Hongwei Cao and Matt Rao are the only two in contention...
In what may well be the last British Formula 3 Championship round ever – or at least for the foreseeable future - 23 seasons after they finished 3rd on their debut with Kelvin Burt, and 12 years after Heikki Kovalainen also finished 3rd for them, Fortec Motorsport are finally going to win the title.
The only question is which of their two drivers will it be? Hongwei Cao and Matt Rao are the only two in contention, and the end of the 40 minute qualifying session we were no further forward as the two of them claimed a pole apiece for Rounds 19 (Cao) and 21 (Rao), as well as a 2nd place each. 3rd in both races went to Max Marshall (Double R Racing).
With an extra 20 minutes to play with (as a substitute for free practice) the session too some time to get going, Camren Kaminsky (Double R Racing) taking his place at the top of the order for the first quarter of the season. Rao meanwhile was in and out of the pits at this stage, which left Li Zhi Cong (Carlin) to settle into 2nd, at least at this stage.
That was when Marshall suddenly perked up to go fastest from Li and Kaminsky, with Rao and Cao languishing at the back, but with everyone pitting it was all moot for the time being. Kaminsky rejoined the session, just as Cao went into the lead, only to be displaced by Rao, at least until the Chinese driver came round to reclaim the place. Li then improved to 3rd, and a lap later he was fastest of all. With less than 20 minutes left the session was beginning to pick up pace, and everyone was now as ready as they ever would be.
Marshall improved again for 3rd, only to be displaced by Li again, and Rao stayed 2nd while Cao went even quicker for pole. With 17 minutes left the order was Cao from Rao, Li, Marshall and Kaminsky, the latter over 3 seconds off the pace, a pit stop now almost inevitable as the team tried to get him back on track.
All the while Cao was pressing on with another fastest lap, and was now looking as if he might have got both pole positions sewn up. As it turned out, it wasn’t going to be that simple. Meanwhile, Kaminsky improved his time by two seconds and then a lap later leaped up the order to go 3rd.
With Cao leading from Rao, the Fortec pair pitted again, and in their absence Kaminsky found some more speed, staying 3rd but moving to 0.009 seconds off Rao. A lap later and he’d gone faster than Rao, with Li also displacing Rao. The latter was now down to 4th, which wasn’t boding well for his chances of claiming the title. He’s had a couple of poor qualifying sessions of late, and it was starting to look as if this might be another of them.
It was all change at the front now though, as Kaminsky came round to go fastest of all, his time 0.305 seconds ahead of anything Cao had managed to date. It was very close for 3rd now as well, with Li just 0.005 seconds clear of Rao and Marshall a mere 0.007 seconds behind Rao. Anything could happen it seemed.
And it did. Marshall powered round to claim 2nd, but then Cao went faster. Rao meanwhile had dropped to last and seemed to be running out of time. Did he have enough rubber left? Who knew? He’d done less laps than anyone else, so maybe, However, he really needed to get s shift on now if he was going to help his own title chances, especially as Cao had just gone even faster. With less than two minutes left, Rao dug deep and came round to claim 2nd, moving ahead of Marshall by 0.06 seconds. At least he could guarantee a 2nd place start. Could he do more?
As it turned out, yes he could. As he came round to take the chequered flag at the end of the session he was suddenly at the top of the order, the time enough to mean he now had a pole position to go with his 2nd place. That put him and Cao on level pegging as we go into the final races of the year. Marshall had done enough to start both races from 3rd, ahead of Kaminsky and Li.
Grid Race 1 (Second Fastest Qualifying Laps):
1st – No. 57, Martin Cao, CHN, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 1:24.752
2nd – No. 7, Matt Rao, GBR, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 1:24.974
3rd – No. 18, Max Marshall, GBR, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 1:25.389
4th – No. 34, Camren Kaminsky, USA, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 1:25.583
5th – No. 1, Li Zhi Cong, CHN, Carlin, Dallara F308, Volkswagen,1:26.178
Race 3 Grid (Fastest Qualifying Laps):
1st – No. 7, Matt Rao, GBR, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 1:24.389
2nd – No. 57, Martin Cao, CHN, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 1:24.593
3rd – No. 18, Max Marshall, GBR, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 1:25.282
4th – No. 34, Camren Kaminsky, USA, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 1:25.502
5th – No. 1, Li Zhi Cong, CHN, Carlin, Dallara F308, Volkswagen, 1:26.099