Weather: Overcast, cold, damp, track wet. For a meeting held in mid-Summer, conditions were horribly reminiscent of what we'd encountered back in April at the first race of the season. Quite why the gods had it in for us was a bit of mystery, ...
Weather: Overcast, cold, damp, track wet.
For a meeting held in mid-Summer, conditions were horribly reminiscent of what we'd encountered back in April at the first race of the season. Quite why the gods had it in for us was a bit of mystery, though it may just have something to do with the fact that the ETCC programme contains the Renault V6 and 2000 series, which seem to be something of a rain magnet. Anyway, it was getting late in the day, which did nothing to aid visibility, but there was no choice. The drivers lined up for the race start, with almost everyone on wet weather tyres, and no one using dark visors. The exceptions to the wet tyres were all at Hitech Racing, and you had to wonder, looking at the sky, whether team principal David Hayle had taken leave of his senses. Andrew Thompson, Marko Asmer and James Walker were the victims of this decision, while Lucas di Grassi had gone with the majority choice.
Anyway, the lights turned red, and then went out and the field set off on an 18-lap slither around the full circuit at Castle Donington. The lack of wisdom of going on slicks soon became very apparent. As Will Power (Alan Docking Racing) came screaming down towards Redgate, someone nerfed him into the beginnings of a spin. Most likely it was di Grassi, and the two of them went off, di Grassi's car having all four wheels off the ground at one point. They didn't even get as far as Redgate, unlike Asmer, who did but only just, the Estonian crashing out after having to take evasive action and finding he had now place left to go but straight on into the gravel trap. Afterwards, Power was sure that Asmer was to blame, but it seemed more likely to have been di Grassi who started the trouble. And to be fair, Power's got a bit of a history of blaming the wrong man for his misfortunes, having shouted at Richard Antinucci once last year, when the guilty party was Michael Keohane. He's also had more than one go at Will Davison for incidents that were nothing to do with his fellow Australian.
Meanwhile, safe from all the mayhem in the middle of the pack, Adam Carroll (P1 Motorsport) made a blinder of a start from pole position, and was away into the lead before the others could so much as blink. He wasn't the only one to get away well, with Fairuz Fauzy (Menu Motorsport) slotting in to 3rd place behind Danilo Dirani (Carlin Motorsport). Despite the resulting outbreak of yellow flags at Redgate, the top three were through and well away, with Danny Watts (Promatecme F3) following on their heels, holding off James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport), the Englishman having also benefited from the general chaos, ending up 5th at the end of the first lap, despite starting from a lowly 12th on the grid. Even so, he couldn't shale off Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports), the Brazilian determined that where Rossiter went, he would go too. And so they started fighting over positions, while Carroll made a determined effort to put as much ground between him and the rest of the field as he possibly could.
While Carroll was attempting to cement the overall lead, the Scholarship Class lead had gone to Ryan Lewis (T-Sport), after Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing) got boxed out at the start and ended scrabbling for purchase on the wet track, having no option but to settle into 2nd place and play a waiting game. To add insult to injury, Jelley's new teammate Ronayne O'Mahony tried a move for 2nd, but couldn't quite make it stick. He'd have to watch his mirrors for the next few laps, if the Irishman wasn't going to snatch that much from him.
In the meantime, there was further excitement brewing, when Watts decided that whatever he wanted, he didn't want to sit behind Fauzy for any longer than was strictly necessary. He made up his mind, taking the place from the Malaysian with a move up the inside at the Schwantz Curve. Just for good measure, Rossiter took that as a sign of vulnerability and forced a mistake from Fauzy, the Menu driver running wide at the Melbourne Hairpin and letting the Fortec man through. However, he couldn't hold the place and would have to try again.
The main beneficiary of all the infighting was Carroll, who was three and a half seconds ahead of Dirani by the time they'd finished lap 2. Meanwhile Rossiter was having another look at Fauzy, and was side-by-side with him into Fogarty's, Rossiter emerging ahead this time to claim 4th place. Into the bargain, by the time Fauzy had sorted himself out again, both Clivio Piccione (Carlin Motorsport) and Piquet had passed him as well, the latter having to give ground to the former as part of the move. And just behind Fauzy now, Marcus Marshall (Fortec Motorsport) was trying all sorts in an attempt to pass Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport). Some of this was, frankly, surprising, not least the aggression Marshall was showing; perhaps he's found his feet now.
A lap later and the battle was still raging as Piquet came within inches of committing a yellow flag offence trying to get back past Piccione at Redgate. He was still right with the Monegasque as they headed for Coppice, where he finally made his move and got through.
At the same time, Watts was beginning to catch Dirani, while Piquet now had clear air in front of him and was busy setting the fastest lap of the race so far, as he set off after Rossiter once again. Lewis, meanwhile, was having a fairly spirited go at Marshall, which looked as if it might turn out to be unwise. It was, but not for Lewis. In the end it was Marshall who lost out, with an unscheduled spin at the Melbourne Hairpin. Of course, what all this meant was that Carroll was still getting away unchallenged, though it looked as if that might not last much longer, since Watts was now on Dirani's rear wing and not looking at all inclined to stay there for long. And further back, Lewis was still fighting out of his class, though he lost out to a determined Karun Chandhok (T-Sport), the Indian seemingly one of the few who was attempting to look after his tyres as the track started to dry out. Maybe that was because he could smell his tyres melting, and he wasn't enjoying it at all.
With a third of the race distance run, Piquet now had Rossiter in his sights, while Watts had seen off Dirani with ease and was now starting to close the gap that Carroll had carefully built up, all 8.8 seconds of it. While Watts was setting lap times that were eight tenths faster than anything Carroll was able to dredge up, Parente had his sights set on Fauzy, and Piquet was trying everything he knows to get by Rossiter, including a number of attempts at going round the outside, none of which were quite sufficient to do the job. And just when you thought it couldn't get much more exciting, there were Dallaras three abreast at the Melbourne Hairpin as Chandhok took Parente, who was busy passing Fauzy and hadn't noticed the threat posed by the T-Sport driver. And just to add to the fun, Lewis tried to join in too by attempting to go up the inside of all three of them as they went into Goddards! He couldn't do it, but it was fun to watch. This was looking more like a Formula Ford 1600 race by the lap, not at all like a supposedly grown up Formula Three race!
A lap later Piquet finally got what he was looking for, and found a way past Rossiter, edging up the inside at Redgate. Perhaps not surprisingly, once past he simple drove away, setting off after Dirani and Watts, the latter still reeling Carroll in for the lead at a seemingly unstoppable rate. Needless to say, it didn't take long for Piquet to get on terms with Dirani, and when Dirani got all sideways at the Melbourne Hairpin, Piquet was more than ready, diving up the inside to go 3rd as they exited Goddards. He was now on a charge and his next target was Watts, while Watts was still chasing down Carroll. The gap had now come down to a little under 7 seconds and everyone was waiting to see whether Carroll could find a response or not. Of course, with Piquet starting to set faster times that Watts, maybe he wouldn't need to…
With 8 laps left, Rossiter suddenly went wide at Goddards, and promptly lost ground, having to let Piccione and Dirani through, to his annoyance. That hadn't been in the plan at all. And now lots of people were looking for puddles in an attempt to preserve their tyres. Of course, there are always exceptions to these rules, and Lewis was one of them as he tried to put the moves on Fauzy. He could have just sat back and enjoyed his class lead, but he seemed to feel the need to do more, and so he was on the attack, to the consternation of more than a few Championship Class runners.
It was starting to get darker and colder out there, and you had to wonder if this race would finish ahead of the next rainstorm that was looming. The world was especially dark and cold for Dirani, who completed lap 9 another place down after his teammate, Piccione, came barging by and into 4th place. His mood wasn't improved when he realised Rossiter was catching up again. A lap later he was ready to try and squeeze the Brazilian out, while a couple of places further back Marshall pulled alongside Lewis, trying to get his own back for his earlier demotion. This was not a good idea as it turned out, as Marshall came back with a mangled front wing and had to pit for a new one.
