British F3 Championship Gripped by Avon Tyres - Rounds 17 &
Thruxton, Hampshire, 16th & 17th August 2003
© Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas
Report - Round 17:
A suggestion that this wasn't exactly going to be a normal race
came early on. Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport), who should have been
occupying the Scholarship Class pole position, failed to get out
onto the grid because he'd decided he needed to go to the toilet
at completely the wrong moment. By the time he got back, the pit
lane was already closed and Ernesto was left looking a bit embarrassed.
He was also left looking a bit distant, having to start from the
back of the grid.
Just to complete the misery at P1, Ernesto's Championship Class
teammate Billy Asaro staggered back into the pits after the formation
lap, his car in urgent need of attention. He too would have to start
from the back, if they could get him back out there in time. Roly
Vincini must have been wondering why his team had made the trip
to Thruxton. Someone else who could have been forgiven for being
in the gents' before the race started was Danny Watts, the Hitech
Racing driver suffering from what he diagnosed to be "a bad
belly!" As it was, he was on time and sitting in pole position,
waiting for the lights to go green.
When the race started, Watts grabbed his opportunity, but so did
series leader Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport), rocketing
from third row of the grid up the inside along the pit wall to take
3rd before they even got to Allards. The loser in all of this was
Eric Salignon, Watt's team mate. The Frenchman seems to have finally
settled in to F3 and had qualified on the front row. He was 5th
by the time they sorted themselves out. Robert Dahlgren (Fortec
Motorsport) was 2nd, and his teammate was 4th. There was probably
an element of needle in all of this, as David Hayle, who now runs
Hitech, used to run Fortec for Richard Dutton
seemed to be some ill feeling in the wheel banging that went on
as Dahlgren tried to take the lead from Watts going into Campbell.
Watts hung on, Dahlgren lost out and van der Merwe seized the opportunity
to go 2nd. If Watts thought having the championship leader behind
him was going to make for a quiet life, he was seriously misinformed.
Van der Merwe was instantly on the attack, trying to get around
the outside of the Englishman at the Chicane. He got the door slammed
in his face for his troubles, but it didn't put him off in the least.
Elsewhere in the field, Stefano Fabi (Manor Motorsport) was already
out of the race, having been shoved off at the Complex. Viso, on
the other hand, was going great guns. This wasn't too surprising
given the nature of his start. Rather than coming to a complete
halt at the back of the grid, he slowed and before he was actually
stationary the green lights came on. Not wanting to miss out, he
sensibly, if not strictly legally, floored the throttle and was
on his way, leap-frogging up a number of places before the rest
of the field was really moving. He was certainly doing better than
Asaro, who was at least now on the track and was trying to work
his way up the order if he could.
The following lap, the field was thinned out further when Tor Graves
(Manor Motorsport) was collected by newcomer Nelson. Afterwards
Graves was annoyed at what had happened: "He seemed to think
I was in his way!" was all the aggrieved Manor driver could
say. At the front van der Merwe continued his furious attack on
Watts. It was becoming clear that just getting a good points score
was not what he had in mind this time. Before the race, when everyone
was advising him to exercise sense and stay put if he had to, he
merely insisted that he wanted to win. He obviously meant it. Considering
that Watts was no threat in the title chase, risking it all fighting
him might have seemed unwise.
Back in 4th place, Salignon was now setting about Dahlgren, while
Watts was clinging on to his lead with everything he'd got. Suddenly,
Salignon made a mistake and rather than getting past Dahlgren, lost
his place to Power, only for Power to obligingly go off when he
got collected by Antinucci and Nelson Piquet Jr (Piquet Sport).
In spite of waved yellow flags at various points around the circuit,
van der Merwe was still looking for a way past Watts, and was causing
palpitations among his friends and supporters, especially as it
meant he lost a place to Dahlgren.
It was getting kind of busy in the pits too, as Will Davison (Alan
Docking Racing), arrived pointing at the front end of his car, caused
by Antinucci spinning in front of him. Then, as Davison rejoined,
Antinucci limped in followed by Power. Power got out of the car,
signalling the end of his race, and stomped up the pit lane to have
a word or two with Antinucci. It was a waste of time because the
American was still in his car, with his helmet on, while the team
checked the car over. The third participant in the drama, Piquet,
might also have had something to say but he was still stuck out
on the circuit.
