2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship Round 9, Croft, North Yorkshire, May 25th/26th Scholarship Class Race Report - Round 9: Weather: Cold, rain on the horizon, cloudy. The drama began well before the race started, as Meritus ...
2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship
Round 9, Croft, North Yorkshire, May 25th/26th
Scholarship Class Race Report - Round 9:
Weather: Cold, rain on the horizon, cloudy.
The drama began well before the race started, as Meritus Racing were faced with a desperate struggle to get Gavin Smith onto the grid at all. After a heavy crash in qualifying for Round 10, his Dallara was looking decidedly second-hand. It was so bad that John Booth (Manor Motorsport team owner) was in the Meritus awning along with their own personnel and could be seen up to the armpits in broken components, mucking in to try and help get the car fixed in time. The driver had been released from hospital and was looking stiff but whole, so now all he needed was a couple of painkillers and a car to race. It was to the credit of the Meritus boys that they succeeded in bolting the last pieces back on just as the others began to gather in the assembly area. Smith had a car.
And so, with rain threatening, the Scholarship Class race began. Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing) made an impressive start, but so did Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing). It was quite a sight as the personable Leicester man bundled poor Billy Asaro (Sweeney Racing) out of his way to go 4th, just behind Stephen Colbert (Meritus Racing) and Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing). Behind him, Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) made a nonsense of Clervaux, and took to the gravel. To the amazement of the spectators he was able to get back on again without hitting anything, but he was a long way down the order. Poor Smith was also in trouble. Managing to go backwards at the start, he then narrowly avoided being bundled into the gravel by Harold Primat (Diamond Racing), who was being uncharacteristically aggressive. It seemed that there was still a problem with Smith's car, but with so few runners, if he could just hang on till the finish, there could be some much-needed points in it for him.
Suddenly, though, there were the first signs of trouble to come. The sky became ever blacker and it started to rain. At first, it didn't look like it would be much, which just shows how wrong you can be. The race, meanwhile, continued. Carroll was still leading, and Smith seemed to have recovered from his start and was back ahead of Primat; perhaps he was just waiting to see how well the car was running before he was prepared to really push. That, however, became academic as the heavens opened for a few brief minutes. In fact it was raining so hard that the race was red-flagged and would be restarted as a new race, if only it would stop raining. When it finally did, the Performance Racing cars of Sherwood and Diego Romanini were on wet weather tyres, while everyone else opted for slicks, assuming that the track would dry very quickly, as it had during testing on Friday. It was a dangerous assumption, as things transpired. At the green lights, Carroll again drove away from the rest of them, while Asaro was having trouble moving at all. He had stalled on the grid once again, and finally got away dead last. Which, as it happened, was probably the best place he could have been. Colbert slotted in to 2nd place, ahead of Fairuz, Sherwood and Clivio Piccione (T-Sport). Oddly enough, despite the truly awful conditions, not everyone appeared to have their rear lights switched on, among them Smith, though in his case it may just not have been working. And then the race was neutralised, before it was a lap old. Carroll had discovered the disadvantage of being in front in these conditions; it means you are the first to hit trouble. Adam reached Tower, found a deep puddle and aquaplaned off. He had no sooner stopped, against the barrier, then Primat lost control at the same place and struck the Sweeney car. And so Colbert found himself leading the race. The Safety Car was duly deployed, but it didn't stop things from going wrong! A lap later, desperately trying to keep some heat in his tyres, Colbert lost control and spun out of the lead, narrowly missing the pit wall in the process. He recovered but was somewhat further back than he had been and had effectively handed the lead to Sherwood; he had also effectively got himself disqualified after he tried to get his place back by overtaking two other drivers under yellow flags. He had a further spin before the end of the Safety Car period and would leave Croft with no points at all. It was disappointing, to say the least. Sherwood, on the other hand, was far from disappointed, and once the Safety Car pulled off, he proceeded to pull away from his slick-shod rivals at a rate that beggared belief. It took him slightly less than four laps to pull out a 17-second lead and he was never challenged again, though he had to take some pretty odd lines to try and preserve his tyres as the track dried out. Behind him, though, there was still plenty of action. Asaro was engaged in a do-or-die effort to claw his way forward and was soon into 4th place, as all around him chaos broke out. Jesper Carlsen (Essencial Motorsport) tried a passing manoeuvre on David Clark (Team Park), only to have it all go wrong when he found Diego Romanini (Performance Racing) in is his way. The Dane was committed to his line and had no place else to go, wiping out the Italian. Clark was able to continue, but the other two were out of the race.
