Doing battle with 33 stars The entry for the 18th edition of the Formula 3 Masters comprised 33 Mercedes-powered cars plus the Signature Plus's four VW-powered steeds. The team from Bourges had a few problems during qualifying but did much ...
Doing battle with 33 stars
The entry for the 18th edition of the Formula 3 Masters comprised 33 Mercedes-powered cars plus the Signature Plus's four VW-powered steeds. The team from Bourges had a few problems during qualifying but did much better during the racing. Guest driver Martin Plowman from Britain, free this weekend because his regular team was not racing, climbed an incredible 21 places through the field, while Jean-Karl Vernay managed to convert his meagre 30th position on the starting grid into a brilliant Top 10 finish.
F3 Euro Series contestants accounted for just over two-thirds of the entry for the Zolder race, which was further enhanced by the presence of some good teams from the British championship. One such team was Ultimate Motorsport, a sort of 'half-sister' to the Signature's team. The two teams set up a joint venture this winter in order to enter cars in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series. This was the first time the two F3 teams, managed respectively by Barry Walsh and Philippe Sinault, had lined up alongside each other in a paddock, but their mandatory Kumho tyres were only things their cars had in common, as the English team was racing Mygale-Mercedes cars and the French Dallara-VWs.
In the 2007 edition of this race Signature got two drivers on the podium. The team is a past winner of the race, too. Signature was the only Volkswagen-powered team racing in these Masters racing after RC Motorsport withdrew, which also explains why Martin Plowman was at the wheel of a Signature-entered car in the race. Martin, an official VW driver, is a former Karting champion of ... France! This is his rookie season in F3. He had to be patient while getting used to the car, especially in the faster sections of the track. A Signature Dallara-VW is not just any Dallara-VW, after all!
'Plowey' was not helped by the changeable weather conditions over the weekend. Friday's showers gave way to hot sun for the first session of qualifying. The track was still dry on the Saturday afternoon but the sun was flitting in and out of the clouds. Martin had to make do with a lowly 35th place on the starting grid, but he let rip in the race itself. The track started out wet but dried out towards the end of the race. Martin swept to 14th. His best time was the 6th fastest clocked by any of the 29 drivers who started the race on rain tyres.
Edoardo Mortara and Franck Mailleux, Signature's two regular official VW drivers, had a mixed bag of a weekend although they both came away disappointed from Zolder. Current F3 Euro Series leader Edoardo managed to slip into the top twenty qualifiers in Group A, which guaranteed him a slot in the front ten rows of the race grid. During the decider, the half- French, half-Italian driver from Switzerland clocked a promising time on worn tyres, but a red flag stoppage put paid to his doing better after completing just one lap with new boots. Starting 15th, Edo was soon up amongst the ten front runners on the Sunday, but dropped back after he realised his car was not handling so well, and in the end finished 15th. It was odd to see his front tyres almost as good as new after the race, whereas the back ones were in a pitiful state. We will have to wait until they examine the car properly back in Bourges before we know the reason for this strange behaviour.
As for Franck Mailleux, well this was probably the worst qualifying session of his career! Yet in the 2007 edition of this event he started from the front of the grid. After his 5th spot in the second session of testing on a greasy circuit, Franck was hopeful of pulling something off in the race, which was taking place in similar conditions, despite his lowly 36th place on the starting grid. Unfortunately, as he was tailing team-mate Jean-Karl Vernay through the first chicane, a collision happened right in front of them. Jean-Karl managed to get by it on the outside but Franck was not so lucky on the inside. There was no way he could avoid one of the cars that had spun in front of him, so that put paid to his race.
The best-placed Dallara-VW at the end of the race was Jean-Karl Vernay's. After picking up front wing damage at the start of the race, Jean-Karl felt the car understeering - never a nice feeling in the wet - but battled valiantly to convert a 30th spot at the start into 10th in the final placings. Good enough to make him regret not having shaved the 22 thousands of a second off his qualifying time that would have put him in Group A!
As the Signature folks said goodbye to the gentle flat landscape of Zolder they were already thinking of the rolling green hills of England's pleasant land, where the team will be heading next to defend its lead in the Formula 3 Euro Series. See you in Brands Hatch, next August 30-31!