Weather: Cold, windy. As the field lined up to take the start there were a number of question marks hanging over the field. The main ones were; would Nelson Piquet Junior (Piquet Sports) be able to get it off the line in an orderly manner, given...
Weather: Cold, windy.
As the field lined up to take the start there were a number of question marks hanging over the field. The main ones were; would Nelson Piquet Junior (Piquet Sports) be able to get it off the line in an orderly manner, given the truly atrocious start he made from pole at Knockhill (only saved from catastrophe by the fact that Carlin Motorsport's Richard Antinucci, who was alongside him, made an even worse start)? For that matter would Robert Dahlgren (Fortec Motorsport) get a decent start, as he had never started an F3 race from anywhere near the front row, never mind from second on the grid?
After some difficulty getting the field lined up correctly, Will Davison (Alan Docking Racing) being among the culprits, the 9th round of the British Formula Three Championship finally got under way and we got the answers. In short order, Piquet got it off the line effectively, but not as effectively as Dahlgren, whose start was later deemed to be way too good. The Swede crept forward, stopped and then set off again, tearing into the lead but leaving the officials with no option but to give him a stop/go penalty. The really amazing start came from Adam Carroll (Menu Motorsport). Having moved from P1, after missing the last four races, Carroll is keen to prove himself. Getting the drop on Piquet was a good start, and he settled in behind Dahlgren, holding the Brazilian off as best he could. Just behind them was Danny Watts (Hitech Motorsport), the local lad also making a brilliant start. Unfortunately with the battling pair ahead of him Danny had no option but to sit back and wait until his own tyres began to come good. Attacking on lap one would only get him into trouble.
Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) would probably have sympathised with him. The South African's start had also been superb, and by the time the field reached Copse, he was able to squeeze up the inside of both Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) and Antinucci. It was a waste of effort really, as he couldn't hang on to the ground he had gained, and he slipped back behind both of them.
Further back, the usual midfield mayhem was breaking out. Ernani Judice (Promatecme F3) had clutch problems, which were not helped when his teammate, Michael Keohane, nudged him into a spin and thus into the path of the unfortunate Tor Graves (Manor Motorsport). Keohane has managed to upset both of his team-mates this year by hitting them at inopportune moments, and both Judice and Graves have had more than their fair share of being hit by out of control fellow competitors; this time they were out of the race on lap 1. It was small consolation to the two of them to know that Keohane would only manage a handful more laps before retiring as a result of the damage he sustained. For the time being, he kept right on going, even after a second lap trip through the Copse gravel saw his Dallara lose its nose. Eric Salignon (Hitech Racing) promptly ran over the debris, and spent the next few minutes worrying about whether he had punctured an Avon in the process. Another one who managed to get involved in the mayhem was Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport). The Venezuelan seems to be the sort of driver that things happen to and this race was no exception, as he tripped over Graves. This time he ended up at the very end of the field. At least he appeared to be undamaged this time, which makes a change.
A further side effect of the chaos was a change for 2nd place. As Carroll and Piquet screamed into Club on Lap 2, Piquet squeezed ahead just before the yellow flag zone and Carroll could do nothing to stop him. Piquet set off after Dahlgren while Carroll tried to work out what to do about it. Keohane was failing to win friends on Saturday afternoon. A lap later, while the marshals were still trying to clear the debris left behind by the Irish driver, Keohane rattled in to the pitlane to get some fresh bodywork before charging back out again.
A couple of laps later Piquet inherited the lead from Dahlgren as the latter came in to the pits to serve his 10 second stop/go penalty. He might have made his stop earlier if he'd seen the board but with Piquet filling his mirrors he was more than a mite distracted.
Another driver who seemed to be distracted was Jamie Green (Carlin Motorsport). The youngster, who has been a bit of a star at some races, has seemed oddly off the pace at others. This was not one of his better afternoons, and he was way back - for him - in 10th place, fending off Clivio Piccione (Manor Motorsport) for all he was worth. In front of him was the Scholarship Class pole man, Karun Chandhok (T-Sport). The Indian had got away well and his nearest threat, teammate Steven Kane, was separated from him by Green, Piccione and a seriously out of sorts Ronnie Bremer (Carlin Motorsport).
The contest between Carroll and Piquet now took a serious turn, as they both realised it was now victory they were fighting for, not the runner-up slot. This seemed to spur Carroll on to greater efforts, and he was trying everything he could think of to get past the Brazilian. He attacked again and again, trying a different tack every time, attempting to sell Piquet a dummy of he could. It's not often you see a driver want something so very badly. Carroll's trouble was that for a while Watts really wanted his place and was making a determined effort to get it. Watts' challenge finally dried up when his car began to oversteer badly, and he realised that Davison, who was 4th, wasn't close enough to pose a threat. He would settle for his first F3 podium position, rather than chancing his luck and ending up in the gravel if he wasn't very careful. The man is such a fighter that you can only speculate as to how bad the handling of his Dallara must have been for him to give up the fight.
At the back Viso was muscling his way up the order, powering his was past Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing) just as Dahlgren also began staging a fight back. By the time he emerged from the pits after the stop/go penalty he was 22nd and not at all happy about it. He promptly set about trying to charge up the order, and between the two of them they kept things interesting in the lower reaches of the field, while Carroll continued to keep Piquet honest.
Other people were having an equally tough time, but with nothing much to show for it. Billy Asaro was struggling with the Lola-Dome, the car's handling looking truly awful from outside the cockpit. Keohane was still in the wars too; having experimented with the line through the gravel at Copse once, he promptly tried it again. He was lucky not to hit anything, and continued round to the pits and into retirement with half the race distance still to go.
At the front, Watts had caused Carroll to lose ground to Piquet, the Hitech driver setting the fastest lap of the race, before reaching his decision to stop wrestling his ragged Dallara. This allowed Carroll to close on Piquet again, and he was now reducing the gap lap by lap, all the while trying to pressure Piquet into a mistake. Elsewhere Green was in trouble. Piccione was all over him and looking determined to find a way through if he possibly could. It didn't take long and the Manor driver was through to go 7th in class. Green's troubles weren't over by a long way; he now had his teammate Bremer breathing down his neck, determined not to be the last of the Carlin boys home. At least Green could hope that Bremer would be careful; after all, the last thing you want to do is run your teammate off the road, regardless of the relationship between you, Trevor Carlin takes a pretty dim view of that sort of thing!
Just ahead of them, and separated from them by Chandhok, van der Merwe was catching Austin again, though he was fast running out of time to do anything about the Menu driver.
Viso was still charging hard too. He was now catching up with Ivor McCullough (Meritus Racing), when McCullough took the Keohane line at Copse, skittering back on with the rear wing of his Dallara canted over at a very odd angle. That made it nice and easy for Viso and a lap later the Venezuelan was through and vanishing into the distance. A lap later, Green succumbed to Bremer and that was about it for excitement.
Piquet came home a delighted winner, after a fine effort, and despite everything Carroll could throw at him. Watts was satisfied with his third place, pleased to get on the podium for the first time. Davison was 4th, after a relatively quiet afternoon, with Antinucci, Austin and van der Merwe following him home. Next up were Scholarship Class winner Chandhok, then Piccione, Bremer and Green. Kane was 2nd in the Scholarship Class, just ahead of Stefan Fabi, Scott Speed and Fairuz Fauzy, who looked very uncomfortable all afternoon. Salignon was just in front of Christian England (Promatecme F3's only survivor and 3rd in the Scholarship Class). Viso, for all his efforts, was only 4th in class.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Chandhok and Piquet set the fastest laps of the race.
-Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite, Guest Writers