The penultimate round of the British F3 International Series was held in crisply autumnal weather at Silverstone this morning. Whatever the weather, things were hotting up before the race even started. As poleman Charlie Kimball...
The penultimate round of the British F3 International Series was held in crisply autumnal weather at Silverstone this morning. Whatever the weather, things were hotting up before the race even started. As poleman Charlie Kimball (Carlin Motorsport) led the field round to take the start, it became apparent that Steven Kane (Promatecme F3) and Ben Clucas (Fluid Motorsport) would both start the race from the pit lane, if at all.
With the brand new Mugen-Honda in the back of his Dallara, all eyes were on Kimball. Along with Kimball making his bid for Rookie of The Year and for the runner-up slot, this could also be viewed as the first salvo in the engine wars that are set to swamp British F3 next year. Ever since Mercedes announced they would be supplying their all-conquering Euroseries engine to teams in Britain next year, there's been a great deal of nervousness in the pitlane. This looks like Mugen-Honda's answer.
And when the lights went out to signal the start of the race, Kimball left the line as if he was jet-powered. Behind him the Double R Racing boys were busy fighting each other; Bruno Senna made a reasonable start and hacked his was past Dan Clarke, setting off after Danilo Dirani (P1 Motorsport). Meanwhile, Karl Reindler (Alan Docking Racing) was hanging on to 6th, while in the middle of the pack Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport) managed to spin. Almost everyone missed her except Juho Annala (Alan Docking Racing), whose race ended abruptly at Becketts. In the National Class Charlie Hollings (Promatecme F3) was clinging to his lead for all he was worth, while Barton Mawer (T-Sport) held off Salvador Duran (P1 Motorsport) in an attempt to stop the Mexican taking the National Class title. In addition, Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) was fighting with James Walker (Fortec Motorsport), but that was for 10th place, and no one was really looking back there. All eyes were on Kimball.
The American was 2.4 seconds ahead of Dirani by the time they'd completed the first lap, and he looked like it was an easy stretch too. It wasn't quite so calm behind Kimball. Lewis, having gained some ground, promptly threw it all away again, when he spun off into the gravel at Becketts. That benefited Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport), the Dane having started 12th and finding himself 9th.
Someone else throwing themselves around was Duran, who had a bit of a moment, having discovered there were a number of damp patches on the track after the overnight rain. He wasn't the only one. Senna managed to collect a marker and suddenly lost a whole lot of places, coming round dead last and pulling into the pits. Kane and Clucas, on the other hand, were both making good progress through the pack, having easily dispatched Cheong Lou Meng (Edenbridge Racing) and Nick Jones (Team SWR). However, no one was as fast as Kimball. Dirani set a race fastest lap, but Kimball soon wrested it back, and promptly set fastest lap after fastest lap for four laps in a row, breaking the lap record on the way. No one looked likely to get near him; the fight was for second not the lead.
In fact, while Kimball continued on his unstoppable way, there was a lot of squabbling behind him. Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport) and Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport) were busy scrapping for a top ten place, Buurman getting the better of Jelley at least temporarily. And just for good measure Clarke and Dirani were fighting furiously for second, now they didn't have Senna getting in the way. Duran seemed to be inspired by this and he made an attempt to get round the outside of Mawer. It wasn't successful and ended in the Mexican having a bit of a moment and almost going off. He managed to hang on though. He wasn't about to lose the National Class championship if he could help it, not given that he was missing the A1GP round at Lausitzring to complete a title he should have won at Mondello Park two weeks ago.
Behind the Australian/Mexican battle, Kane and Clucas had surrounded James Jakes (Performance Racing), the saxophone playing Yorkshireman having quite an introduction to F3. By the time they'd finished, they'd also caught up with Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), and the main battle had become a fight to be second behind a driver called Charlie. By this point Kennard had Mawer, Duran, the interloping Kane, Jakes, and Clucas in a tightly packed bunch behind him; it must have been unnerving to look in his mirrors.
It wasn't unnerving for race leader Kimball to look in his mirrors. He couldn't see much other than a distant speck or two by the time the race was half run. By that stage he'd set a series of fastest laps and was nearly six second clear of Dirani and Clarke, who were slugging it out for 2nd place, Clarke getting wilder by the minute. What with that and the Mawer/Duran battle, it looked as if there might be trouble before we were done. To add to the fun, Senna had emerged from the pits and was busy hacking his way through the National Class boys, and on the edge of the top ten Jelley managed to get back ahead of Buurman.
With the race now in its final third, things suddenly got very strange. Cheong managed to spin out, after running reasonably well by his standards, and Senna had a bit of an off, possibly as a result of the Chinese driver's gravely moment. Whatever the cause, Senna pitted a second time with the car full of grass and gravel, while the organisers tried to scramble the Safety Car. It might have helped if they'd actually put the SC boards and yellow flags out all round the circuit, and would have been even more useful if they'd managed to get the car out in front of the leader. Instead, they picked up James Walker, realised what had happened, and waved him through. Kimball slowed right down, and circulated for two laps wondering just where the Safety Car was (when he was at Luffield it was at Copse, which didn't help), before it finally appeared in front of him, and then confused him further by not speeding up. It was all a bit of a shambles, and one would have hoped for better from Silverstone. Still, at least no one managed to do anything stupid in the confusion. The order, with 5 laps to run, was Kimball, from Dirani, Clarke, Conway, Asmer, Bakkerud, Reindler, Walker, Bridgman and Jelley. Buurman was just out of the points in 11th, with Lewis and Kane behind him. 14th overall was Hollings, still leading the National Class from Kennard, Mawer, Duran, Clucas, Jakes, Fisher, Ihara and Jones.
With two laps to go, the Safety Car pulled over rather than in, which also seemed strange, but we were back racing. Kimball controlled the restart confidently, helped by the fact that Clarke was all over Dirani as they headed towards Copse at racing speed, and Asmer got the drop on Conway, and Jelley squeezed ahead of Bridgman. However, there was no time to do much more because within seconds the Safety Car boards were out again, this time after Lewis went off, along with Buurman and Kane, the latter surviving to race on. With only one lap left to run, they all took the chequered flag behind the Safety Car in one of the weirder F3 finishes of recent years. And to make it even weirder, Bridgman put himself out of the race while running behind the Safety Car, when he ran into the back of Jelley, apparently because he was busy looking for the radio on-off switch and not concentrating on where he was going. He lost out on a points finish 100 yards from the line.
And so Kimball came home to take 21 points for a win and fastest lap, clinching the Rookie of the Year award, and securing 2nd place in the championship behind Alvaro Parente. In the National Class the extra point for fastest lap was enough to make Duran the 2005 champion, as there were still 21 points up for grabs in Round 22, but he was now 22 points ahead of Mawer.
Behind Kimball, Dirani held off Clarke for 2nd, with Asmer and Conway next, ahead of Bakkerud, Reindler, Jelley, Walker and Hollings. 11th overall was Kennard, from Mawer, Duran, Clucas, Fisher, Jakes, Ihara, Jones and Kane.