After Saturday's excitement, it would have been remarkable if the second race of the weekend could produce the same levels of adrenaline, but there were still things to raise the heart rate of the spectators (and some of the teams). Arturo Llobell...
After Saturday's excitement, it would have been remarkable if the second race of the weekend could produce the same levels of adrenaline, but there were still things to raise the heart rate of the spectators (and some of the teams). Arturo Llobell (Cram Competition) took his first victory in the category, despite a heated battle with Johnny Cecotto Junior (Ombra Racing) and also Chris van der Drift (J. D. Motorsport). None of this troubled Jerome D'Ambrosio (Cram Competition), as the Belgian did enough to claim the championship in its inaugural season. However, before that could happen there was still a race to be run.
The race start was neatly handled by Llobell, the Spaniard making the better start off the front row while Cecotto struggled with wheelspin and could only slot in behind the Cram car, despite starting from pole. Mind you, for real action, most people's eyes were firmly on van der Drift (starting 5th) and D'Ambrosio (starting from 8th on the grid - the top 8 in the first race of the weekend start in reverse order in the second race). It wasn't a bad idea. Van der Drift got off the line rapidly, and was 4th by the time they reached Paddock. It was clear that he wanted a podium position, and he would do his best to get one, despite being stuck behind Pablo Sanchez Lopez (Alan Racing) in the early stages. D'Ambrosio had also started well and was already up a place in 7th, which was more than enough to clinch the championship for him. 8th would have been sufficient. Elsewhere, the first of a series of retirements came about when Juho Annala (Jenzer Motorsport) attempted to go up the inside of Salvatore Gatto (Promotorsport) on the way into Paddock Hill Bend and instead ended up stuck in the gravel on the outside. It had been a somewhat robust move and was almost certain to end in disaster.
It wasn't too long before van der Drift got what he wanted as Lopez slowed and dropped away, letting the Dutch New Zealander through into 3rd and onto the tail of Cecotto. That of course also moved D'Ambrosio up a place to 6th. Other people gained places when Nick de Bruijn (ISR) also dropped out of the race, though at least he was able to pull into the pits, rather than crashing out.
Rahel Frey (Jenzer Motorsport) and Rodolfo Avila (Cram Competition) tangled at Clarke Curve and both went spearing off into the gravel. Considering that Avila knows Brands pretty well, one might have expected better from him.
Meanwhile, the battle for the lead was hotting up, with van der Drift now setting the fastest lap of the race as he set about attempting to find a way past Cecotto. It was good, close racing, although his lap time was bettered almost immediately by Oliver Campos Hull (Iris Project), though the latter was a long way down the order. Van der Drift wasn't helped by Cecotto having a go at Llobell only to fail to make the pass. As a result, they both lost a little ground on the leader.
Further back, D'Ambrosio briefly lost his 6th place to Marcello Puglisi (Promotorsport), though he got it back again without a great deal of ado. The Belgian was understandably reluctant to push too hard with the title at stake, but on the other hand if he could work his way up the order he wouldn't say no. And with Cecotto trying the outside and then the inside at Westfield, it looked as if he might gain through a potential accident as well. However, he wasn't going to bank on that.
It didn't take long for Norbert Siedler (ADM Motorsport) to join in with the battle for the lead, either, and now there were four of them going hell-for-leather round the twisting track. It was good, fun stuff, even if it did look as if it might end in tears. Meanwhile, D'Ambrosio had got his place back at Westfield, and Puglisi also fell victim to Gatto as a result. It seemed a little odd, as Puglisi had just set the fastest lap of the race. Maybe he was just that bit too fast! However, he, D'Ambrosio and Gatto were now all bottled up behind Frankie Provenzano (ADM Motorsport), the Italian trying to hang onto 5th place despite the pressure that was being piled on.
The next one to drop out of the battle was Pierre Ragues (Euronova Racing), the Frenchman limping into the pits very slowly. He would rejoin but he'd lost a great deal of ground by then. By quarter distance Cecotto was all over Llobell, while van der Drift was hanging back, perhaps wanting to avoid any incipient accident. D'Ambrosio was also pressing on, trying to pass Provenzano by any means possible now. There was activity further down the order too, with Kasper Andersen (J. D. Motorsport) making progress after a dire race on Saturday. He gained a place from Alberto Costa (Euronova Racing), while he gained another position when Giuseppe Terranova (Alan Racing) spun off into the gravel at Stirlings. However, everyone's attention was focussed a lot further forward, with D'Ambrosio now through to 5th. Once the champion elect was free and clear he began to catch the top four at a rate that was frankly astonishing, going from over 4 seconds adrift to right with them in the space of three laps. He certainly seemed set on proving that he's deserving of the title, setting a blistering fastest lap at the halfway mark.
