For once the weather gods seemed to have lost interest in F3. It was a welcome change, and there was even a suggestion of sunshine as the 27- strong field lined up on the grid, prior to the start of Round 11 of the 2005 British F3 ...
For once the weather gods seemed to have lost interest in F3. It was a welcome change, and there was even a suggestion of sunshine as the 27- strong field lined up on the grid, prior to the start of Round 11 of the 2005 British F3 championship. Every so often you get an element of panic in the air at this point, and at Combe it was Carlin Motorsport who were in a bit of a flap before the start. Christian Bakkerud (who'd been in the wars somewhat during qualifying) was found to have flat-spotted a rear tyre rather badly, so that was changed, and for good measure Alvaro Parente also needed a change of rubber before he could expect to get away well. In addition, there was a nasty patch of oil just ahead of the start/finish line after a fraught Ginetta race; the marshals had covered it in cement dust in an attempt to absorb some of the mess, but the guys at the front were certainly all aware it was there. Anyway, that was now purely academic. The gantry lights were on and the race was about to start.
As the lights went out, Parente slewed across to the left, with every intention of grabbing the lead from pole man (and team-mate) Charlie Kimball. The trouble was, they also had Daniel Clarke (Double R Racing) to contend with. As they went screaming three abreast down towards Quarry, the spectators held their collective breath wondering who would blink first. Parente arrived ahead of Clarke, but had left his braking way too late. As a result he ended up on the grass, and Clarke grabbed the lead back. It was quite a start from Parente, even so. Someone else who'd made a good start was James Walker (Fortec Motorsport); trouble was he hadn't bothered to wait for the starting lights. By the time the lights went out he was a good car's length out of position, and still moving. There was no way he was going to get away with such an obvious jumped start, and sure enough within a lap the officials had awarded him a drive through penalty as a reward for his over-optimistic move.
It seemed likely that he wasn't the only one to commit that offence, though he was the more obvious one. In the mid-field there was a knock-on effect of sorts, and by the time National Class man Charlie Hollings (Promatecme F3) had left the grid on time, he'd lost about 4 places, and most of his front wing. To be fair, he knew exactly where it was, it's just that it was wedged underneath his Lola, which wasn't helping much. He trailed into the pits for repairs at the end of lap one. Barton Mawer (T- Sport) and Nick Jones (Team SWR) were both caught up in it too. Mawer was able to continue, though he was dead last till Walker served his penalty, but the American was out of the race immediately, and after a truly ghastly qualifying day too; it really wasn't his weekend.
Up at the front, Clarke was making a determined effort to break away and get some distance between himself and the Carlin duo, who seemed to be too busy fighting each other to worry about the leader. Certainly Kimball was not letting Parente relaxed at this point, while behind them Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) was taking a mauling from Danny Watts, the Alan Docking Racing runner reckoning he had nothing to lose by going for hit hell for leather. He seemed to be relishing his first F3 run of the year, though it was likely Lewis wasn't enjoying it at all. While Clarke was having a relatively easy run, his team-mate, Bruno Senna, was having a tough time of it, having somehow ended up embroiled in a scrap for position with Tim Bridgman (Hitech Racing), the latter trying hard to turn his season round. The 2004 British Formula BMW champion hasn't adapted well to F3, and his aggressive nature is proving detrimental to his chances at present. By complete contrast, Bakkerud has come from the same series, but where the Dane didn't shine there, he's taken to F3 like a duck to water, finding that his smooth style suits the cars. Certainly he was off to a very good start, having qualified in a rather lacklustre 13th, and endured two heavy crashes on Saturday. Nothing daunted, he was 8th within a lap of the race getting underway. Impressive? Quite definitely. He has to be seen as one of the finds of the season, though Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing), who was quite a long way behind must have thought the Dane had gone loopy; this was the result of Saturday's crashes. Short of proper mirrors, the team had lashed up some sort of substitute. The trouble was everything looked a lot closer than it actually was, which left Bakkerud weaving about and trying to defend his line from someone who wasn't close enough to even think about mounting an attack!
While Salvador Duran (P1 Motorsport) led the National Class from Josh Fisher (Team SWR) and Juho Annala (Alan Docking Racing), Hollings had re- emerged from the pits and was busy making up for lost time, he and Mawer both a lot further back than normal. They weren't the only ones. Steven Kane (Promatecme F3) was also trying to improve his lot after a very nasty crash in qualifying. He was busy setting fastest race laps, while trying to wrestle his way back into the points. He's never known when to quit, and he wasn't about to start now, even with a bad grid position to hamper him. However, the really absorbing battle was the one between Watts and Lewis. It was debatable whether either of them would survive, and if Lewis thinks he knows how to race aggressively, he was now on the receiving end of a master class in the subject. To be fair to Lewis, he was withstanding it remarkably well, but Watts really did want that place. The trouble was, Mike Conway was on Watts' exhaust by then, and he had to defend as well as attack if he didn't want the Fortec Motorsport man taking the place from him.