Meanwhile, next time through Redgate, Dirani took his place back from Rossiter, whose front wing end plate decals were flapping festively, while Fauzy fell off at Goddards, which might well have been safer than staying with the pack. Watts was still pushing hard, and this time round he took half a second out of Carroll in the first sector. He was aided in his cause by Piquet making a mistake and going off at Goddards. The Brazilian ran wide but survived in 3rd place, though significantly further back than he had been. It gave Watts some breathing space, though Piquet was soon back up to speed and in hot pursuit once more, while Carroll responded to the news that Watts was getting closer by trying to open up the gap again.
A lap later Piquet again got very sideways, while Rossiter came back at Dirani, presumably at least dimly aware that Chandhok was looking at catching them both. The track was now very much drier than it had been, a fact made clear when you realised that Thompson, who was two places from last on his slicks, was now lapping at the same pace as the wet-shod runners. Unfortunately it was a bit late for him to make any sort of progress. With his teammate Walker dead last, this had turned out not to be a good call in anyone's estimation. At the front, though, Piquet was trying very hard to catch Watts, while the Lola-Dome driver was a mere 3.5 seconds back from Carroll and closing. It was now a matter of time, and also of whether Piquet could get to Watts, before Watts could get to Carroll. This was all great fun for the spectators, who deserved some sort of reward in return for standing out there in the cold and damp, way into dinnertime.
And even with only three laps left, there was still plenty of entertainment, this time round because Chandhok was right with Rossiter and Dirani now, and seemed to be having fun. He was circulating a full second faster than Dirani and a little over half a second quicker than Rossiter. Inevitably, he decided to have a go as the three of them arrived at the Melbourne Hairpin. It didn't quite work, but shortly after that, he barged his was past Dirani when the latter went very wide at Redgate. That only left Rossiter as a target, though time was running out now. And at the front, Piquet came back at Watts as they lapped the unfortunate slick-shod Walker. Once he was disposed of, they we're both catching Carroll at an alarming rate.
With the gap down to 1.8 seconds between the two British drivers at the front, Piquet set the fastest first sector time to move even closer to Watts, who was not going to catch Carroll in the lap he had left, though he'd done his considerable best. Perhaps his tyres were shot, perhaps there just wasn't anything he could do, but Piquet was closing on him at an incredible rate. With one corner left on the last lap, Piquet decided he'd nothing to lose, and he launched himself at Watts from slightly too far back as they approached Goddards. Watts was already turning and Piquet found himself out of control, unable to avoid the Lola. Watts was left fuming on the sidelines within sight of the chequered flag, while Piquet came home in 2nd place on the road. To be fair the Brazilian was horribly contrite afterwards, though this was not a lot of help to Danny or to the people on the Lola project. And though it was clear Piquet never meant it to happen, come Sunday he and Watts still weren't talking to each other, not helped by the fact that Nelson believed his attempt to apologise had been rebuffed by Danny, and by the fact that Danny couldn't understand why Nelson hadn't apologised.
Afterwards, the distressed Brazilian was docked 15 seconds, which dropped him back to 6th, and was also fined and had his licence endorsed. It seemed somewhat harsh to hit him with all three penalties, particularly in light of the mere fine imposed on Rossiter after Knockhill, and Piquet was convinced he might as well have been disqualified.
The end result was that Carroll came home a delighted winner, while Piccione was promoted to 2nd, and Rossiter claimed 3rd. Chandhok was happy with 4th place, having thoroughly enjoyed himself out there, while the much put-upon Dirani was 5th. Piquet was 6th with an extra point for the fastest lap of the race, which meant he still led the championship, originally only by that single point, though in the end he was 8 points behind once the penalty was applied. Parente was 7th, while Lewis came home 8th overall to claim yet another Scholarship Class win, though this time Jelley, who was 2nd in class and 9th overall also got the fastest lap. O'Mahony was 3rd in class on his return, while Vasilije Calasan (Promatecme F3) was a distant 4th. Behind him, and 8th in the Championship Class was Walker, who finished despite the tyre situation, while 9th and last was Marshall, the Australian getting his first points of the season.
By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite