This was the second of the delayed Spa races, and there were one or two moments when it looked as if we might get proper Belgian weather, as in torrential downpours, rain of frogs, and the rest. Anyway, the clouds were lowering horribly, but the...
This was the second of the delayed Spa races, and there were one or two moments when it looked as if we might get proper Belgian weather, as in torrential downpours, rain of frogs, and the rest. Anyway, the clouds were lowering horribly, but the rain finally decided to hold off, although within ten minutes of the race ending the heavens opened and the circuit was swiftly awash. There was a tendency among some of us to blame Charlie Kimball (Carlin Motorsport) and his rain dance. It was a slightly odd sight.
It wasn't the only odd sight. Another was a seriously aggrieved Chris Weller, owner of the Promatecme F3 team looking like he was about to explode. A rumour had gone round that his driver, Steven Kane, who was on pole for this race, was without the tyres needed as someone had sold them. Quite where this rumour had come from was anyone's guess, but it had of course spread like wildfire, and Chris was getting awfully tired of refuting it. As it turned out, it wasn't that far from the truth - he didn't have a complete set of tyres left and was out there with mismatched, balding rears. Someone had messed up good and proper. The other sight was that of Tim Bridgman going round in circles after arriving late and then forgetting his helmet. He eventually got himself together, but it took some doing; perhaps he took too many cold cures the night before; perhaps his head was still bad from the sickness. He certainly didn't appear to be well. He wasn't the only one. Ricardo Teixeira (Carlin Motorsport) was in bad shape too. He'd damaged his back in testing and was now in a lot of pain, walking around very stiffly.
Anyway, they lined up and the start lights came on and flashed off very quickly. Kane made a great start, getting away very well and hanging onto the lead as they vanished from sight into Copse. However, his start paled into insignificance in comparison to what Charlie Kimball and Alvaro Parente, both in Carlin Motorsport cars, were able to manage. Kimball started 3rd and made an awesome start, charging past everyone, while Parente went with him from 6th. At the very front, Kimball was about to get a present, when Kane, Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) and Bruno Senna (Double R Racing) all tried to get through Abbey together. Lewis overdid it and took himself out, and a very short distance later Senna appeared to try and take Priory flat. This is not something you should try in an F3 car, and sure enough he came a serious cropper, falling off into the gravel. Kane survived but lost 13 places by the time he'd sorted himself out; with no grip he was lucky to last that long. And thus Kimball and Parente found themselves the grateful recipients of 1st and 2nd place. Further back, Michael Herck (Junior Racing Team) failed to get off the line getting away dead last, only to find himself overtaking the stricken Kane, while James Walker (Fortec Motorsport) narrowly missed damaging his front wing on the Belgian's rear wing. Herck got away last while Walker settled for attacking Bridgman, finally doing damage to himself and the Hitech driver. Walker limped round to the pits for a spot of remedial work, while Bridgman retired on the spot. Taking advantage of all this mayhem was Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport), the Dane gaining 6 places in that one opening lap despite an engine that was still misfiring. If they carried on crashing out or vanishing at this rate we'd be lucky to have any of them left at the end.
Meanwhile, at the very back, Ronayne O'Mahony (Fortec Motorsport), was winning friends and influencing people. Certainly Juho Annala (Alan Docking Racing) had a lot to say about the Irishman afterwards. He had been minding his own business through Club when the red car came flying out of nowhere, attacked the back end of the Docking car and pitched the Finn into a roll. The result was yet another collection of wreckage, a medical car in attendance, and a Safety Car period. O'Mahony got away with it, while Annala was at least eventually able to get out and walk to the ambulance under his own steam.
Elsewhere, the battle for the National Class stuttered to a halt as Charlie Hollings (Promatecme F3) rattled by in 7th overall looking very solid (despite a battery change on the grid), and Salvador Duran (P1 Motorsport) found himself one place behind, but with an obviously ailing car. As the Safety Car came out, Duran came in to the pits, and then waved his arms a lot as he tried to explain what was happening. P1 clambered all over it and seemed to be unable to find anything they could do. They simply sent him back out again. A lap later he was back, and this time he was staying. The clutch had broken and there was nothing anyone could do for the Mexican.
Meanwhile, everyone else settled in for a couple of laps behind the Safety Car. Kimball immediately lost the lead he'd gone to a lot of trouble to build up. Parente settled in behind him, and Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) was 3rd, the Estonian having also managed to avoid the mayhem. Dan Clarke (Double R Racing) was 4th, from Danilo Dirani (P1 Motorsport), Mike Conway (Fortec Motorsport), Hollings, Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport), Bakkerud and Josh Fisher (Team SWR). 11th was Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), Barton Mawer (T-Sport), Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport), Herck, Teixeira, Cheong Lou Meng (Edenbridge Racing), Kane, Nick Jones (Team SWR), O'Mahony and Walker, who was a lap down.
At the restart, Kimball controlled things beautifully, and although Parente was able to stay with him, there was nothing the Portuguese could do. Behind them, Clarke took advantage of the restart and scythed past Asmer going into Copse. Asmer went far too wide, and the next thing he knew, Danilo was through as well while the Estonian was struggling to get back on the racing line. As if that wasn't enough, Conway was showing every sign of wanting to get through too, pushing very hard on the re-opening lap. Kimball, meanwhile, was pushing very hard as well, trying to open up a substantial gap between himself and Parente as soon as possible. A minor mistake from Parente saw the series leader slip back slightly, but just as Clarke started to think he might be in with a chance of catching the second- placed man, the Carlin car pulled away again. He might not be able to catch Kimball, but he wasn't about to lose out to a man who appears to feel the need to make up stories about surfing accidents. All it took was one wild moment from Clarke, and Parente vanished from his sights, never to be in them again.
In the National Class, Hollings was still a comfortable leader, still 7th overall, but Mawer was looking threatening and had made up an awful lot of ground. However, he was stuck behind Fisher, and had Kennard all over him. And what they didn't realise was that Ihara was coming up fast. The Japanese woman was having her best run of the season, and she despatched Kennard in pretty short order before setting off after Mawer. He didn't take long either, and O'Mahony, after pitching Annala out of the race one lap one, was soon to add another fan to the list. He went for the Australian with seemingly no thought as to how they were going to get round the corner, and that was both of them out of the race there an then. That left Fisher with some clear air after Ihara also dealt summarily with him. He soon lost ground to Kennard, though, as he was having all sorts of trouble with the car, and was in no position to resist when the ADR driver nosed alongside. Josh was really not having a good time out there.
Nor was Clarke, who now had Dirani all over him, while the leaders continued to pull away. He was probably only saved by the fact that Asmer and Conway were bulking large in the Brazilian's mirrors, stopping him devoting his full attention to Clark. At the front, all was serene in comparison. Kimball made sure of a point for fastest laps, before seeming to settle down, happy with a four-second lead. In fact, all four Carlin cars were now in the top 10, with Bakkerud circulating at speed despite the appalling noises issuing from his Mugen-Honda on the main straight. How it was keeping going at that speed was anyone's guess, but the Dane wasn't going to quit. And now Ihara was firmly inside the top ten too, making Trevor Carlin a very happy man indeed.
The real interest now was further back. It certainly wasn't the National Class lead that held the interest. Hollings was a distant speck as far as Kennard and company were concerned. It was the battle between Herck and Ihara, who had been joined by Walker, who was trying to unlap himself. Eventually Ihara got the better of the two men, and that left Walker to spend the rest of the race trading places with Herck, despite the fact that the Belgian was the clear leader in his class as the only man in it, and Walker was all but last in the Championship Class. While all this was going on Kane finally limped into the pits. The team didn't exactly rush to deal with him, so it seemed to be the end of his race. He did get back out for the last lap but that was the end of a less-than-perfect day for the unlucky driver.
And apart from the demise of Bakkerud on the final lap, that was it. The Dane finally struggled into the pits, the misfire now so bad that it was impossible to continue. It was a devastating blow for the Dane after a fine effort, but he did still score points, something of a miracle given the way the engine now sounded.
And so Kimball took his third win of the season, from series-leader Parente (who is still 52 points ahead). Clarke was 3rd, with Dirani and Asmer and Conway 4th, 5th and 6th respectively. Hollings was next, the National Class winner separating Jelley (7th) and Ihara (8th) from the other Championship Class contenders. Herck won the Invitation Class as the only runner and was 10th overall. Kennard was 2nd in National Class, 11th overall, from Fisher, Teixeira, Cheong and Jones. 16th overall and 9th in the Championship Class was the hapless Bakkerud, and the last point went to Walker. Kane was 11th in class with nothing to show for his pole position.
The extra point for fastest lap in each class went to Kimball, Hollings and Herck.
Afterwards, Kimball was very happy to have turned the Monza situation round. "It's never easy to win in Formula 3, but I had the pace over many people out there. I had used rubber at Monza but here we had newish tyres. I established a gap and continued to build on it, and then I got a good restart and kept going from there. For tomorrow I have two good qualifying positions for both of them, 3rd and 5th, I can go racing from there. And after today we know it's not impossible to pass round here, so I see no problem."
Parente was fairly pleased too, especially as his tyres were less than pristine at the start. "We used the newer tyres at Monza so I had to rely on a used set for this race. That meant it was impossible to keep up with Charlie. Also it was windy round the back, unlike yesterday. I was able to put a little bit of pressure on him for about a lap but I just couldn't keep up. Tomorrow I start from pole and second and I'm looking forward to it. It could all change tomorrow!" (This said while pointing at Charlie.)
Hollings was happy too. "I got a good start from 11th and of course I had pole in class. Then a few Championship Class cars went wide on the first lap. I managed to avoid them and after the Safety Car someone else went wide. After that I sat behind Mike Conway for a few laps, and I managed to break away along with the top 6. I had 25 seconds to the next National Class, so it wasn't as hard a race as some I've had to drive!" Fisher, on the other hand, was not as happy as he could have been, having struggled all race. "It was more of a battle with my own car than anything else. I don't know what we've done but we've made it undriveable. I got very lucky, and now there's a lot of work to do for tomorrow. We changed a lot between qualifying sessions but I think we went too far - we need to put it back the way it was otherwise we'll be looking a bit silly tomorrow."