The battle for second looked to be easing off a little, Kimball falling back from Parente. The Portuguese looked like he'd decided to let Clarke have this one if he really wanted it that badly, and was patiently hanging on to 2nd, knowing that the only man ahead of him in the Championship, Asmer, was back in 9th, and thus only likely to score two points. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valour, and getting into a fight with Clarke might prove costly in the long run. There was no discretion at all being shown by Watts, as he made a desperate lunge at Lewis at Quarry. He wasn't quite able to make it stick, and he still had the distracting presence of Conway in his mirrors. The three of them had also been joined by Danilo Dirani (P1 Motorsport), in what was turning out to be a very high-speed game of follow the leader. It was tension-inducing stuff and the large crowd loved every minute of it.
The National Class was proving equally tense. Local hero Fisher was catching Duran hand-over-fist, with Annala along for the ride. Championship Class runner Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport) was caught behind them, and couldn't get past, and he wasn't being helped by the presence of Ben Clucas (Fluid Motorsport), who wasn't about to give him any leeway just because they weren't in the same class.
Parente's patience was proving justifiable meanwhile with Asmer now fighting Kane to see which of them would be 9th. It was a lot of effort for two points, but then they're both scrappers, and neither of them were about to give in. There was a mistake from Parente, just in case anyone at Carlin was starting to relax. He had a couple of very untidy moments, and lost ground on Clarke, falling back into Kimball's clutches. However, it was about to not matter anyway. On lap 11, Adam Khan (Performance Racing) went off very hard when he dropped his wheels in the dirt exiting Camp. It was a classic Combe accident, and the tallest man in the series (all 6 feet 3 inches of him) went into the barriers heavily enough to rip two wheels off and spin back across the track. The wreckage came to rest on the racing line, and Khan got out and sprinted to safety with alacrity as the field bore down on him. There was no option but to scramble the Safety Car while a snatch vehicle was mobilised to removed what was left of the Dallara.
And so they all ended up bunched up behind the Safety Car. Clarke lost his gap as he settled in to wait for the restart. Parente and Kimball were tidily slotted in behind him, ahead of Lewis, Watts, Conway, Dirani, Bakkerud, Asmer and Kane. Bridgman was 11th from Senna, Ronayne O'Mahony (Fortec Motorsport), Duran, Fisher, Jelley, Annala, Clucas, Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing) and the hard-charging Mawer. Walker was now 21st, ahead of Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport), Hollings, Ricardo Teixeira (Carlin Motorsport) and Cheong Lou Meng (Edenbridge Racing).
After some sterling work from the marshals, the wreckage was rapidly cleared away, and the lights on the Safety Car went out, indicating that the restart would take place the next time they crossed the start/finish line. Clarke was making no mistakes, as he proved with a carefully controlled restart. He wasn't about to lose out on his first F3 win (and for that matter the team's first victory) by being careless. It probably helped that Parente was still playing sensibly, and anyway he was busy with Kimball still. The only person to really go for broke at the new start was Clucas, who made a dive to pass Annala, only to lose out to Kennard as well. He may be rusty, but Clucas hasn't mislaid his nerve, even if the attempt did fail. It was quite a move, or would have been if it had actually stuck.
At the front Clarke was opening up the gap again, while Conway and Dirani were now at each other's throats, at least metaphorically speaking. Dirani was looking more than a bit wild in his efforts to get on terms with the Englishman, though he didn't look as alarming as Bridgman, who was now very fast indeed if you believed the speed trap at Hammerdown. The trouble is, it really wasn't doing him any good at all, and he was so ragged through Camp that you feared for him. It certainly wasn't pretty.Nor were the hand gestures coming from Duran. The target of the Mexican's fury was O'Mahony, who was holding the National Class leader up. This might not normally have been a problem, but Duran had Fisher all over him like a rather nasty rash. The pressure eased a little a lap later when Fisher got it wrong and went off under braking at the Esses. The local boy lost 1.9 seconds, but was still in second place even after having to haul himself back onto the black stuff. Annala, meanwhile, made a complete nonsense of the Chicane, and dropped two places as a result. Both he and Fisher were saved from any further developments when Cheong ran out of steam, probably literally. Too tired to continue, the Macanese failed to turn for Camp and ran straight on into the barriers. It was a massive shunt, because he didn't seem to lift at all. The Dallara bounced over the grass and embedded itself in the tyre wall, doing massive damage and causing a red flag. There was no way the marshals were going to be able to move that in a hurry, though Cheong himself was rapidly removed from the scene of the crime.
The result was declared two laps back from the red flag, Clarke coming home for his first victory. Parente did his championship run no harm at all with second place, while Kimball was a good 3rd (though not too happy about it as he'd started from pole). Lewis hung onto 4th, despite Watts' best efforts, while Conway was 6th, ahead of Dirani, Bakkerud, Asmer and Kane. Bridgman was 11th, ahead of Senna, O'Mahony and Jelley, who had finally extracted himself from the National Class ranks. Duran won the Class from Fisher, Kennard and Clucas. 19th overall was Walker (and 15th in the Championship Class) ahead of Mawer, Annala, Ihara, Teixeira and Hollings.
The extra point for fastest laps went to Clarke in the Championship Class and Mawer in the National Class.