As the grid formed up for the start of the 9th round of the British F3 International Series at Thruxton one thing was becoming very clear. Tim Bridgman (Hitech Racing) was in trouble before the race even started. He had to be pushed into place on...
As the grid formed up for the start of the 9th round of the British F3 International Series at Thruxton one thing was becoming very clear. Tim Bridgman (Hitech Racing) was in trouble before the race even started. He had to be pushed into place on the grid, and when the field took off on their warm up lap, Bridgman simply sat there. The engine eventually showed signs of life, but the noise it made as he moved away was truly nasty. The Hitech car limped round, and then dived straight into the pits and out of the race there and then.
As the starting lights went out, Charlie Kimball (Carlin Motorsport) capitalised on his pole position, and shot away into the lead though both Mike Conway (Fortec Motorsport) and Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) did their best to stay with the American. Meanwhile, series leader Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport) was the one who lost out there, being unable to make up any ground in the frantic scrabble to get round Allard for the first time. Team-mate Christian Bakkerud was also a mite tardy getting away, but he would soon make up for that. By the time the field reappeared at the start/finish line Kimball was already attempting to stamp his authority on the race, and he'd started opening up a gap, partly assisted by the fact that Conway had Asmer all over him, the two carrying on what seems to be a very personal battle for position. Of course, given the somewhat hostile relationship between Fortec and Hitech this is perhaps not surprising. The only thing stopping it turning into a four-way battle with Parente and Bakkerud joining in, was the fact that Trevor Carlin's boys were too busy scrapping with each other, a fight being watched with some interest by Ryan Lewis (T-Sport). Lewis was just behind the two of them, and he didn't want to stay there if he could avoid it.
Back in the National Class, things were also getting heated, with Salvador Duran (P1 Motorsport) and Barton Mawer (T-Sport) slugging it out ferociously for the leader. Duran's a feisty individual, and Mawer only seems to do attack mode when he's behind the wheel, so the spectators were treated to quite a battle from the start. At the very back of the field, there was something interesting going on too. For one thing, Ricardo Teixeira (Carlin Motorsport) was proving that his learning year plan is working, when he was able to keep up with the National Class mid-field runners for the first time, despite bogging down at the start. In addition, Cheong Lou Meng (Edenbridge Racing) wasn't slowest. That dubious distinction went to Nick Jones (Team SWR), the Welsh/American spinning out of contention on lap 3 at the Chicane, and causing an outbreak of waved yellows.
At the front, Kimball motored serenely on, though he did occasionally fling the Dallara through the Chicane, in a moment of sideways recklessness, perhaps because he was enjoying himself so much! Behind him, Asmer was doing a good impression of a terrier with a particularly juicy bone, as he savaged Conway enthusiastically, eventually getting the better of the Englishman in a daring move at the Complex. Meanwhile, Bakkerud got the drop on Parente, and the result was that Conway had no sooner drawn breath after the Estonian assault than he was being attacked by the Dane. Conway must have been wondering what he'd ever done to offend the Baltic nations. As if that wasn't enough, Lewis was now closing on Parente, who really didn't want to lose any more ground if he could help it. It was bad enough that Conway was still 3rd. If he wanted to keep his title lead, he really couldn't afford to let Lewis through. Lewis was being assisted in his pursuit of the Portuguese by the fact that James Walker (Fortec Racing) was just behind him and not looking especially threatening. There was a bit of a scuffle between Danilo Dirani (P1 Motorsport) and Steven Kane (Promatecme F3), as the two Lola drivers attempted to make places, but Kane kept finding Daniel Clarke (Double R Racing) almost alongside him at the Chicane, as Clarke repeatedly skittered straight across instead of taking the approved line. Clarke was eventually shown the driving standards flag, and seemed to calm down. Of course, given how badly Bruno Senna in the other Double R Racing car was struggling to find the proper line through the Chicane, it began to look as if the settings might be a problem.
Not far behind them, the two-car battle for the National Class lead had turned into a 16-wheel Dallara, with Duran and Mawer trading places several times, and Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing) and Charlie Hollings (Promatecme F3) - who had barged his way past Josh Fisher (Team SWR) - running nose to tail for lap after lap. A third of the way through the race, the battle still hadn't resolved itself, through Mawer was back ahead of the Mexican, while Kennard was repeatedly slamming the door on Hollings. It was good clean racing, if somewhat robust.
On lap 7 there was a slight reshuffled, when Walker spun off, inevitably perhaps at the Chicane. As he skittered back on, he came within inches of taking out Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport), who could probably have lived without that sort of scare. That moved Dirani and everyone behind him up a place, and left Walker with a lot of work to do if he wanted to get back in the points.
Kimball was having a lonely race now, a long way ahead of Asmer. The Estonian had a bit of a problem again as Conway wasn't taking being third lying down. Despite the presence of Bakkerud, who was glued to his rear wing, he wanted to get back at Asmer. It all went wrong for the Fortec driver when Bakkerud finally saw his opportunity. The first attempt didn't work, but it did distract Conway enough that Asmer was able to break away slightly. The second attempt worked magnificently, Bakkerud pulling off a brave overtaking manoeuvre at the Chicane on Lap 13. He was through and clear and promptly set off in pursuit of Asmer. Considering that the Dane didn't really impress in Formula BMW last year, he's been one of the revelations of this season. It maybe shouldn't be too big a surprise. By his own admission, he didn't like the BMW too much, finding its handling not at all to his taste. F3 was proving far more suitable: "The BMWs have too much downforce for the power, and you have to drive aggressively, and throw it into the corners a bit like rallying. The F3 is smoother, and that suits my style," he explained later.
At the same time as Bakkerud hauled himself into a podium position, Mawer found he had some breathing space, when Duran's car abruptly disappeared from his mirrors, the Mexican suffering a mechanical failure. That left the Australian free to romp home to a class win, because Kennard and Hollings were far to busy with each other to even notice that Salvador had gone. Hollings was trying everything he could think of to get ahead of Kennard, and Kennard was staunchly resisting everything Charlie could throw at him - which turned out to be an awful lot.
As the race moved into its closing stages, Parente was still being pressured by Lewis, and was still driving a very wide Dallara. Eventually, the pressure eased off, because Dirani had finally broken away from Kane and was after getting past Lewis if he could. It was helpful for Parente, though it didn't ultimately change Dirani's final position in the race. Meanwhile, Bakkerud was still gaining on Asmer, breaking the circuit lap record on the way. He was very pleased with that piece of news later, especially as the record had previously been held by Takuma Sato, also of course in a Carlin car at the time. The trouble was, there wasn't enough race left to actually catch Asmer, but at least he would be on the podium again. Further back, the podium still wasn't entirely settled for the National Class, as there was something of a question mark hanging over the second and third places. That question mark was whether either of them would survive the experience, with Hollings making one last, desperate lunge at Kennard as they came through the Chicane. And once again, despite doing everything right, Hollings couldn't get through. Kennard wasn't having any of it; he'd not been as far up as second before this season, and he wasn't giving it up for anyone thank you very much! With two laps left, Teixeira, who'd been doing so well, managed to spin it away, dropping a place to a grateful Juho Annala, the second Alan Docking Racing runner trying to recover from a lacklustre qualifying session, but spinning at the start and dropping way, way back. It was a sign of the Angolan driver's progress, however, that he hadn't been lapped this time out, unlike Cheong, who threw himself into the gravel to get out of Kimball's way when the American arrived to lap him.
And so Kimball came home to his first F3 win, making the transition from Formula Ford to Formula Three work after a slightly shaky start to the season. He was delighted with his win. The differences between the formulae were something he too seemed keen to reflect on: "The speed difference round the back makes the Fords nervous, compared to the F3s. The extra downforce makes it possible to run flat around the back here, and because of the added grip they're smoother and easier to drive. However, the competition is so tight that you have to get it perfect every time, so it's a lot harder." And in answer to the commentary team's oft-repeated question of the weekend ("Who was the last American driver to win a British F3 race?"), Charlie knew exactly what the answer was: "Me! 10 minutes ago!"
In second place for the fourth time this season, Asmer now claims to have a plan. "I hope I keep getting second places because then I will get to be first at the end of the year!" All joking aside, he was happy to get second, considering his qualifying position, and the points may well prove useful at the end of the season. Bakkerud was still smiling about his lap record, and was well pleased with life in 3rd, while Conway was 4th, just ahead of Parente, Lewis, Dirani, Kane, Clarke, and Walker, who edged out Senna and O'Mahony towards the end to grab the last point of the morning. Jelley was 13th after another disappointing run, with the National Class runners behind him. 14th overall, and winning the class was Mawer, giving team boss Russell Eacott a fine 40th birthday present (not that Russell felt like being at a noisy motor race with his post-party hangover). Mawer had enjoyed his fight with Duran, and seemed genuinely regretful that it hadn't lasted the full race distance. Kennard was 2nd in class, from Hollings, Fisher, Annala and Teixeira, while Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport) was the last of the Championship Class drivers, ahead of Cheong, who was the only man lapped this time out.
Fastest laps went to Bakkerud and Hollings.