As Sherwood disappeared into the distance, Piccione settled in to 2nd, with Fairuz, Asaro and Chandhok behind him. Asaro was now 5th, ahead of Smith, who was clinging on despite the fact that his car sounded truly awful. Behind him were the final three runners, Ricardo Texeira (Rowan Racing), Clark and Colbert. And then Chandhok got it wrong again and spun off at the exit of Hawthorn Bend, a move he would repeat twice more, eventually falling to the back of the field. Fairuz, finding the Indian no longer in his mirrors, began trying to find a way past Piccione, but Piccione was having none of it and for several laps had to drive very defensively to hold off the Malaysian. It wasn't until Asaro caught up with the two of them that it got really fraught though. The resulting three-way scrap lasted until the chequered flag, with Piccione just hanging on to his second place, from Fairuz and Asaro. It was a miracle they made it to the flag at all, so fierce was the fight. Several times it looked as if one or more of them were about to go off completely; it says a lot for their confidence, and their driving abilities, that they didn't finish the race in a gravel trap somewhere. Smith was now 5th, a fitting reward for the efforts made by the team (and John Booth) to get him back out there after his crash, while behind him competitors were still vanishing as the weather or mechanical failures got the better of them. Texeira pitted, Chandhok spun again, and Clark also retired. Then the officials put an end to the race altogether as they were having trouble clearing Carlsen and Romanini's cars away. All they could do was red flag the race and declare a result one lap back.
And so Sherwood took the chequered flag a good 20 seconds ahead of everyone else. It was an odd but popular win, except with his closest supporters! All his friends and family (from his grandmother to his girlfriend), who never miss a race normally, were elsewhere at the time, because the original timetable had stated that the race would be on Sunday, not Saturday. As a result they were all remarkably annoyed that he had taken a victory when they weren't there to see it.
Championship Class Race Report - Round 9: Weather: Very wet.
We were down one competitor before the race even started. Shinya Hosokawa (Carlin Motorsport), who had hurt his back when he crashed out at Pau, had opted to miss this race after suffering such severe pain in qualifying that he almost passed out. Wisely, perhaps, the Japanese preferred to return at Silverstone, rather than risk himself at Croft.
With the rain easing off from a monsoon to a downpour, the field was unleashed to run a couple of exploratory laps. The trouble was, the track was still very wet, even though the rain finally stopped as they lined up on the grid, ready to start Round 9 of this championship. If you failed to get a good start, overtaking was going to well nigh impossible in the resulting spray. The lights finally turned green, and James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport), needed no second prompting. Richard Antinucci (Manor Motorsport), who was sharing the front row, tried to stay with him as they headed for Clervaux, but in the end the pole position man had the edge, and Antinucci had to slot into second place. Courtney's start, though, paled into insignificance, compared with that of fellow-Carlin runner, Michael Keohane. The start he made was so good, you would swear his brain was hot-wired straight into the start lights. It was a truly awe-inspiring moment. From eighth on the grid, he was 3rd by the time they reached Clervaux, managing to block the third Carlin runner, Alan van der Merwe, as he went! It was just as well that he managed it too, since there wouldn't be much racing after Lap 1.