Not surprisingly, all this mayhem led to a Safety Car period, as
Piquet's car needed dragging to a safe place, as did both Graves'
and Nelson's. With Watts in the lead, the rest of the top five was
now Dahlgren, van der Merwe, Salignon and Green. In 6th was now
Fairuz Fauzy (Promatecme F3), who had been having trouble keeping
Adam Carroll (Menu Motorsport) at bay. 8th was the only surviving
Manor driver, Clivio Piccione, and in 9th was Ronnie Bremer (Carlin
Motorsport). Steven Kane (T-Sport) headed up the Scholarship Class,
in 10th overall. Just behind him was Viso, who had wasted no time
capitalising on his slightly dodgy start, which meant that 3rd in
class, and not all pleased about it, was Karun Chandhok in the other
T-Sport car. Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing) was in 13th, with another
Scholarship runner, Can Artam (Promatecme F3) just behind him. In
15th place was Keohane, with Asaro - who was at least a lap down
- between himself and Rizal Ramli (Team SYR). Justin Sherwood (Performance
Racing) was bringing up the rear, while Davison had rejoined at
the back of the pack, while Shinoyama became the latest competitor
to dive into the pits. It was debatable whether there was more action
on the track or in the pit lane
The pit lane got a little
less crowded when Antinucci finally rejoined, possibly figuring
it was safer than staying where he was with an angry Aussie about.
He was rapidly replaced by Asaro, who came back in to have quantities
of grass removed from the sidepods of his Dallara. It was all getting
a bit silly. Asaro soon rejoined, as did Shinoyama, though you really
felt like asking why.
And so, for another three laps, everyone held station behind the
Safety Car. When the race finally went live again, Watts managed
to hang on to his lead, and for a whole lap there was little in
the way of trouble. Antinucci finally pitted for keeps - maybe hoping
that Power would have forgotten all about him and wandered off by
then - it was three laps later, after all!
Anyway, out on the track, Dahlgren got up the inside of Watts to
take the lead. Van der Merwe attempted to go through too, but Watts
had had enough. One getting through was enough. He wasn't going
to lose a second place. With the door again slamming shut, van der
Merwe came very close to losing another place, this time to Salignon.
Instead, though, he found himself passed by Green. And they say
there's no overtaking in F3... There was about to be even more,
as Salignon fought back, getting his revenge a lap later to retake
4th. Meanwhile, Davison was back in the pits, while Piccione spun
himself out of contention at the Complex after an attack on Carroll.
He managed to get back into the race, but at the cost of scattering
debris all over the place. At the front of the order, van der Merwe
again attacked Watts and again got pushed back. Watts really didn't
want to lose another place. The South African's next attempt to
pass also came to nothing, the Carlin driver having to back off
in order to keep the nose of his Dallara in one piece. He wasn't
done yet by a long way though.
The Scholarship lads were having a bit of a rough time too, but
in their case it was because they now had Thompson, and Keohane,
in their midst, the two of them having their own private fight.
Viso was trying to find a way past Kane, and Chandhok was trying
to avoid being wiped out by the Championship Class runners. It wasn't
easy in the middle of the field.
By the midway stage, Carroll was also missing, the midfield runners
disappearing at a high but steady rate. The way things were going,
there might not be enough drivers left to allocate all the points!
This was emphasised by what happened next. Van der Merwe once more
went for Watts. This time neither of them would back off, and they
touched. Van der Merwe got through while Watts lost out badly, slipping
back behind Green, Salignon and Fauzy. It was no surprise to see
bits of sticker flapping wildly on the Carlin car's wing end plates
as it came past next time round.
A lap later and Salignon saw what he thought was his opportunity,
the Frenchman trying to squeeze Green out. Green wasn't going to
give though and Eric settled back in to 4th. Meanwhile Davison finally
threw in the towel, his Mugen-Honda starting to smoke like a freshly
lit barbie! His car therefore had some grounds for being covered
in what at first sight appeared to be fire-extinguisher powder.
Closer inspection revealed that it wasn't; it was, in fact, the
cement dust that the marshals had sprinkled around liberally after
each of the numerous incidents. All the cars looked like that at
the end of the race, and there would be a lot of polishing needed
if any of them were to go out looking their best in Race 2.
Green still had to defend himself against Salignon, who was now
mounting a vigorous campaign to relieve the English driver of a
podium placing if he possibly could