Cold, cloudy, track very wet! A torrential downpour minutes before Round 4 of the British F3 International Series was about to start left the track awash, and for a while there was some doubt as to whether the race would start at all. As it...
Cold, cloudy, track very wet!
A torrential downpour minutes before Round 4 of the British F3 International Series was about to start left the track awash, and for a while there was some doubt as to whether the race would start at all. As it was, the black clouds seemed to be clearing from the skies, if only temporarily. Needless to say, no one was out there on anything except wet weather tyres, even though the rain had stopped.
This time Mike Conway (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) was able to make a very smooth start, through that didn't stop James Walker (Hitech Racing) from challenging him for the lead into Redgate. Walker couldn't make it stick, and he had to slot in behind Conway. In 3rd was Christian Bakkerud, leading the Carlin Motorsport charge, with his team-mates Oliver Jarvis and Maro Engel lined up just behind him. 6th place was debatable at this point, because all that could be seen was a massive ball of spray in the midfield area. When the spray settled, the front of the ball of spray was revealed to be Stuart Hall (Fortec Motorsport), and Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport). Something else emerged from the spray too; sadly it was Raikkonen Robertson Racing's Stephen Jelley, who had arrived at the Old Hairpin to find Dennis Retera (T-Sport) spinning across his path. Jelley's race ended in the pits at the end of the first lap; Retera was able to continue in 9th just ahead of Salvador Duran (Hitech Racing) and behind the other Double R driver, Bruno Senna, winner of all the previous rounds. It didn't look as if he was about to make it four out of four from back there.
A lap later came the next retirement, when Hall got it badly wrong and lost a significant amount of ground. At the front, Walker was still pressing Conway hard, while the Carlin boys all hung onto the leading pair, waiting for a mistake while they battled it out between themselves. A lap later and Jarvis made his move, getting alongside Bakkerud as they tore into the Craner Curves. Bakkerud decided it was still early and let Jarvis have the place for now, though he wasn't having Engel go through as well.
In the National Class that man Rodolfo Gonzalez (T-Sport) had the lead yet again, from Performance Racing's Juho Annala, though this time he wasn't streaking away as he had done at Oulton. It was possible he might have to work a bit harder this time. With the conditions the way they were, pushing too hard was always going to be a risk, and a lap later Gonzalez paid the price for his impetuosity when he lost the lead to Annala. Of course it remained to be seen whether the Finn, whose luck has been appalling so far this season, could actually hang onto that position till the chequered flag.
Hall's woes were just about to come to an end on the second full lap of the race. A trip into the Redgate gravel was to prove terminal to his hopes of points in this race. Walker was also pushing hard, as proven when he set a new fastest race lap. His problem was that he could get right behind Conway, but when he did he couldn't see enough to get past. It was clearly frustrating as he seemed to be faster than Conway at this point. It just wasn't helping him. In addition, Jarvis was now right with the Hitech car and was considering trying to get past. That left Bakkerud free to set the next fastest lap of the race. It also gave him a grandstand view of what his team-mate was up to.
It was just as well that some of the Carlin guys were having a good run, because Ricardo Teixeira, in their National Class car, was losing out badly after having to avoid Alex Khateeb (Promatecme F3). The newcomer lost it on the slippery surface and went a long, long way off, tearing a wheel off on the way. He'd not had the best of days, and might well have been regretting the decision to move up from the historic ARP Formula 3 series, which is mainly inhabited by gentleman racers, not professionals red in tooth and claw.
Speaking of which, Walker was now really closing Conway down, setting yet another fastest lap. He didn't get to have his name on the screen for long though, because mere seconds later, Engel crossed the line to go faster. It was all getting rather fast and furious out there, and it wasn't just the Championship Class boys who were having all the fun. Annala lost his class lead after Karl Reindler (Alan Docking Racing) went through, thus depriving the Finn of a useful cushion between himself and Gonzalez. It wasn't long before the Venezuelan made his move, mounting a successful challenge for the lead. The trouble was Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport) was also interested in getting by, and this time there was nothing Annala could do to stop him. A little further back, Martin Kudzak, in the other Fluid car, had a brief off-track excursion before wrestling his way back across the grass and onto the Tarmac.
He wasn't the only one to get acquainted with the grass and gravel. At the start of lap 9, in what may well have been a wildly over-optimistic move, Jarvis squeezed along side Walker as they charged round Redgate. Quite possibly Walker didn't see him, but he held his line, leaving Ollie with no place to go. The second placed man was pitched into a spin, while Jarvis had a very grassy/muddy moment and Bakkerud, an innocent bystander in all of it, was wiped out by his own team-mate in the resulting mayhem. It was all a bit embarrassing and from a Carlin point of view the only consolation was that Engel survived to claim 2nd. From Walker's point of view there was no consolation at all to be had and he limped round to the pits for running repairs - he would rejoin for a handful of laps before retiring completely. At this rate, there'd be no one except Conway left by the time the race ended. With three cars littering the track, the Safety Car was scrambled while the mess could be cleared up. It collected the field just as Buurman netted himself the latest fastest race lap.
Anyway, as they all settled into place behind the Safety Car, the order was Conway, from Engel, Buurman, Senna, Duran, Retera, Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), James Jakes (Hitech Racing), Alberto Valerio (Cesario F3) and Charlie Hollings (Fortec Motorsport). 11th was now Reindler, from Gonzalez, Morgado, Annala, Rodolfo Avila (Performance Racing), Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport), a mud-spattered Kudzak and Teixeira. And that was it.
For four laps they sat behind the Safety Car, which should have meant no more problems, at least while they were all going slowly. Unfortunately, Avila made a mistake and ran up the rear of his team-mate, Annala. The result was a dreadfully mangled front wing for himself, and a buckled rear wheel and flat tyre of the Finn. The Macanese driver was utterly mortified afterwards, despite having been able to return to the fray, though Annala - who retired there and then - was taking it very calmly indeed.
At the restart, Conway controlled it nicely, holding his lead easily as the field went racing again. The track was drying, though not enough for any heroics, though that didn't stop Hollings and Valerio clashing at the Chicane, the Brazilian spinning. He followed this up by reversing up the pitlane to his team, managing to avoid an inconveniently parked GT car in the process. It was an unusual manoeuvre, to put it mildly, but the officials said it was all right as he was going in the right direction, even if he wasn't facing the conventional direction.
With one Portuguese speaker exiting stage left into the pits, we lost another when Teixeira ground to a halt at the Old Hairpin. Senna, on the other hand, was doing very nicely for a man who had started 8th and didn't expect to get a good result from this race. He was now 4th and right with Buurman, though he did have Duran breathing down his neck, which was stopping him having a go at the Dutchman. The other Dutchman in the race, Retera, had a queue of his own as he ran 6th.
Conway was sailing on unworried towards the flag, safe in the knowledge that Engel was bottling the opposition up as he headed towards his first F3 podium. There was a moment when Engel looked as if he might have a go for the win, but he was acutely aware of having thrown away a perfectly good podium in round 3, and he wasn't about to repeat that error. He set a new fastest lap, but the settled down again to shadow Conway all the way to the flag. Conway didn't seem overly worried about the extra point for fastest lap anyway, just being relieved to get his first victory of the year under his belt. It was just as well, because on the last lap Senna claimed the fastest lap.
The excitement continued all the way to the flag though. Kennard muscled his way past Retera for 6th, then launched an attack on Duran. This was a mistake. The Mexican proved a harder nut to crack, and the end result was 5th for Retera as Kennard fell back and Duran retired with less than a lap to go.
Just for good measure, Morgado spun away 2nd place in the National Class as he came out of the final corner. A slightly surprised Kudzak was happy enough to snatch the place from the embarrassed South African.
And so, Conway came home victorious at last, with Engel 2nd and Buurman 3rd. Senna was a lucky 4th, from Retera and Reindler, while Gonzalez claimed his fourth victory from four races in the National Class, finishing 7th overall. Hollings, Jakes and Kennard rounded out the top ten, with Ihara 11th (and claiming the last Championship Class point). 12th (and 2nd in class) was Kudzak, with Morgado and Avila the only other finishers.
Fastest laps went to Senna and Morgado.
Next Race Meeting: Rounds 5 & 6, Pau, France, June 3rd/5th.