Weather: fine, sunny. Round 8: Well, what can we say? At the moment it seems as if the repercussions from this one are going to run and run. The one thing it did do of particular note (in a "Well, we've never seen that happen before!" fashion)...
Weather: fine, sunny.
Round 8: Well, what can we say? At the moment it seems as if the repercussions from this one are going to run and run. The one thing it did do of particular note (in a "Well, we've never seen that happen before!" fashion) was to unite the disparate group of individuals who own/run the Formula Three teams - with the exception of Fortec's Richard Dutton, but more of that later.
Initially things looked to be pretty normal. When the pit lane opened for 10 minutes prior to the grid forming up Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing) and Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport) were the first drivers out there, keen to make sure their cars were fine after a rebuild of most of the suspension and an engine change respectively between races. Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) was another with a rebuilt car, so he was out fairly early on too. Anyway, they all seemed to be OK, and so the grid formed up and set off on the formation lap, at which point we lost Marcus Marshall (Fortec Motorsport), the red Dallara grinding to a recalcitrant halt coming out of Clarks and having to be pushed away behind the barriers, where it would stay for the rest of the race. As it turned out, that may have been the best place to be.
When the lights finally did turn green, Adam Carroll (P1) made a good start to try and make up for a dreadful qualifying session, but the real blinder came from Will Davison (Menu Motorsport). Stuck in 10th place on the grid - and having scored precisely no points in the first race of the day - he'd decided he had nothing to lose, so he went for it, and although he didn't seem to make up much ground immediately, by the time they headed into Duffus he was ideally placed to slingshot round the outside of not one, not two but three of his fellow competitors, snatching 7th place from under the noses of the Carlin Motorsport men, Alvaro Parente, Danilo Dirani, and Clivio Piccione. At the front, James Rossiter was upholding Fortec's honour all on his own, and despite wheel spin he was in the lead by the time they reached Duffus Dip. Will Power (Alan Docking Racing) was again the bridesmaid, hanging on grimly to 2nd despite everything Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports) could think of to stop him. Lucas di Grassi (Hitech Racing) had crept at the start and then hauled on the anchors, which meant he was still in 4th at the end of the first lap, with Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) and Viso scrapping over 5th. Behind the Davison/Carlin trio, Carroll was holding off the attentions of Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) and Andrew Thompson (Hitech), the two of them staging a re-run of the morning's battle for points. Barton Mawer (Performance) was leading the Scholarship Class from Jelley, though he didn't have to worry about Jelley for long, the latter staggering past the pits a lap later with a terminally sick car, which ended up parked on the side of the track. The result of Jelley parking where he did was an initial outbreak of yellow flags at Duffus, though it didn't stop Parente from going after Davison, who in turn was attacking Viso. While Lewis was coming up from the back of the field and trying to pass Adam Khan (Alan Docking Racing), while Khan wrestled with a broken front wing, in the middle of the field Piccione was all over Dirani, and you could be forgiven for forgetting they're in the same team; they certainly seemed to have done. Meanwhile, Vasilije Calasan was awarded a drive through penalty for jumping the start, but his chances of actually coming in were looking slim, as the Safety Car was finally scrambled to allow Jelley's car to be moved to a safer position.
And this was when the trouble really started. Certainly there was nothing wrong with the actual Safety Car process, which was handled very well. In fact it may well be the fastest Safety Car laps imaginable. In fact it was so fast in the hands of Gordon Shedden that it looked as if it was about to off once or twice. No, the trouble started when several drivers appeared not to have seen the warning signals, and went shooting past those who were slowing down as instructed. One of the worst offenders was Asmer, who made up a handful of places and then had to drop back. Ajit Kumar (Mango Racing) also failed to notice the flags, but he was already so far back that it really didn't matter. And so, the order behind the Safety Car was Rossiter, from Power and Piquet. Di Grassi was 4th, ahead of Chandhok, Viso, Davison, Parente, Dirani and Piccione. In 11th, Carroll headed Asmer, Thompson, James Walker (Hitech Racing), Fairuz Fauzy (Menu Motorsport) Mawer, Lewis, Khan, Calasan and Kumar. And that's how it stayed till Lap 10, while Jelley was retrieved on a flatbed truck and the officials assured themselves that the track was now clear enough to race on. The Safety Car lights went out on Lap 11 and Shedden pulled off neatly, at which point instead of accelerating Rossiter hauled on the anchors. Unfortunately most of the people behind him didn't, which meant there were cars all over the place as they all tried to avoid each other. For a few brief and horrible seconds the pit wall was a very bad place to be. The reaction of most team personnel can be summed up in the words of Russell Eacott of T-Sport. "I could see cars everywhere and I thought f***ing hell! We're all going to die!" Once the dust had settled, and Piquet and di Grassi had also slammed the brakes on, sending a ripple effect back through the field, there was obviously going to be trouble over that, or at least lively discussion. While Rossiter was informed by his team that he should never do that again (well, the Clerk of the Course ordered them to tell him that), Shedden was already back in action, leading the field round.
