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Race No. 11, Race Round 21
Date: 06. September 2003
Track:Donington Park (4,020 km)
2003 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship - Round 21,
Donington Park, Leicestershire, September 5th/6th/7th
© Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite

Race Report - Round 21:
We've seen some pretty weird races in our time in a combined half-century or more of watching motor sports (and F3 continuously since 1986), but on a scale of one to ten where 1 is "that's a bit odd" and 10 is "you just had to be there to believe it", this one was right up there at around 11! This was one seriously peculiar race!
The trouble started as the pit lane opened and things quickly got out of hand. The track was dirty from the various activities earlier in the day (some of which seemed to involve an inordinate amount of dead Renault Clios) and just to make life really interesting there were black clouds billowing up in the distance and heading straight for the track. The heavens opened as the cars came to rest on the grid, and there was a short sharp downpour. A long way off patches of lighter cloud were clearly visible, but there was an awful lot of nasty looking weather in between. The hideous crackles and bangs on everyone's radios also suggested that thunder and lightning were a distinct possibility before the end of the race. As at Spa, there was a great deal of head scratching as people tried to decide what to do. None of the indecision was assisted either by the news that, as Ronnie Bremer (Carlin Motorsport) was stranded out at Starkey's with an electrical failure, the start would be delayed while he was rescued.
Most people now made up their minds to go for wet weather tyres. The Avon compound was new after the Spa debacle (when they simply disintegrated in damp conditions) and the replacement seemed to be a lot more durable. However, Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) was still on slicks (by accident rather than design as it turned out), and Nelson Piquet (Piquet Sports) was up on jacks while Glen Waters tried to decide what to do (finally he would opt for slicks too).
As the five-minute buzzer finally sounded the rain slowed, finally stopping just before the field was sent off on the first of two green flag laps. Rizal Ramli (Team SYR) opted to dive into the pits instead of going round, and once there he had slicks fitted before taking his place at the pit lane exit. Joining him after one exploratory lap was Richard Antinucci (Promatecme F3) who had also decided that wets were not the way to go. The two of them would have to start the race from the pit lane now. Quite honestly, losing their grid places might have been for the best anyway, judging by the amount of spray coming off people's wheels as they circulated back to form up for the start. All that remained now was to see who was right!
As the field screamed away from the grid, it was clear that wets were better, at least at this stage. At the front of the field, Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) leapt into the lead, despite van der Merwe's best efforts. While Austin stuck to the wettest available line, Danny Watts (Hitech Racing) was also on something of a charge, aided by the fact that after his abortive stab at the lead, van der Merwe was now plummeting down the order as he struggled to find any grip. He was 15th by the end of lap 1 and it began to look as if he might not claim the championship this afternoon after all. Watts still had Fairuz Fauzy (Promatecme F3) and Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport) between him and the leader, but he was trying from the word go. Behind Watts, Jamie Green (Carlin Motorsport) was busy attacking Robert Dahlgren (Fortec Motorsport) for 5th, the youngster knowing full well that he needed to win the race if he wanted to keep his championship chances alive.
Elsewhere things were not going well for Tor Graves (Manor Motorsport), a spin dropping him to the back of the field. Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) made an poor getaway from the middle of the pack and was clobbered as they screeched through Redgate, which left him sitting on the grass on the inside looking a mite embarrassed (as well as potentially out of the running for the Scholarship Class title if the others survived). While a very fat pigeon sat watching from the gravel on the other side of the track, the Indian driver abandoned his car and retreated behind the barriers, where he remained for the rest of the race, so gripped by what was going on that he couldn't tear himself away. While Chandhok himself was now in a place of safety, his car was not, and so the Safety Car was scrambled before the race was a lap old, just as Piquet made an attempt to pass van der Merwe for 15th.
This looked as if it would play into the hands of the handful of slick-shod runners, although they were all a long way adrift by now. And so they all settled down to circulate safely if they could. The order at this stage was Austin, Fauzy, Keohane, Watts, Green, Dahlgren, Clivio Piccione (Manor Motorsport), Will Davison (Menu Motorsport) and Billy Asaro (P1 Motorsport). Behind them, Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport) was leading the Scholarship Class battle from Steven Kane (T-Sport), while 12th was João Paulo de Oliveira (Alan Docking Racing), who was making the Lola-Dome look pretty useful. 13th was Eric Salignon (Hitech Racing), from Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing), Will Power (Fortec Motorsport), Reinhard Kofler (Alan Docking Racing), van der Merwe, Masato Shinoyama (Team SYR), Piquet, Antinucci, Graves and Ramli. As the first of the slick-shod boys, van der Merwe was a less than impressive looking 18th now - it was just possible that they had made a major misjudgement.
Even so, the race was now set to be 22 laps instead of 20 and drivers on wets were now having to look for the damper bits of track, Austin running so far over that he looked as if he was about to overtake the Safety Car. And so they continued for another lap. At the start of Lap 4 the Safety Car finally peeled off and left the boys to play nicely (if possible).
With the dry line starting to appear, as the race went live, Fauzy went on the offensive, trying to take Austin round the outside, while Watts attacked Keohane for 3rd, and Green attacked Dahlgren. Watts went through and Dahlgren tried to follow, allowing Green back up to 5th, but a lap later they were scrapping again, the two of them side by side in the Chicane, banging wheels. Meanwhile, there were spinners all over the place, most notably Piccione, who was able to get going, and Shinoyama who was stranded in the middle of the start/finish line for some time while he tried to sort out which way he was facing!
