Rookie Bird outwits Spa veterans

Sam Bird claimed an impressive victory at Spa today for Carlin Motorsport, despite never having raced on the demanding Belgian circuit before. He took the lead on lap 2, outclassing the more experienced Stephen Jelley in the Raikkonen Robertson ...

Sam Bird claimed an impressive victory at Spa today for Carlin Motorsport, despite never having raced on the demanding Belgian circuit before. He took the lead on lap 2, outclassing the more experienced Stephen Jelley in the Raikkonen Robertson Racing car, and was never challenged again. Meanwhile, Jelley lost out to his own team-mate on the final lap, when the handling of his Dallara started to go off, letting Jonathan Kennard through into second place. In the National Class T-Sports Sergio Perez came home in the top 10 after an impressive drive that saw him fend off Frankie Cheng in the Performance Racing entered Dallara, before spending most of the race with a gaggle of Championship Class cars attached to his exhaust.

After a rather more exciting qualifying session than he really needed, Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing) only just made it onto the grid for Round 13 of the British F3 International Series. The Angolan driver was taken by surprise when the front bodywork on his Dallara came loose on one of the fastest parts of the circuit. Unable to see, he speared off into the barriers at around 160mph, radically damaging pretty much the entire car. A desperate effort by Performance saw them bolting the last bits of the Dallara back together as the clock ticked down towards the race start time. Marko Asmer, meanwhile, was starting from dead last, having failed to complete sufficient laps in qualifying after an equally desperate effort by the Hitech lads to rebuild the chassis he'd almost written off in free practice.

As it was, the full field of 30 cars lined up to start the 13th round of the series. As the lights went out, Sam Bird (Carlin Motorsport) got the jump on Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), and the tiny Englishman squeezed his car between Jelley and the pit wall to attempt to snatch the lead from the pole sitter. Meanwhile, Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport) was a long way over to the other side, seemingly also making a bid to pass Jelley, but actually trying to get out of everyone's way. He'd discovered he was in trouble on the warm up lap when he tried to put the car into 6th gear and discovered that he no longer had any such gear - all he could do was hope no one would hit him and see if it was possible to keep running. Jelley soon snatched the lead back, and was showing every sign of hanging on to it if he could. Someone else on the move was Asmer, who had made up four places by the time they got to Raidillon, and was 15 places further forward by the time the first lap ended. It was some effort and tells you exactly why the Estonian is leading this year's championship by such a large margin. Admittedly he was helped by one or two incidents in the middle of the field, with Sebastian Hohenthal (Fortec Motorsport) and Mario Moraes (Carlin Motorsport) tangling, after the Brazilian got a great start. The resulting clash dropped Seb to the back of the field and forced Moraes into retirement a couple of laps later. Just to add to Carlin's woes, Engel had slipped to 13th as they crossed the line for the first time; he was clearly wasting his time trying to nurse the car round. And as if that wasn't enough, Alberto Valerio (Carlin Motorsport) was also out of the race, after he too made contact with another car and broke the suspension on his Dallara.

In the National Class life was proving interesting for the leader, Sergio Perez (T-Sport) and for Frankie Cheng (Performance Racing), the two of them slugging it out for 8th place overall, until a mistake let a bunch of Championship Class cars through, and meant he couldn't stay on terms with Perez. Afterwards, Perez knew he'd had good fortune on his side. "I'll hopefully make it again tomorrow. Today I was lucky Frankie went off in the first corner and I kept my momentum. I had very bad balance in the first few laps but I kept control."

Cheng wasn't too downhearted at his own error. "I got a good start. I was close behind Sergio with a good tow from him but at the first complex someone squeezed him (Devaney I believe) and I thought it was an opportunity to get by, but I made a mistake and after that it was difficult to hold position."

At the front, Bird saw the chance he'd been waiting for on lap 3, and was through before Jelley could stop him. He tried to encourage Jelley to follow him in an attempt to break away from the pack, but the Double R driver was beginning to have handling problems and had to concentrate on holding off team-mate Jonathan Kennard. Meanwhile Rodolfo Gonzalez (T- Sport) had wrestled his way up to 4th place, while just behind him Esteban Guerrieri (Ultimate Motorsport) was 5th while Niall Breen (Carlin Motorsport) and Atte Mustonen (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) were scrapping furiously over 6th.