This time Calasan and Khan had clashed at the Hairpin, leaving Calasan stuck on the kerbs again, and just to put the kibosh on a really rotten afternoon, Carroll ran foul of a kerb at MacIntyres. Just before the Safety Car picked them all up again, they were still mostly going far too fast into the Hairpin, especially considering that there was a car stuck half way onto the track, and there were marshals trying to deal with it. It looks as if it's time for a serious talk about driving standards as a whole, with particular reference to one or two individuals. The situation wasn't in any way improved by the fact that there was dust and rubbish all over the track now, most of it apparently bits of broken wing. Oh, and Kumar was missing part of his nose, though you had to wonder how he'd managed to go fast enough to do that amount of damage. Now Shedden was again bouncing the Safety Car over the kerbs - they'd be lucky if it had any brakes left by the end of the day - so at least someone was enjoying themselves. Behind him, the order was now Rossiter, from Power, Piquet, di Grassi, Chandhok, Viso, Davison, Parente, Piccione and Dirani. Thompson had inherited 11th and was still ahead of Asmer, Walker and Fauzy. Lewis was now leading the Scholarship Class, having got the drop on Mawer at the first restart, while Kumar was in front of Khan. Five laps later and the carnage was all cleared away. So what happened next? For some reason, Rossiter did exactly the same thing again. This time, at least Power and Piquet were expecting it, and so they backed off too. Unfortunately, this time Davison and Viso (who were too far back to know what had caused the chaos the first time) both went for it. In the ensuing mayhem, Mawer went off at MacIntyres, though he was able to come back on in last place, trapped behind Khan, who was by now missing most of his front wing (and the rear wing was no longer looking too pristine). However, just because Khan now had the world's most evil-handling Dallara, didn't mean he was about to let Mawer back through.
The Carlin battle wasn't over yet either, with Parente having yet another go at Piccione as soon as the opportunity presented itself. In addition, Chandhok was showing a fine turn of speed as he tried everything he could think of to get past di Grassi. He was probably being spurred on by the sight of Viso looming large in his mirrors, and who could blame him for that? And behind Viso, there was a lot of dust and smoke, mostly being created by the Carlin boys. Parente had another go at Davison, while Piccione went on the attack again, but only succeeded in breaking his front win against Dirani's rear wing, going off and losing ground. Thompson and Asmer were still battling it out in the mid-field, when Walker tried to go up the inside of both of them. It was clearly never going to work, and it wasn't made any easier by the fact that he suddenly encountered Piccione, who was falling back now. With Asmer treating the Dallara as if it was a very wide Formula Ford, Walker wasn't coming through any time soon, even after he'd disengaged from Piccione. The Monegasque's race was almost over anyway, as it turned out. With two laps left to run, he was passed by Fauzy, and a lap later he pulled into the pits and out of the running. There really was nothing to be gained from staying out. He was out of the points and the car was damaged. Maybe he was just practicing for the Porsche Supercup in Monaco, which he's been invited to participate in.
And apart from the Mawer/Khan battle, the remaining excitement would almost certainly take place in the Clerk of the Course's office later. But first, the battle for the Scholarship Class podium. Khan's car was now lifting in the twistier parts of the circuit, there was so little wing left he was running out of downforce. However, he was still trying to hang on, finally going off after a somewhat ill considered blocking attempt on the Australian. The resulting yellows at Duffus would probably have led to a third Safety Car period had there been more than a couple of laps left to run. As it was, it was all over bar the shouting; and there would be a lot of that. The order as they crossed the Start/Finish line for the last time was Rossiter, from Power and Piquet. Di Grassi was fourth, ahead of Chandhok, Viso, Davison, Parente, Dirani and Thompson. Asmer again just missed out on a point, while Walker and Fauzy brought up the rear. Lewis, the bulletproof man, took another Scholarship Class victory from Mawer and Kumar. There were no other finishers, with points for fastest lap going to Piquet and to Lewis.
Shortly afterwards, the fastest moving thing was the queue of team bosses outside Ian Watson's office wanting to protest about Rossiter. Oddly enough, the one thing he had managed to achieve was an unusual degree of unity among a normally disunited and factious lot. Apart from that, Khan was waiting to protest Mawer, though it should probably have been the other way round. Latest news suggests that the results will remain provisional until a stewards meeting at Snetterton in three weeks time. There is to be an investigation into driving standards behind the Safety Car (whereas it might be better to investigate what happened immediately after the Safety Car periods). Apparently Rossiter has been fined, as has Power (presumably for declining to run into Rossiter), but everything is subject to appeal. We could all be a lot older by the time we get the result of this one.
Next Races: Rounds 4, 9 and 10, Snetterton, Norfolk, June 5th/6th
By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite