Today at Rockingham Atte Mustonen (Double R Racing) won his second race in the category (and his first this season) after a lights-to-flag run. Behind him, however, there was more than enough excitement, with Marcus Ericsson (Fortec Motorsport) ...
Today at Rockingham Atte Mustonen (Double R Racing) won his second race in the category (and his first this season) after a lights-to-flag run. Behind him, however, there was more than enough excitement, with Marcus Ericsson (Fortec Motorsport) charging through the field from 7th to 2nd by the end in a display of Scandinavian car control the likes of which is rarely seen in F3 these days. In 3rd was Jaime Alguersuari (Carlin Motorsport) who lost out in the closing stages to Ericsson. Winning the National Class for the fifth time out of seven was Andy Meyrick (Carlin Motorsport), who led Salman Al Khalifa (T-Sport) and Stefan Wilson (Fluid Motorsport) home.
Before the race started there were a few dramas for Nick Tandy (John Tandy Racing), the white car appearing in the pit lane after the 5-minute signal was given, and having to head round to slot into his grid spot. And the formation lap was not with incident either as Alistair Jackson (Ultimate Motorsport) pulled off in a cloud of smoke, the Mercedes engine completely dead.
At the start, Mustonen got away smoothly to snatch the lead while Max Chilton (Hitech Racing) bogged down slightly, losing out to both the Finn and Alguersuari. There was a bit of a sort out coming out of Deene with lots of tyre smoke and photographers scattering in all directions. When the dust cleared, Ericsson was up a place in 6th, and Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing) was all over Chilton, while Sam Abay (Carlin Motorsport) was 5th, though a lap later he'd powered past Grubmuller, leaving the Austrian to fall back into the clutches of Ericsson. Another beneficiary of the chaos was series-leader Sergio Perez (T-Sport), who started 11th and gained 2 places on the first lap. Meyrick, meanwhile, was leading the National Class ahead of Mick Devaney (Ultimate Motorsport), Brendon Hartley (Carlin Motorsport) and Tandy, all of whom were part of a lovely big cushion between himself and Al Khalifa and a rather surprised Wilson who'd inherited 3rd in class after team-mate Jay Bridger (Fluid Motorsport) and Kristjan Einar (Carlin Motorsport) tangled and Einar went out. Meanwhile, at the front, Grubmuller was about to lose a place to Ericsson, who had got the hang of overtaking at Deene Hairpin.
At the front Mustonen was working hard to keep a sensible gap between himself and Alguersuari, even setting the fastest lap of the race so far, the problem being that Alguersuari seemed disinclined to let him get away. Elsewhere, Turvey had found a way past Hohenthal while Ericsson made equally short work of Abay at Deene. The Swede was now free to hunt down Chilton. That wasn't the only battle in the field, with Tandy passing Meyrick, after the National Class leader had sensibly let Hartley through as well.
Perez was also still on the move and his latest victim was Grubmuller, who didn't put up much of a fight. The Mexican may just have been trying to limit the damage caused by his poor qualifying position, but he was still looking good. Meyrick, meanwhile, was still losing ground to Al Khalifa, but at least he had avoided getting involved in the International Class battle as he did at Monza, something that cost him a potential 41 points there. This time he was being cautious. It was probably as well he'd let Tandy and Hartley through because the next thing that happened was that Tandy lunged at Hartley into Tarzan. The move was more than a bit wild and it simply didn't stick, largely because Grubmuller was now holding both of them up. The trouble was that Hartley couldn't find a way past which was leaving the Kiwi vulnerable to Tandy.
Nearer the front Chilton headed off around the oval after another attack from Ericsson at Deene. The rules state that any driver doing this should stop just before Brook and slot back into place, but Max kept rolling and slotted in ahead of Ericsson, who must have been wondering how come the man he'd just passed was in front of him again! It didn't last long because at Tarzan on the next lap Ericsson simply did it all again. While the Swede was performing impressively, Perez was also maintaining progress, and having passed Hohenthal for 7th now had Turvey in his sights. It was also around now that Hartley lost a place to Tandy, only to gain it back when Tandy got off course and dropped 4 places, ending up back behind Hartley, Martin and Arundel.
And then it started to rain. We were two thirds into the race, and it looked as if it had set in to stay. It was all getting a bit strange towards the back, with Devaney running just ahead of Ricardo Teixeira (Ultimate Motorsport), while Philip Major (Fortec Motorsport) was the cushion between Meyrick and Al Khalifa, something that was proving to be a bit of a mixed blessing when the Canadian locked up alarmingly and nearly knocked Al Khalifa off (and as he'd done the same thing at Monza, the Bahraini was not keen to tangle with him).
With six laps to go, Ericsson was catching the leading pair now and looking very threatening, while Perez was now on Turvey's tail for 6th, which left Abay having a quiet time. A lap later and Ericsson was right with Alguersuari now, despite the Spaniard setting the fastest lap of the race. He gave it his all on the run into Deene and bundled past the Spaniard, who simply had no answer to that. Hywel Lloyd (CF Motorsport) had spun at Deene causing waved yellows and in the ensuing mayhem, Chilton again went up the oval, inconveniencing Abay and causing him to drop several places, while Martin also found himself taking the non-approved route. Lloyd sorted himself out, and instead Steven Guerrero (T-Sport) went off at Tarzan, that old traditional F3 parking place. Further round the track, Chilton again elected not to wait but to slowly proceed along the main straight, while Martin did as ordered and stayed put till he could rejoin in the correct position. It was no surprise when Chilton was shown the black and white driving standards flag for his antics.
With more rain coming down, Ericsson was sliding everywhere but still looking very threatening, but now it was Perez who was holding the attention. He was alongside Turvey as they crossed the start/finish line and was still there when they headed into Deene. Turvey moved to the inside to block the Mexican so Perez took the only other possible option and simply drove round the outside. It was a mighty move, and on a par with anything Ericsson had managed. However, Ericsson looked as if he might be about to challenge Mustonen for the lead, especially as the Finn had spent half a lap trying to find a way past Lloyd. Mustonen finally found a way through and Lloyd inadvertently blocked the Swede on the last lap. It had been quite a race but it wasn't going to have the fairytale ending.
And so Mustonen ended the race the winner, consolidating his second place in the championship, while Ericsson was highly impressive in 2nd, from Alguersuari, Chilton, Perez (who still leads the standings), Turvey, Hohenthal, Abay, Grubmuller and Hartley. 11th was Martin, from Devaney, Arundel, Tandy, Teixeira (who'd been round the oval for his last lap), Meyrick leading the National Class home, Al Khalifa, Wilson, Bridger and Major. 21st was Viktor Jensen (Nexa Racing), Lloyd, Niall Quinn (Team Loctite) and Craig Reiff (Nexa Racing).
The fastest laps of the race (and a point apiece) went to Alguersuari and Meyrick.
Weather: Cold, very strong winds. Rain in the later stages.