British F3 Championship gripped by Avon Tyres, Rounds 19 &
Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, August 29th/30th/31st
© Lynne Waite & Stella-Maria Thomas
- Rounds 19 & 20:
This season's esoteric version of musical chairs continued
unabated at Spa-Francorchamps, with several unexpected plot
twists. The uncomplicated bit was the presence of Alvaro Parente
at Carlin Motorsport and Robert Doornbos at Menu Motorsport.
Both of them seemed interested in having a good look at Spa
prior to the F3 Euro Series coming here. There were also three
drivers in the invitation category (for which read allowed
to compete but not to score points in the British series)
who had turned up for the same reason. They were Ryan Briscoe
(who currently leads the series), Robert Kubica and Katsuyuki
Hiranaka, all driving for Prema Powerteam. In addition, from
the Italian F3 series, we had local boy Gregory Franchi, in
the Lucidi Motors entry and rounding out the Invitation Class,
the 2003 German Formula Three Champion, Brazilian João
Paulo de Oliveira (JB Motorsport).
So far so good. Here's where it gets weird. A week ago, Will
Davison was telling everyone that he couldn't continue at
Alan Docking Racing because he had no money left. He would
therefore not be at Spa. It was a bit of a shock, then, to
find him on the entry list and sitting in the Number 12 Menu
Motorsport car, which we had expected to find occupied by
Adam Carroll. He was now in the Alan Docking Racing seat vacated
by the Australian, and it's fair to say he was pretty surprised
by the turn of events as well!
- Round 19:
Weather: Extremely soggy!
After a very dry season in British F3 in was perhaps inevitable
that we would get rained on at Spa. Belgium isn't exactly
known for its arid climate, so when the heavens opened most
people initially shrugged and went about their business as
normal. However, it quickly became apparent that we were going
to get a whole season's rain in three days. At least it meant
Avon would finally be able to shift some of the super new
wet weather tyres that they have been hoarding since the season
started (and that are apparently generally cluttering up the
factory over in Melksham)! As it turned out, they wouldn't
get to sell that many; rather they would have to give them
away free, as the super new tyres proved to be alarmingly
prone to disintegration as soon as the track started to dry
out at all. That said, when the first practice session got
underway, Carroll was very keen to get out there and show
everyone that the ADR car was just as fast as the Menu car,
if not faster. Another who was keen to get out there was Richard
Antinucci (Promatecme F3), the American being followed out
of the pitlane by Nelson Piquet Jr (Piquet Sports). Although
his chances of anything more than third in the championship
have pretty much evaporated for this year, the Brazilian youngster
was rapidly on the pace. He was up there along with Carroll,
both of them hitting times in the 2 minutes and 48 seconds
bracket on their first flying laps, which must have taken
some doing in those conditions.
Carroll began to steadily increase the pace, going 8 seconds
faster on his next flying lap, while Piquet could only manage
a 2:41. Kubica was also looking determined, and was the first
to break the 2:40 barrier. While the three of them were disputing
provisional pole, Carroll's latest teammate, Joel Nelson,
flung himself into the gravel, though he was soon able to
scramble back out again. Davison, who was busy celebrating
his 21st birthday by trying to avoid drowning in the car,
moved up to 4th, while de Oliveira was now 6th. Looking for
his friend Antinucci, Ronnie Bremer (Carlin Motorsport) seemed
far more inspired than he has of late, and shot up to 2nd,
Carroll slotting between him and Antinucci. However, the story
of the first session was about to become clear.
There are those who claim that series leader Alan van der
Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) is a singularly unemotional individual,
but it would be fairer to say that he is simply intensely
focussed at present. If you know what to look for, there's
a steely determination visible in the South African right
now, especially after his lead was drastically reduced after
an uncharacteristic moment of madness at Thruxton last time
out. That was NOT going to happen here. In his now customary
manner he eventually edged out of the pitlane and onto the
track after the rest of them had gone. On a track as long
as this one, that meant he had plenty of space to play, and
he immediately upped the pace with a 2 minute 28 second lap
that put him on pole. Not content with that he dug deep, and
his next lap was even faster (2:36). Despite Carroll's best
efforts, he was over 2 seconds slower in second place!
While the front-runners seemed to be locked into a battle
for second on the grid, the other theme of the session began
to emerge, when Fairuz Fauzy (Promatecme F3) shot up the order
only to have his lap time disallowed because he'd gone over
the kerbs at the Bus Stop. A number of drivers had been shown
the black and white flag in Friday's testing for the self-same
offence, but not everyone had got the message yet. Carroll
was another who got his times disallowed as he attempted to
chase down van der Merwe, as was de Oliveira.
