They talk about games of two halves, but that's in football. What we had was a race of three Safety Cars. What was intended to have been an 18 lap race, turned into a series of high-speed sprints punctuated by Safety Car periods as several...
They talk about games of two halves, but that's in football. What we had was a race of three Safety Cars. What was intended to have been an 18 lap race, turned into a series of high-speed sprints punctuated by Safety Car periods as several people came a cropper on Oulton Park's treacherous curves. It had all started so well, too. With the rain clouds scudding over but declining to deposit their payload on Cheshire, the race looked set to be dry and fine, and so it proved.
The burning question was whether or not the Mercedes-engined runners would have the advantage over those with Mugen-Honda power units behind them. Practice suggested this might be the case, and the start went further towards showing that Honda might want to try and raise their game a little further this season. Bruno Senna (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) took off like a rocket as the lights went out on the starting gantry, and his team-mate Stephen Jelley set off after him. Jelley, however, was slightly hampered by a grimly determined Oliver Jarvis (Carlin Motorsport), who was keen to make sure the Mercedes boys didn't have it all their own way. He certainly got alongside Jelley, before the more experienced man got the better of him. Ollie slotted back in to 3rd, but he wasn't done yet. He was also being pressured by Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport), the young German getting a great start to gain 4 places into Old Hall by driving up the inside of his fellow-competitors.. However, none of this mattered much after Dennis Retera (T-Sport) went off at Shell Oils, and had to be rescued. His embarrassment was compounded by the fact that he's taken himself out by running into the rear of his own team-mate, Rodolfo Gonzalez. Even worse, they're not even racing in the same class. Luckily, Gonzalez survived. The result was a Safety Car period before the race was even a lap old, though we'd already lost Salvador Duran (Hitech Racing) by then as he limped back to the pits and into retirement, his clutch having exploded.
Senna settled in behind it, with Jelley, Jarvis and Engel holding station. 5th was James Walker (Hitech Racing), ahead of Mike Conway (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport), Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport), James Jakes (Hitech Racing) and Stuart Hall (Fortec Motorsport). 11th was Alberto Valerio (Cesario F3), from National Class leader Gonzalez, Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), Juho Annala (Performance Racing), Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport), Rodolfo Avila (Performance Racing), Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport), Martin Kudzak (Fluid Motorsport) and Ricardo Teixeira (Carlin Motorsport).
Needless to say, a lap later the order remained the same, as the field processed in stately manner behind the Safety Car. After that, though, all bets were off. The lights went out, the Safety Car pulled in, and Senna had a huge wobble out of Old Hall. He got it back under control and held his lead, aided slightly by the fact that Jelley was being plagued by that young pest Jarvis again and was having to work to hold on to his second place. Engel, meanwhile, was attempting to hold off the much more experienced Walker, and was doing a very good job of it. Walker had to ease off slightly which meant that Conway was all over him, trying to pressure his opponent into making a mistake. Further back Hollings had managed to get clear of the National Class runners and was trying to make up for his lack of time in the car. At the front, though, Senna had his head down and was already 1.3 seconds clear of Jelley by the time they came round to complete their second racing lap. But then they all had to form up behind the Safety Car again. This time the culprit was Avila, who'd had his second big shunt of the weekend. To be fair, it wasn't actually his fault, as he'd been pushed off by Ihara, who seemed to have forgotten that she was in the Championship Class and not the National Class.
The order now was Senna, Jelley, Jarvis, Engel, Walker, Conway, Bakkerud, Buurman, Jakes and Hall. Valerio was still 11th from Gonzalez, Kennard, Hollings, Morgado, Annala, Teixeira, Kudzak and Ihara. At least this time it was a short Safety Car period, and a lap later the lights went out and the race went live again. This time Senna got away incredibly smoothly and almost immediately started to extend his lead. Behind the Brazilian, Jarvis was again setting about Jelley, but this time he made a mistake and almost tripped Engel up instead, which would not have made Trevor Carlin a happy man. It made Jelley happy though, because it allowed him to get away and set the new fastest lap of the race. In the melee Conway got the drop on Walker, while Engel was busy trying to savage Jarvis.
And then it went pear-shaped for the third time, as Walker went off at Old Hall, almost destroying the car, and knocking himself unconscious. He'd got his wheels on the kerb, lost control, and clipped Bakkerud on the way back. Needless to say that necessitated yet another Safety Car period as the Englishman was extracted from the wreckage and taken off to the medical unit. From there he was despatched to the hospital for a full check up and looks unlikely to take any further part in the meeting. Even if he was to be passed fit, the car wouldn't be.
Once again Senna had to watch as his hard-earned gap vanished and the field concertinaed up behind the Safety Car. The order now was Senna, from Jelley, Jarvis, Engel, Conway, Bakkerud, Buurman, Jakes and Hall. 11th was still Valerio, from Kennard, Gonzalez, Hollings, Morgado, Annala, Teixeira, Kudzak and Ihara. Two laps later, and the wreckage was removed. There were only ten minutes left to finish the race in, and only 9 laps had elapsed of the planned 18 laps.
At the third time of asking, Senna repeated his high-speed getaway again, beginning to pull out a gap almost before the first corner. Jelley was able to hold on to his place a lot more easily too, largely because Jarvis was coming under enormous pressure from Engel, while Bakkerud was trying his hardest to prise 5th place from Conway's grip, to little avail. The result was that Buurman squeezed through and replaced him as the man attacking Conway. Senna continued to open the gap for the remainder of the race, while Jelley was left in peace due to the continuing Carlin battle, until Jarvis managed to shake his team-mate off. What that also meant was that Engel now had Conway, Buurman, Bakkerud, Jakes, Hall and Valerio queued up behind him like incoming planes at Heathrow. It would only need one mistake and it would all be over for the German. As it was, he kept a remarkably cook head and soaked up the pressure. He even had enough presence of mind to have another go at Jarvis when the opportunity arose. The party behind him started to break up towards the end with Bakkerud closing back up on Buurman, while Jakes was being pressured by Hall.
All the while, though, the Brazilian at the front was getting away, setting fastest lap with reckless abandon, and clearly having the time of his life out there.
The next shift in the order came towards the very end of the race when Valerio suddenly slowed. The Brazilian pulled into the pits not long after, the engine sounding dreadful. It was a shame, because he'd put in a sterling effort for a rookie in a team that is also new to the UK. That pretty much left Jakes and Hall to scrap on their own while ahead of them Engel now had Conway right with him, as Conway tried to escape the clutches of Buurman. However, Conway's best efforts were not quite good enough to let him pass the German newcomer, and there were no further changes in the running order. There was one significant change to the timesheets though, when Jelley, in his efforts to catch his team-mate, grabbed the extra point for fastest lap of the race from under Senna's nose. There was a brief moment when it looked as if he might snatch the victory too, when Senna got incredibly sideways at Knickerbrook on his last lap, but the Brazilian gathered it together and came round to claim the first victory of the year. Jelley took a well-deserved 2nd from an impressive Jarvis and an equally impressive Engel. Conway was 5th, from Buurman, Bakkerud, Jakes, Hall and Kennard. In 11th was the National Class winner Gonzalez, from Hollings, while Morgado was next up and 2nd in the National Class. Annala was 3rd in class, having lost out when he did the gentlemanly thing and let Hollings through only to have Morgado go as well, while Teixeira and Kudzak were the last classified runners.
Fastest laps went to Jelley and Gonzalez.