After the debacle that was Round 3, it was to be hoped that behaviour in Round 4 would be better. However, despite the Clerk of the Course having had several things to say about driving standards and too much contact, it didn't take long for a...
After the debacle that was Round 3, it was to be hoped that behaviour in Round 4 would be better. However, despite the Clerk of the Course having had several things to say about driving standards and too much contact, it didn't take long for a fresh outbreak of mayhem to occur. Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) once again made a superb getaway from pole position but behind him all sorts of things were happening. Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing) and Ronnie Bremer (Carlin Motorsport) were out after a clash, as were Robert Dahlgren (Fortec Motorsport), Scott Speed (Alan Docking Racing) and Will Davison (also Docking). The latter three were all stranded on the outside of Riches and could not be left there. And so, with less than a lap completed, the Safety Car had to be deployed again.
Once again there was a bit of disorderly behaviour behind the Safety Car and they had to reshuffle slightly before they all settled in for a long, slow crawl round. It would take a long time to move all the cars to a place of safety, especially with only two breakdown trucks to carry out the work. And so, the top ten order was van der Merwe, Jamie Green (Carlin), Nelson Piquet Jr. (Piquet Sports), Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport), Ernani Judice (Promatecme F3), Christian England (Promatecme), Richard Antinucci (Carlin), Danny Watts (Hitech Racing), Clivio Piccione (Manor Motorsport) and Michael Keohane (Promatecme). The next ten were Steven Kane (T-Sport), Fairuz Fauzy (Team SYR), Eric Salignon (Hitech), Ernesto Viso (Sweeney), Ivor McCullough (Meritus Racing), Tor Graves (Manor), Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing), Alex Pozzobon (Essencial Motorsport), Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) and Will Power (Diamond Racing). Andrew Thompson (Hitech), Sergio Hernandez (Azteca Motorsport), Stefano Fabi (Manor) and Farriz Fauzy (SYR) were the only other survivors, as Rizal Ramli in the third SYR car didn't make the start, let alone the first lap. And it wasn't long before Fabi pulled into the pits and retired either, rather than continuing to flog a sick car round.
And so, finally, a very long time later, we got a proper start! After 6 laps behind the Safety Car everyone was raring to go, so it could very well have resulted in further problems. As it was, van der Merwe kept his cool and once again got a superb start. To be fair he should have done. He was getting more than enough practice as the day wore on. Green stayed ahead of Piquet who was now having trouble holding off Austin. Antinucci was looking for a way round England too. It didn't take him long to find it either, after which he set off in pursuit of Judice. The move of the meeting though, was the one Austin pulled to get the better of Piquet. On the eighth lap, having sized the situation up carefully, he squeezed past the Brazilian on the inside going into Sear. It says much for Austin's improvement as a driver that he not only made it stick, but he didn't fall off afterwards either as he would in previous years and he was able to hold 4th place. Now he could set about Green, who could have done without the attention. He may have said he was all right after his flying lesson on Saturday, but he was walking like a man who daren't move too fast and no doubt the bruising will be around for a while.
In a repeat of his Round 3 performance, Power threw the Ralt into the dirt at Riches again. The difference was that this time he was able to claw his way back on again and crawled round near the back for the rest of the race.
As van der Merwe coasted on his way, Green was now busy with Austin. Despite his obvious discomfort, he was determined to defend his 2nd place whatever the Menu driver might try. In 4th place now, Piquet had a new problem. Antinucci was a man on a mission, and that mission was to get as far up the order as possible before the chequered flag. Judice had given him no trouble at all, largely because a first lap attempt to squeeze Carroll out of the way had left Judice with an evil-handling car that wasn't too keen on going in a straight line. He had taken one look at the American filling his mirrors and decided discretion was the better part of valour. Richard was allowed through, which meant he now had Piquet in his sights. Judice settled down to fend off Watts and Piccione, having decided that letting a Carlin car through was one thing, while allowing a Hitech or Manor car through was quite another.
England was not a happy bunny any longer either. His charge to victory had suddenly turned into a retreat as the car took sick and first Kane and then everybody passed him. It had all gone horribly wrong for him and he began a precipitate slide down the order, the car sounding hideous as it staggered round.
With 10 laps still to run, we were in trouble again. Fairuz Fauzy, who had been 10th, had clipped one of the stationary cars at Coram and rolled, his Dallara landing on its side. The inevitable result was another Safety Car period, as the Malaysian had to be rescued from the stricken car. Unfortunately, we were now in even more trouble, as the Safety Car managed to pick up the last placed car of Farriz Fauzy, instead of van der Merwe. If the restart took place with Fauzy in front, it was likely to get messy. The pace of the next few laps was extremely slow, presumably in an attempt to make sure there would still be some racing after the wreckage was cleared away. The order now read van der Merwe, Green, Austin, Piquet, Antinucci, Judice, Watts, Keohane, Piccione and Kane. Salignon was 11th, Viso 12th and McCullough 13th. Graves, Sherwood, Chandhok, Hernandez, England and Farriz Fauzy made up the remaining runners, with the exception of Power who was now a number of laps adrift. Finally, Fauzy made his way past the Safety Car and set about catching up the back of the grid, leaving van der Merwe with a clear run at the lead whenever the restart might occur. Suddenly the Safety Car lights went out and it led the field on a lap that would allow them to warm their tyres up to a sensible level before they were turned loose for the last three laps.
Van der Merwe made yet another superb start, although he admitted afterwards that he was glad not to have to restart again as he was running out of ideas. Green and Austin were in close formation, and further back Sherwood was getting a helping shove from Chandhok along the main straight as the race restarted as the Indian driver tried to take 4th in the Scholarship Class from him. Chandhok would eventually get the better of Sherwood, when the Opel engine in the Performance Racing car began to overheat badly.
For a brief moment it looked as if there might be a third Safety Car period, when Hernandez went a long, long way off at Riches. Despite an agricultural moment or two the Spaniard dragged the orange Dallara through the field and back onto to track, which was a relief. It was also his last lap as he pulled off and out of the race, but at least there wouldn't be another restart! With van der Merwe still in a comfortable lead, Green and Austin were still eyeing each other suspiciously. Piquet was finding Antinucci looming very large in his mirrors while Judice was stubbornly refusing to let Watts by. He was aided by the fact that Keohane and Piccione were also looking to get to Watts if they could, while Kane was still leading the Scholarship Class while trying not to get too involved with the battle ahead of him.
If there were going to be changes, there was very little time left. It would take a major effort from any driver with less than three laps left. The effort would come from Austin and Antinucci. With a lap to go, Austin made one more attack on Green. It failed but more power to him for trying it. Antinucci, on the other hand, made a last ditch attack on Piquet Jr. on the final lap. The American was determined to make it stick, and sure enough he crossed the line in 4th place as the chequered flag was waved.
While the fastest lap points again went to Antinucci (Championship) and Kane (Scholarship), the Driver of the Day was van der Merwe, though, which seemed reasonable. Two pole positions and two victories had left him with a 32-point lead in the Championship Class, over Austin. This is pretty smart going after only four races. It remains to be seen whether Piquet (currently 4th) can work out what he has to do to beat the Carlin boys before the next round at Croft, or for that matter whether Green (who is 3rd) can regain the form he showed at Donington. Meanwhile Kane has edged ahead of Chandhok by five points in the Scholarship Class.
This is turning out to be a far more interesting season than anyone could have anticipated.
-Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite, Guest Writers