As the field headed out of Tower Bend for the first time, Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) spun. As he tried to recover he found he had no place left to go and managed to collect Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport) on the way to instant retirement. Kerr managed to get moving again and limped back to the pits and out of the race. However, with Taylor's car stranded in a dangerous position, the Safety Car had to be scrambled yet again (it's beginning to feel as if the Safety Car has actually led more laps than any of the drivers). Despite yellow flags and SC ("Someone's Crashed"?) boards, there were a number of drivers who didn't appear to realise there was anything going on, the worst offender seemingly Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport). The Brazilian came close to overtaking both van der Merwe and his teammate, Heikki Kovalainen, as they crossed the start/finish line before he fell back into position. None of this prevented Tor Graves (Alan Docking Racing) from spinning while they were all still behind the Safety Car, but at least he was able to continue, albeit in last place. And so, the top 10 was Courtney, Antinucci, Keohane, Kovalainen, van der Merwe, Carbone, Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport), Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International), Tom Sisley (Motaworld Racing) and Matthew Gilmore (Promatecme International).
At the restart, Courtney was again immediately on the ball, and made a second exemplary start. Antinucci again tried to pull alongside, but once again was unable to do so. Sadly, we still wouldn't see any racing. This time the guilty party was Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing). He spun at Tower Bend, as had Kerr, and was stuck. As if that wasn't bad enough, as the marshals went to help him, one of them managed to set the fire extinguisher off in Mayall's face, and then as his car was being lifted to safety, it was dropped. He was not having a weekend to remember. Anyway, the result was the Safety Car again, one lap after it had pulled in. This again caught Carbone on the hop, but not as badly as it did Giandomenico Brusatin (Menu Motorsport). Not realising the SC boards and yellows were back out, he managed to run into the back end of Gilmore's Dallara, damaging both cars terminally. Gilmore limped to the pits, Brusatin pulled off at the end of the main straight. Just for good measure, van der Merwe's race was also run when his gearbox failed, losing him 5th place. We were down to 11 runners, and ten of them would score points.
Courtney's third start of the day was just as good as the previous ones, and this time all Antinucci could do was settled in behind him and try to keep both Keohane and Kovalainen at bay. Eventually he would pull away from the Irishman for an untroubled run to his first podium of the season. The drama continued behind the leaders, with Jouanny trying a move round the inside of Austin at Clervaux. Austin resisted, Jouanny clipped him and bounced pretty hard, and they were both fortunate to escape unscathed. Further back, Stefano Fabi (Team Avanti) must have been feeling pretty disoriented by it all, as he kept spinning, only to recover and continue. He was last, though, behind Graves, who appeared to be in severe danger of scoring his first point of the season, if he could just keep going until the end. He couldn't, spinning off and out of contention at Tower with seven laps to go, the third and final ADR car to bite the dust at that particular corner. The two Fortec cars were showing signs of scrapping for 4th place, Kovalainen holding off Carbone in conditions that they both seemed quite at home with.
The real trouble was brewing behind Austin, however. Austin, Sisley, Jouanny and Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport) all wanted the position. Jouanny had dropped behind Sisley after his attempt to pass Austin, and he very badly wanted to get back ahead. He tried, and finally made it stick, setting off in pursuit of Austin. That left Sisley with his mirrors full of Bremer, the Dane getting passed the Motaworld driver two laps later, at Barcroft. The quartet of drivers was now very close indeed, and it became clear that they might not all come back one of these laps. Finally, Bremer made his move. With two laps left to run, he was alongside Jouanny as they went into Tower Bend. With the track still damp, and neither of them wanting to be the first to brake, what happened next seemed inevitable. They both spun, Jouanny managing to get going again, Bremer going no further and causing an outbreak of furiously waved yellows as the remaining 9 cars circulated twice more before the flag. In its way, this race had been equally as strange as the Scholarship Class race, and you had to wonder what, if anything, most of the drivers had learned from Knockhill.
Courtney, the race winner, never put a wheel wrong, and it was an impressive display of car control that saw him come home 12 seconds ahead of Antinucci. Of the others, most of them put several wheels wrong, and there were only 9 points scorers left at the end. Let's hope they behave better next time out.