Race Report - Round 17: Weather: Cool. Dry. Windy. Rockingham in 2001 was a far more exciting experience than any of us wanted to repeat. However, the kerbs that had caused cars to flip up to 45-degree angles before they landed with a ...
Race Report - Round 17:
Weather: Cool. Dry. Windy.
Rockingham in 2001 was a far more exciting experience than any of us wanted to repeat. However, the kerbs that had caused cars to flip up to 45-degree angles before they landed with a teeth-jolting thump, had been re-profiled, so hopefully there would be no more aerial displays. However, there was still the small matter of the first corner to be negotiated before we could be certain it was not all going to end in total chaos. On the green flag lap it seemed as if half the field had fallen asleep, but they eventually all got going. At the start of the race Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport) made a superb start, and he was ahead by the time they reached Turn One. By the time they came out of Turn One he was back to second, because Shinya Hosokawa (Formula Dream Team Carlin), who was further ahead on the grid than he had ever been, had seen daylight and was going for it. To everyone's surprise, he came out in the lead. Richard Antinucci (Manor Motorsport), on the other hand, was no longer in contention, having failed to realise that there was a diversion in place at Turn One for the first lap only. The result was that he had gone around the Oval, and was now limping round to the pits to get the resulting damage repaired.
If Turn One had been messy, the Tarzan Hairpin was even worse, and Hosokawa was firmly in the lead once the dust settled. Even more remarkably, Stefan Hodgetts (Motaworld Racing) was third, an impressive performance from the Englishman, especially as the man he was ahead of was the substitute for James Courtney, Derek Hayes (Carlin Motorsport), who had reckoned that he was going to win because he was in the best car available. Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International) was 5th, ahead of Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport), Matthew Gilmore in the other Promatecme car, and Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport). The two Carlin cars of Alan van der Merwe and Michael Keohane were next up, ahead of Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) who really needed to be further up the order than that, if he wanted to move into the lead of the series before the weekend was over. By the end of the next lap, the order had changed again, as Keohane crashed out of contention in the confusion that seemed to be engulfing the field. The next victim was Billy Asaro (Sweeney Racing), the Canadian going off in the infield section, when he got tangled up with Jeroen Bleekemolen (Team Avanti), who had spun off. Asaro also hit Karun Chandhok (T-Sport), but the Indian was able to continue even though the handling of his Dallara was now seriously out of true.
As if that wasn't enough, Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing) hit the wall, having already done the same thing in qualifying. Just as the Safety Car was being scrambled to deal with that incident, Hodgetts fell victim to an over-optimistic move on the part of Hayes. The two cars made contact, and Hodgetts was launched into a series of truly frightening barrel rolls before coming to rest upside down in the gravel. The driver eventually climbed out, apparently uninjured but absolutely incandescent with rage. Hayes continued, seemingly unscathed, although he would have been anything but OK if Hodgetts could have caught up with him.
So now the field was bunched up behind the Safety Car again. Hosokawa was still in the lead, Kovalainen was still 2nd and Hayes had claimed 3rd. Jouanny was 4th, from Carbone, Gilmore, van der Merwe and Bremer. Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing) was firmly in the lead of the Scholarship Class and was 9th overall, despite having started from a long way back in 16th. Kerr was holding off Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport) for 10th. Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) was 11th overall, ahead of a gaggle of Scholarship Class cars headed up by Stephen Colbert (Meritus Racing), from Gavin Smith in the second Meritus car, Robert Dahlgren (Sweeney Racing) and Jesper Carlsen (Essential Motorsport), the Dane's engine cover acting like an air brake as it became unattached. Chandhok was next, from his teammate Clivio Piccione, while Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing) was holding off Adam Jones (Team Park). While the Safety Car was out there, Carlsen managed to sneak into the pits by the back route to get his engine cover reattached, and was able to rejoin without apparently losing a lap. The marshals at the end of the pit lane tried to send him back out ahead of the Safety Car but he refused and that may be where the confusion came from. Whatever the cause was, the Clerk of the Course had a word or two with him afterwards, and decided that he had gained no advantage from what he had done, so the result was allowed to stand.
As the Safety Car pulled in and the race resumed, van der Merwe attempted to dive down the inside of Gilmore, while everyone went past Sherwood. Justin seemed to be suffering from some sort of engine malaise and would limp into the pits a couple of laps later to be pushed into retirement. Kovalainen, meanwhile, tried to get the better of Hosokawa, although he couldn't quite make it stick, especially as he needed to keep a sharp eye on Hayes in order to stop him coming through. Jouanny was maintaining a watching brief while he fended off Carbone, while Carroll was trying to progress up the overall order despite being well clear of his nearest rival. Having dispensed with Ronnie Bremer, he managed to punt van der Merwe's Dallara hard up the rear, and the South African had lost three places by the time he was able to recover. That moved Kerr up the order and into 7th place, which would give him some much-needed points in his pursuit of the Championship leader Courtney.
Taylor was also a man on the move, and was making good progress until he encountered Austin, who didn't see why he should move over for anyone if they wanted to take his place away from him. It didn't stop Taylor, however, and he was soon through, Bremer and van der Merwe going with him and dropping Austin to 12th. The group ahead had now got away sufficiently that Taylor was no threat to them anymore, though his conduct did earn him the black and white driving standards flag as a warning that he should behave himself. Austin, meanwhile, fought back to take a place back from van der Merwe, who was less than happy with what happened out on the track. When asked what had happened, his response was that it would be easier to say what hadn't happened to him. Certainly his car was so badly damaged that with two laps to go he was out of the race, while Mayall had finally gone off terminally somewhere in the scenery.
At least this time the Safety Car was not needed, and the race proceeded to its conclusion, with a somewhat surprised Hosokawa becoming the fourth Carlin driver to win a race, although he stood on the podium looking as if he expected the trophy to be taken off him at any moment. Kovalainen was 2nd and furious with himself for letting the Japanese get the better of him and Hayes came in 3rd. 4th was Jouanny, who held off Carbone for the entire race, and 6th was Kerr who was able to pass Gilmore on the last lap when the Irishman started to experience fuel-feed problems and could do nothing to defend himself.