Someone who was not about to get his times disallowed was
Briscoe. The Australian was busy getting to grips with a circuit
he has never raced on before (when he had his abortive F3000
season he'd stopped by the time the series made it to Belgium,
and when he was in Formula Renault there were clashing Euro
series and Italian series rounds - he raced in Italy that
weekend). Given that he was now 4th, it seemed he was getting
the hang of the place, though he would later deny it. He was
pushed down the order a place by Piquet going 3rd. The piece
of news that was really making van der Merwe's day was the
fact that the only real remaining threat to his championship
chances, Jamie Green (Carlin Motorsport) was floundering in
14th at this point.
Meanwhile Eric Salignon (Hitech Racing) hit the top ten only
to be bounced back out when his lap time was disallowed. Carroll,
meanwhile, was finally able to edge closer to van der Merwe,
but he was still over a second slower than the South African.
Green now began to make an effort, and was soon up to 3rd,
which only spurred Alan on to greater efforts. With van der
Merwe now edging closer to a 2:35, the others still seemed
to be struggling to match his pace. Clivio Piccione (Manor
Motorsport) was looking good suddenly, moving ahead of the
rest of the pack to take 2nd, but he was still in the 2:37s.
Meanwhile, in the Scholarship Class Karun Chandhok (T-Sport)
was setting the pace, while his team-mate Steven Kane still
seemed to be fighting to find his form, despite advice and
support from Damon Hill. However, having claimed provisional
class pole, Chandhok chucked it into a gravel trap, and spent
some time trying to extricate himself. In an unnecessary display
of solidarity Kane took a trip through another gavel bed but
he at least didn't waste any time getting back on to the track.
Green now had something else to think about as Piquet found
some extra speed to go 3rd and a lap later 2nd. Robert Dahlgren
(Fortec Motorsport) was also beginning to look as if he might
have got to grips with the place, moving up to 6th.
At the ten minute mark, with Piquet getting steadily faster,
the order was van der Merwe, Piquet, Piccione, Green, Carroll,
Dahlgren, Bremer and Will Power (Fortec Motorsport).
While Joel Nelson (Alan Docking Racing) shot up to an unlikely
8th, only to be bounced back down again for cutting kerbs,
Green finally got the better of his team-mate for a very brief
moment, grabbing provisional pole for as long as it took van
der Merwe to cross the start/finish line again, almost half
a second faster than Jamie. It was really quite simple. Alan
wanted pole and he intended to make sure he hung onto it.
Although conditions seemed to be improving slightly, it seemed
there wasn't much more speed to be found. Certainly no one
was getting close to the pit wall, which is usually a sign
of extreme speed in an F3 car around here.
It didn't stop Briscoe from joining in the fight for a front
row slot, and as he started to understand more about the circuit
and about Avon tyres he was able to move back up to 5th. Meanwhile,
Bremer and Piquet were disputing 3rd place, Piquet getting
the better of Bremer, while Antinucci had edged up behind
the Dane, only to find Kubica had slotted in between the two
of them. With a final determined effort Piquet grabbed 2nd
from Green, just as van der Merwe put pole beyond reach with
a 2:35.001, leaving the others to wonder if there was anything
they could do to stop him now.
In the closing minutes of the session, a lot of people suddenly
found some speed, with Fauzy climbing to 10th, only to lose
out to Davison, who was booted down by Carroll, but none of
them could touch the series leader. A final effort from Power
allowed him to claw his way up to 4th, while Parente took
7th, only to lose it to Salignon at the last minute. A stunning
effort from Chandhok gave him an unassailable class pole,
as he grabbed 10th overall, and that was the end of it really.
Van der Merwe would start round 19 from pole, with Piquet,
Green, Power, Bremer, Briscoe, Salignon, Parente, Antinucci
and Chandhok rounding out the top 10. Kubica was 11th, from
Fauzy while Danny Watts (Hitech Racing) was an out-of-sorts
12th, complaining of extreme understeer in the damp conditions.
Nelson qualified 13th, ahead of Carroll, Davison, Piccione,
Doornbos and de Oliveira. 19th (and 2nd in the Scholarship
Class) was Kane, from close rival Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport),
while Dahlgren had gone seriously off the boil and was 21st.
Franchi and Hiranaka were 22nd and 23rd respectively, while
Billy Asaro (P1 Motorsport) was clearly a man with other things
than racing on his mind after a road traffic accident the
day before testing. This was highlighted when he managed to
end up in the gravel after the chequered flag had been shown.
The last four places went to Justin Sherwood (4th in the Scholarship
Class in the Performance Racing car), Rizal Ramli (Team SYR),
Masato Shinoyama (Team SYR) and Tor Graves (Manor Motorsport).