Sami Isohella (Euronova Racing) was having a better day than might have been expected also; the Finn was on his way up the order and had edged into the top 10. He seemed to be progressing well, which was just as well for the Finns as he was now all they had left. He also gained a place when Luca Persiani (Scuderia Fama) went missing, plummeting down the order like a stone. It also let Andersen up into 11th. Meanwhile, at the front, Llobell was now benefiting from the ferocity van der Drift was bringing to bear on Cecotto, and had successfully broken away. It was probably just as well, because the battle behind him really was hotting up now. Van der Drift had another go at Hawthorn, and when that didn't work, he tried the outside and then the inside at Westfield. This all let Siedler get ever closer, and D'Ambrosio was now right on the Austrian's rear wing too.
And then it all fell apart. Campos Hull was behind Michele Caliendo (ADM Motorsport) when he suddenly got it all wrong and went spearing off into the tyre wall at Hawthorn. It was a big impact and the car was in a tricky position, so it was no real surprise when the Safety Car was put on standby. Andersen had just edged back into the top ten, but Siedler wasn't so lucky. He thought he'd found a way past van der Drift but then he had to drop back again, having realized there were waved yellow flags. Needless to say, it didn't take long for the Safety Car to go from standby to actively taking over the race. It slotted in just behind race leader Llobell, who realized, pulled across and let it through. It was enough to gain him a thank you message on the timing screens. And so the order was Llobell, from Cecotto, van der Drift, Siedler, D'Ambrosio, Provenzano, Gatto, Puglisi, Isohella and Andersen. 11th was Nicolas Maulini (Iris Project), from Caliendo, Mattia Pavoni (Promotorsport), Claudio Cantelli Junior (J. D. Motorsport), Costa, Massimo Torre (Scuderia Fama), Michael Meadows (Euronova Racing) and Dominick Muermans (Ombra Racing). And that was it. There were no others left. And frankly Muermans was in trouble too, having to pit quite soon afterwards.
At the restart, Llobell kept his cool, getting away cleanly, while van der Drift saw his chance and made a lunge at Cecotto on the way into Paddock. He got through but he couldn't hold the proper line into Druids. Despite contact, they both survived, but it was Cecotto who came out in front once the dust settled. A pair who weren't so fortunate were Gatto and Puglisi, the pair of them tangling for 7th, and in effect handing the places to Isohella and Andersen.
As the race moved into its closing stages, van der Drift dropped back into Siedler's clutches, but was able to recover when D'Ambrosio set about the Austrian, thus distracting him from his attempts to wrest 3rd from the man ahead of him. With all of this going on, no one was looking at the back end of the grid, but if they had been, they would have seen Meadows crash out at Druids, ending up deep in the gravel. And that left 14 runners out of 27. Luckily, there wasn't a lot of the race left. If there had been, the organizers might have been pushed to award all the points!
Anyway, despite the lack of cars, there was still action. Isohella and Andersen swapped places for 7th, while Torre and Costa were contesting last but one, Torre finally snatching the penultimate place two laps from the end. With one lap left, Andersen had a go at Provenzano, while van der Drift took yet another pot shot at Cecotto. Again it didn't quite work, but it meant he, Siedler and D'Ambrosio were briefly side-by-side for that final podium place. It couldn't have been closer. However, they had all run out of time, which meant that while Llobell came home to his first win in the category, Cecotto held onto 2nd, despite an engine that was giving out ominous warning signs, and van der Drift finished 3rd. Siedler claimed 4th by the narrowest of margins from newly-crowned champion D'Ambrosio, while the remaining top ten places went to Provenzano, Isohella, Andersen, Caliendo and Maulini. 11th was Pavoni, from Cantelli Jr, Torre and Costa. No one else finished.
The fastest lap was set, to nobody's surprise, by D'Ambrosio.