't do a lot for Huertas who was desperately trying to hold off Bottas as the Finn looked for a way past. Meanwhile, Dias had hacked past Buzaid, which probably didn't go down too well with his supposedly senior team-mate, especially as Buzaid is of course in the International Class. This meant Dias was up in 6th overall, just ahead of a train that was building up behind Rosenzweig. One of the drivers involved in that was Boyd and he was utterly determined to get past the American if he could always provided he could hold off Gutierrez who was looking far too interested. It was all getting a bit alarming out there. And of course at the back Lloyd and Chilton were both trying to get through the pack to make up for their disaster at the start, both managing to take massive chunks of time out of the guys ahead of them; it made you wonder what might have happened had Max not fluffed his start like that.
The scuffle at the front resolved finally a lap later when Bottas barged through and snatched 4th from Huertas and Bianchi towed past van der Zande. The Dutchman didn't like it and made a series of attempts to fight back, but they all failed, and the next thing he knew, Bottas was on top of him too. It was all too much really... as was what was going on towards the very end of the field, where Correa had found a new friend. Coming over the line just behind Marroc, the Brazilian was driving his SLC as if it was a Formula Ford, nudging Marroc in the gearbox repeatedly. For the rest of the race the two of them would draft past each other in increasingly wild attitudes which must have caused both of their teams to wonder if perhaps their drivers had gone completely crazy or something.
As the race wore on, Ricciardo began to look increasingly unchallengeable in the lead, unlike van der Zande. Bottas finally figured out what to do and slipped past the Dutchman at the Bus Stop. Van der Zande had obviously had enough of red cars getting the better of him and made a wild stab at getting back at the Finn. It didn't work and that was it - the top four were strung out, with Bianchi making a sterling effort at catching Ricciardo and setting the fastest lap of the race as he did so. It wouldn't avail him anything though. Ricciardo was doing no more than he needed to win, the sign of an intelligent driver. He didn't care whether he set the fastest overall lap, only that he got the point for fastest lap in the International Class, and so long as Bianchi wasn't close enough to pose a threat he wasn't about to worry.
Further back, Boyd had now gone missing, which took some of the pressure off Rosenzweig - though not as much as it might have done if Gutierrez hadn't promptly stepped into the breach and started a fresh attack. The T-Sport driver's car had been sounding rough, but now the fuel pump had failed, putting an end to his race there and then. It was a shame as he'd been putting up quite a fight to that point. It only lessened the intensity of the battle a little though, Buzaid leading the pack that included Garcia, and that was joined before the end by Chilton and Lloyd as well. The difficulty they were all having was in trying not to trip over each other while looking for a way past the man in front. At the end, it would cost Richelmi most as he lost places Bridger and Arundel, Arundel also finding a way past Bridger by the flag. It was hair raising stuff, especially taken in conjunction with the Correa/Marroc fisticuffs at the back, and at least provided the spectators something to get excited about while Ricciardo continued serenely on his way. Sadly, Dias was not providing any excitement, his car going sick, also with fuel pump problems, a handful of laps from the end. The Brazilian dropped all the way to the back of the field, handing victory to McKenzie and having to nurse the car round to the finish to try and score as many points as possible.
The order on the road was Ricciardo from Bianchi (the winner of the Invitation Class), Bottas, van der Zande, Huertas, Rosenzweig, Buzaid, Gutierrez, Garcia and Chilton (after a fine recovery drive that included a pit stop). 11th was Lloyd (also after a fine recovery and two pit stops), from Major, Arundel, Bridger, Richelmi, National Class winner McKenzie, Chen, Marroc, Correa and Dias. After one minute penalties were handed to Huertas and Buzaid they ended up 17th and 19th respectively.
Fastest laps of the race went to Ricciardo, McKenzie and Bianchi.
Weather: Sunny, warm.