2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship - Round 8, Knockhill, Fife, May 11th/12th Championship Class Race Report - Round 8: Weather: Dry, grey, cold. Just when it looked as if things could not get any sillier, we had the second ...
2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship - Round 8, Knockhill, Fife, May 11th/12th
Championship Class Race Report - Round 8:
Weather: Dry, grey, cold.
Just when it looked as if things could not get any sillier, we had the second Championship Class race of the day. James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) made a good start from pole, though he was outdone in terms of drama by his teammate, Michael Keohane. The Irishman started fourth but was on the move as soon as the lights went green. He powered his Dallara off the line and took to the grass verge, using the green stuff to drive around Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport), breaking the Dane's front wing for him on the way. It seemed that the only reason he didn't get Courtney as well was that the grass ran out, to be replaced by a bridge-support and he had to pull back into line. He was second before they even got as far as Duffus Dip. Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport) could be seen locking up horribly as he tried to avoid getting damaged, and in the melee behind the Dane someone managed to hit Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing). They both got going again, but it hadn't done a huge amount for Bremer's bodywork, or Mayall's nerves for that matter.
With Courtney leading from Keohane, and Bremer hanging on to third, the main interest once again centred initially on Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing), who was again sandwiched between Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International) and Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport). It was not a comfortable place to be. Kerr repeatedly tried to pass Jouanny, but with Taylor on his exhaust he couldn't afford to be too creative in case he let Taylor through. And all the while, the two Carlin cars were getting away as any possible opposition negated itself.
Not that much further back, things were not exactly peaceful either, as Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) headed a group of decidedly out of control fellow runners. In the midst of this group, a wild slither into Taylors saw Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) get ahead of Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport), which put Austin in a position where he could set about Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport), who was just behind van der Merwe. Carbone tried to come back at Austin, and succeeded, which left Austin with his team-mate, Giandomenico Brusatin, right on his tail and looking very threatening indeed. And just behind them, Ernani Judice (Promatecme International) was attempting to climb up the order. As Jouanny held everyone up, the result was what looked like a 36-wheeler (Jouanny, Kerr, Taylor, van der Merwe, Kovalainen, Carbone, Austin, Brusatin and Judice) and it wasn't at all pretty. This was bound to end in tears before bedtime!
The first signs of real trouble came when Andrew Thompson (Motaworld Racing) slid into the gravel on the approach to Taylors. Meanwhile, Austin got past Carbone as they raced through Duffus Dip, only to trip over Kovalainen, allowing Austin back through. Kovalainen then attacked van der Merwe, hoping to escape from the mayhem. The South African was driving a very wide Dallara by this point, however, and slammed the door vigorously as the Finn, having tried the outside line, shifted to the inside. Van der Merwe forced him onto the grass and the challenge evaporated as Carbone and Austin both slipped through, though Austin was quickly retaken. Austin wasn't about to give in, however, and finally got through to make it stick. And then things got worse. It was beginning to look like a Formula Ford race, except that the Fords would most likely have been far better behaved. We hadn't even reached half distance, when Taylor managed to pull the same move as he had in Round 7, crashing out at Duffus Dip after a failed attempt to pass Kerr. Meanwhile, Brusatin and Judice had tangled at Taylors and so they were out too. Austin then tried to pass Carbone but was blocked, before Carbone had a go at van der Merwe, but had to back off when he noticed the outbreak of yellow flags. As if that was not enough, Tor Graves (Alan Docking Racing), who had been running quietly near the back, also went off. With yellows everywhere and four cars in the gravel at Taylors (to say nothing of Taylor in the gravel elsewhere) the Safety Car was finally scrambled, and not a moment too soon. Ironically, once the Safety Car was on the circuit, Austin promptly fell off at Taylors too. He was retrieved and sent back out to play. Bed without supper might have been more appropriate, and not just for him.
At the restart, we were left with 15 of the 21 starters, and the 9-car clump in the middle had been reduced to four cars. Courtney got away smoothly again and began to pull out a fresh gap while Keohane was untroubled by Bremer in 3rd. Jouanny and Kerr were 4th and 5th, and Carbone was 6th, just ahead of van der Merwe, Kovalainen and Shinya Hosokawa (Formula Dream Team Carlin), who had caught up during the Safety Car period. Robert Dahlgren (Duma Racing) was now 10th. Maybe the brief period of calm might have been beneficial. Not a bit of it! Kovalainen again tried to get past van der Merwe, to be just as fiercely blocked as before. Of course, the way the Carlin cars spit flames out of the exhaust, it's a bit alarming when you get too close, especially if you want to keep your eyebrows. Kerr's brief period of peace was about to end too, when Carbone attacked for 5th, managing to take both Kerr and himself out of the race, Kerr's Dallara finishing up stranded mid track. In the ensuing bedlam, Kovalainen was pitched into a spin that left him uncertain which way he was facing when it ended. He had to do a doughnut to get himself facing the right way, and got going again a long way back, although not as far back as Kerr, who also got going again. All of this promoted van der Merwe to 5th and Hosokawa to 6th, which meant there were four Carlin cars in the top 6. The question was, could they stay there.
Austin, meanwhile, was now fighting with Mayall, who had latched onto the end of the new 5th place scrap (van der Merwe, Hosokawa, Dahlgren, Matthew Gilmore in the Team Avanti car). Hosokawa was now making repeated attempts to pass van der Merwe, but his teammate was not about to let him through. After all, he hadn't let anyone else past, so he was hardly likely to start now. Around the back of the circuit, the South African found he could pull away a little, but as they came across the start/finish line, the Japanese would catch him again. All of this infighting was allowing Dahlgren to get ever closer, though passing the two of them would be considerably more difficult. Hosokawa next tried the outside, then the inside and might have taken to the pitlane if he had thought that no one would notice! Again, van der Merwe slammed the door, but Hosokawa was reluctant to take the hint and tried again. And again he got the door slammed in his face for his troubles.
Someone else in trouble was Bremer, who had managed to hang on to 4th place despite his damaged front wing, only to succumb to a gearbox failure with two laps to go. That left Jouanny unchallenged in 3rd place with two Carlin cars ahead and two behind. Carbone also retired at this point, pulling in to the pits and never emerging again. Van der Merwe held off Hosokawa until the very end, while Dahlgren came home 6th, to score his first points of the season. Behind Matthew Gilmore was a rather surprised 7th, ahead of the kilted Mayall. Rob Austin was 9th, although Tom Sisley (Motaworld Racing) did try to take him round the outside on the last lap. It was a brave attempt but Austin resisted and Sisley almost lost it completely and was edged out of the points as Stefano Fabi (Team Avanti) came through to take the final point. Behind Sisley the last two finishers were Kerr and Kovalainen.
While everything that happened was probably highly entertaining for the spectators, much of the on track behaviour was appalling. There is a suggestion that the drivers' briefing at Croft could see F3's permanent Clerk of the Course, Dennis Carter, giving the lot of them a well-deserved reading of the riot act. He has already apparently spoken to a number of drivers individually, so it now remains to be seen how they behave at Croft. Expect a welter of penalties if they start acting up.