Further problems occurred almost immediately, when Asaro had a spin and Keohane lost ground badly at the Esses when he ventured up the escape road. Then Power pitched Salignon into a spin, breaking his own suspension, after which the Frenchman was collected by de Oliveira, who left most of the Lola's nose at the scene of the accident and had to limp back to the pits. Salignon's car was now stranded in a dangerous place, and so the Safety Car was called out again. Austin was still leading as they settled in for another Seat-led processional lap or two. Behind him Fauzy had so far fended off Watts, while Dahlgren was still in front of Green. Davison was next in an impressive position for someone who started 16th, from Thompson, Viso, Kane, Piccione, Kofler, Graves and Sherwood (who was convinced his suspension was broken - actually there were just big pieces missing from his wheels and about 6psi in his tyres!). Keohane was now just ahead of van der Merwe, Piquet, Antinucci, Ramli and Shinoyama.
For reasons that never became clear, the race was not extended by another lap (maybe because the programme was now running late) but even without the addition of an extra lap, these delays must surely eventually play into the hands of van der Merwe, Piquet and company? At the moment, though, apart from Shinoyama they were all at the back of the field. Anyway, finally the Safety Car pulled off again, leaving 12 laps to run before the finish. Watts lunged at Fauzy but couldn't get past as the Malaysian tried to get the better of Austin. Austin wasn't having it and managed to slam the door on him. Green again tried to get the better of Dahlgren and again found the Swede was just that bit too tough to deal with. It looked as if that might well become the final order. Further back, Antinucci decided to have a go at Piquet, presumably on the grounds that if he was that far back he really didn't have anything to lose. And de Oliveira came back out in the Lola having had a new nose and slicks fitted. He promptly managed to spin at the Chicane but at least this time there was no one near him and he soon got underway again.
A lap later Kane finally found a way past Viso, who promptly hit the T-Sport car up the rear in his efforts to regain the lead. With the nose of the P1 car now badly damaged, the Venezuelan ceased to pose much of a threat to Kane, who seemed to have escaped unscathed, though he said afterwards it had been quite a jolt.
Meanwhile, Watts was again taking a look at Fauzy as the pair of them headed into the Craner Curves. Wisely perhaps, he then thought better of it and backed off, at which point he found Dahlgren was all over him. While all this was going on at the front, Keohane managed to spin and take Graves out of the race. No one was really looking at what was happening at the back though; there was way too much going on at the front. Watts was having yet another go at Fauzy, but the end result was that Dahlgren got through for 3rd instead. Meanwhile, Davison was on the attack and what he wanted was Green's place if he could get it. And in the mid-ranks Thompson got a serious wobble on which allowed Kane to get past, while Viso started to drop away.
And at the very front Austin was beginning to open up a huge gap between himself and the frantically squabbling pack. However, as the track continued to dry, things were about to change. The slick-shod boys were now really on the move, though they were temporarily bottled up behind Asaro, who was struggling with wet weather tyres and a badly bent front wing. It was, however, only a matter of time before they got past him. As they began to move through the ranks, the only question was whether it was too late or not.
While Green was being leaned on by Davison, and losing a place to the Aussie as a result, Fauzy was getting a real going over from Dahlgren, though he was resisting strongly. In fact, a wrong move on the Swede's part saw Watts grab 3rd back from him. And then Green was being pressurised by Kane, which had definitely not been part of his plan for the day, the Scholarship Class runner breathing down the Carlin driver's neck he was so close. And so they continued, seemingly oblivious to the threat from behind, van der Merwe now in the top ten and beginning to close at a phenomenal rate as the wets ceased to work and his tyres started to come into their own. With four laps to go, he was 7th, passing Kane into the Esses. A lap later and the South African Champion Elect was 3rd, taking Dahlgren effortlessly and being followed by Piquet, Antinucci and - remarkably - Ramli. And quietly minding his own business, but also on slicks, was de Oliveira, who might have been three laps down but was lapping faster than anyone else just then. And then van der Merwe was through to 2nd, and catching Austin at an unbelievable rate, the Carlin car eating 8 seconds out of Austin's lead in the space of a single lap. It looked as if he just might take the Championship with a win, rather than just a podium. And then it all went wrong for Alan, and also for Austin. Coming out of Redgate for the final time, and not planning on making a move for the lead just there, the speed differentials between the two cars proved the undoing of both of them. Austin left the corner relatively slowly, van der Merwe much faster and promptly hit the Menu car right in the gearbox. Van der Merwe was left stranded in the gravel, while Austin recovered, only to have both Piquet and Antinucci go through on that final eventful lap. Austin hung on for 3rd, while Davison took advantage of the confusion to elbow Dahlgren aside, and also squeezed past Fauzy for an impressive 4th place. Afterwards, van der Merwe was confirmed as champion, but refused to celebrate, saying that that really wasn't the way he'd wanted to get the title. He would celebrate later.
Austin was absolutely devastated, and could only mutter about the "Bloody Safety Car!" having been cruelly robbed of victory on the final lap. Piquet, on the other hand, couldn't believe his good fortune, and even Glen Waters could be seen to smile, though it was through gritted teeth as he thought about the way things had appeared to be going. "For the first 18 laps I didn't look too clever there…" was all he could say. Even more amazing was the fact that Ramli was 5th, scoring 8 points to add to the 1 he'd managed in the previous 20 races. Dahlgren was 6th, from Green and Kane won his class, with Piccione, Thompson, Fauzy and Kofler between him and Viso, who had just managed to hang on to 2nd in class despite Sherwood's best efforts. Watts and Shinoyama brought up the rear, Danny having gone steadily backwards in the closing stages, while de Oliveira came home with the third fastest lap time, despite being a good three laps back.



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