After a brief but heavy rainstorm made a complete nonsense of Friday's Touring Car Championship qualification session, the weather was not boding at all well for the ten lap qualification race for the 53rd Macau Grand Prix. The start was on ...
After a brief but heavy rainstorm made a complete nonsense of Friday's Touring Car Championship qualification session, the weather was not boding at all well for the ten lap qualification race for the 53rd Macau Grand Prix. The start was on schedule, which was a bit of a surprise after the chaos of the tin top race at lunchtime, but it could have been so much worse. For the second-placed starter Kohei Hirate (Manor Motorsport) it very nearly was. On the formation lap, he whacked the barriers coming out of San Francisco and bent the right front suspension of his Dallara. A sterling effort on the part of the mechanics saw things straightened out enough for him to feel confident in his ability to complete the race. He wasn't the only driver worrying at the start. Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) had discovered that his clutch was slipping as he drove round on the warm up lap. He admitted to being very grateful that he wasn't at the very front.
Even before the race there had been some shuffling of the order, with Michael Ho (Ombra Racing) and Richard Antinucci (ASM Formule 3) having their fastest times disallowed for yellow flag offences) while Kazuya Oshima (TOM's) was dropped 10 places after the team changed his engine.
Pole sitter Kamui Kobayashi (ASM Formule 3) made a superb getaway, and Asmer went with him from 4th. Hirate lost out at Lisboa, but not before Romain Grosjean (Signature Plus) was the one to really suffer at the start. As the rest of the field tore away from the grid, Grosjean bogged down horribly, causing a ripple effect through the rest of the field as the remaining drivers had to jink wildly in a variety of directions to avoid hitting the stranded Frenchman. Meanwhile, Kodai Tsukakoshi (Prema Powerteam) took advantage of the chaos and gained several places. Another man on the move was Charlie Kimball (Signature Plus) who gained ground when Robert Streit (Prema Powerteam) ripped a wheel off his car, but then lost out to Adrian Sutil (TOM's) when the winner of this year's Japanese Championship started to move forward. Meanwhile, in the middle of the pack, Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport) was another man short of a wheel after an off at Fisherman's saw him damage the car terminally. He limped into the pits just behind Streit and shortly afterwards Fabio Carbone (Three Bond Racing) also pulled in, though he eventually got back out after a new wing was fitted. Needless to say it led to a brief outbreak of yellow flags at Fisherman's Bend, which may have saved us from further chaos, because at least it meant no one could try and overtake there.
Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) started well and made up places when other people started attacking the scenery, though he still didn't do as well as his teammate, Mike Conway. After crashing out on what would have been his fastest lap in qualifying, the British F3 Series champion was keen to make up ground as fast as he could. He was 11th at the end of lap 1, which wasn't to his liking, but he promptly set about gaining places at a great rate.
While Kobayashi waltzed off into the distance, followed by Asmer, Tsukakoshi was having a tough time out on the track. He lost out to Hirate, who now seemed to think his car was safe to drive hard, and almost to Paul di Resta (ASM Formule 3) as well. Hirate dived past the bright red car at Lisboa, and di Resta attempted to go through too. Instead he came very close to getting his front wing clipped, but got away with it. He lost momentum as a result, which gave Tsukakoshi some much-needed breathing space. A little behind him, Kimball was at the head of his own squabbling pack, before losing out to Sutil, who was absolutely determined to come through. That let Sutil through onto di Resta's tail, and while that was happening, Kazuki Nakajima (Manor Motorsport) set about Kimball too. Conway saw his chance there and then, and after a heart-stoppingly brave move at Lisboa, he was up into 7th place. A lap later and di Resta finally got the better of Tsukakoshi, which was the moment Sutil chose to pounce as well. Further back, Carbone and Grosjean were both staging recovery drives, but frankly what was happening at the front was so much more interesting. Di Resta claimed the fastest race lap, only to lose it almost immediately to Conway, who was now driving like a man possessed. He was all over Tsukakoshi now and wasn't looking like he was going to give up on getting past anytime soon. Kimball, meanwhile, had lost another place, this time to Antinucci, while Sutil was savaging di Resta something horrible, though to be fair the 2006 EuroSeries Champion was resisting for all he was worth.
Elsewhere in the order Jelley's recovery had lost its forward momentum as he lost a place to Oliver Jarvis (Carlin Motorsport), the Englishman now the leading Carlin driver after Engel's precipitate exit.
The much put-upon Tsukakoshi was now the filling in a deeply scary sandwich as he attempted to come back at Sutil while simultaneously keeping Conway at bay. An attempt to get past Sutil up the outside at Lisboa predictably came to nothing, when Tsukakoshi's nerve sensibly failed him at the last minute. Conway still took a look, but common sense seemed to suddenly get the better of all three of them (or maybe it was the voices of their respective team-managers telling them not to be stupid). Meanwhile, Sebastien Buemi (Carlin Motorsport) finally got the better of Daisuke Ikeda (EMS Racing) to move onto the tail of Jelley.
Further back, Grosjean had appeared back on the first of the timing screens (which meant he was back in the top 20), while Carbone was still barging his way through the tail-enders. Kobayashi was continuing apparently untroubled, but Asmer was being caught by Hirate now. Probably the fact that the Japanese's suspension wasn't 100% was the only thing saving the Estonian now.
Kimball, meanwhile, was still in trouble and was now having difficulties with Sebastian Vettel (Carlin Motorsport), the German trying everything to find a way through. That battle finally resolved itself when Vettel hit the barriers at Faraway, and wiped himself out of the race with two laps left to run. Another battle sorting itself out was the one between Tsukakoshi and Sutil, the Japanese getting back ahead of the German in the closing stages of the race. Interestingly, he couldn't then pull away, so he spent the next two laps with a gaggle of squabbling cars breathing down his neck.
A lap later and there was further mayhem after Grosjean came up behind Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing) and went through, towing Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport) with him. Buurman hit Kennard and both of them finished up in the Fisherman's Bend barriers, looking angry and sheepish in equal measure. The final lap was run with yellow flags being waved to warn of the wreckage, and not a lot happened as result, although Jelley lost one last place to Buemi on the final lap before dinging the barriers on the slowing down lap and dislodging a rear wheel. He wasn't the only one; Tsukakoshi did much the same, just on a different corner.
Anyway, a very happy Kobayashi came home a clear winner, from Asmer and Hirate. Di Resta was 4th, with Tsukakoshi heading home Sutil, Conway (who hung onto that fastest lap till the end), Nakajima, Antinucci and Kimball. Jarvis was a slightly surprised 11th, ahead of Buemi, Jelley, Ikeda, Grosjean, Kazuya Oshima (TOM's), Mauro Massironi (Ombra Racing), Maximo Cortes (Hitech Racing), James Winslow (ZAP Speed) and James Jakes (Manor Motorsport). 21st was Roldan Rodriguez (Hitech Racing), Carbone, and the first of the locals, Michael Ho (Ombra Racing). 24th was Rodolfo Avila (Performance Racing), and he was followed home by Cheong Lou Meng (Alan Docking Racing), Lei Kit Meng (Swiss Racing Team) and Jo Merszei (Swiss Racing Team).
There were no other classified runners.