With no one at all respecting the track limits at the new Bus Stop chicane, the pace was fast and furious, and Bird soon had the fastest lap of the race, and was starting to open up a gap between himself and Jelley. Whether he could hang onto the point for fastest lap was a moot point though, with Asmer continuing to carve up the opposition. He was now 11th and was looking already in the points once you took Perez in the National Class out of the equation. However, Mustonen was also making a determined effort to get ahead of Breen, and in so doing he set a better time than Bird could manage. And then Mustonen got lucky when Gonzalez messed up the Bus Stop and lost a couple of places. That promoted the Finn to 4th and Guerrieri to 5th. Mustonen promptly set off after Kennard, who was determinedly hunting down Jelley, so much so that the next fastest lap went to him.

At the front, Bird was still leading by a comfortable margin while behind him the battle for 2nd had become a three way fight between the Double R runners, with Jelley now having to work very hard to hold off Kennard, and Mustonen snapping at their heels in that terrier-like way he has in between fending off Guerrieri. However, the Argentinean's challenge was derailed when one of his brake lines blew up leaving him rather short of the ability to stop. It wasn't going to stop him trying for points though it did mean he lost places to Gonzalez, Breen and Asmer when he failed to get through the Bus Stop in the proper manner. None of them needed a second invitation to go through, which was a shame for the Ultimate driver after what looked like being his best result of the year.

Kennard, meanwhile, had caught Jelley and eventually had to bow to the inevitable at the start of the last lap when the handling problems got worse. "We were using the new handbrake system which I want to can tomorrow, and it meant I got a bad start, but I led into Les Combes and I thought that would be enough. I suppose I was trying to be clever. Unfortunately while I was being clever I didn't think about my tyres going off and I made a few mistakes which gave Sam breathing room. Then Jonathan got such a tow off me and managed to get through too." Despite his best efforts to get past there was nothing Jelley could do, and Kennard simply broke away from him before the end of the lap.

And so, unexpectedly, a rookie won at Spa. Bird was a delighted victor, with Kennard, Jelley and Mustonen filling the next three places, Jelley just holding up the Finn till the end. Gonzalez claimed an impressive 5th, and Asmer was 6th, 24 places ahead of where he started. 7th was Breen, from Guerrieri, Perez (winning the National Class in fine style) and Greg Mansell (Fortec Motorsport). The final point in the Championship Class went to Michael Devaney (Ultimate Motorsport) who came home 11th overall, ahead of Walter Grubmüller (Hitech Racing), Alistair Jackson (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Cheng, and Hamad Al Fardan (Performance Racing) who had tried to get on terms with Cheng, but failed because Cheng was able to get a tow from Jackson. 16th was Michael Meadows (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), from Max Chilton (Arena International Motorsport), Salman al Khalifa (T-Sport) and Hohenthal, who had had a fairly miserable afternoon. 20th was John Martin (Alan Docking Racing), after a race long battle with Leo Mansell (Fortec Motorsport), Francesco Castellacci (Alan Docking Racing) and Viktor Jensen (Alan Docking Racing). 24th was Teixeira, and the final two places went to Alex Waters (Promatecme F3) and Juan Pablo Garcia Samano (Fluid Motorsport), after Sean Petterson (Fluid Motorsport) parked it in the scenery on the last lap.

Fastest laps were set by Kennard and Perez.

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About this article
Series BF3
Drivers Alan Docking , Marko Asmer , Ricardo Teixeira , Rodolfo Gonzalez , Walter Grubmuller , Michael Devaney , Sam Bird , Maro Engel , Alberto Valerio , Leo Mansell , Greg Mansell , Mario Moraes , Sergio Perez , Niall Breen , Esteban Guerrieri , Max Chilton , Sebastian Hohenthal , John Martin , Francesco Castellacci , Sean Petterson , Juan Pablo Garcia , Alistair Jackson , Alex Waters , Atte Mustonen , Michael Meadows , Frankie Cheng , John Kennard , Stephen Jelley
Teams Carlin