Oulton Park, May 3rd/4th
Weather: sunny, dry.
Last Monday afternoon at Oulton Park saw chaos hit the British F3 series. After four races in which the number of retirements was far lower than normal, the boys promptly made up for this omission by indulging in some rather dubious behaviour during the race.
Walsall’s Martin O’Connell was out to try and catch up with Enrique Bernoldi, although the Promatecme driver seems to be unstoppable at present. In fact the only thing that stopped him at Brands Hatch was his teammate and although Martin gave it his best shot, this race was little different at the front from what we have already seen.
There was even a point during qualifying when it looked like Martin would be lucky to be able to mount any sort of challenge. Oulton is a difficult circuit and Martin and the Norfolk-based TOM’S team had missed the test session held here in February as the deal to run Martin had not been finalised at that point. By the time it had, there was no possibility of a test. Consequently, they had a lot of work to do during Sunday’s practice sessions. At the end of the first session, Martin was languishing in an unaccustomed twelfth place on the grid and wondering just what they needed to do to move ahead. A series of small changes to the car between the first and second sessions made all the difference to Martin’s performance in the second and final practice. It did look as if Ben Collins might be able to challenge Bernoldi too, the Intersport driver snatching provisional pole alongside Mario Haberfeld. However, all that changed in the second session.
O’Connell was able to haul himself up to fourth place in a session that saw so many changes of leader it was enough to make you dizzy. Another who improved was Kristian Kolby who had missed a large part of the morning session with a broken driveshaft on his Fortec Dallara. With his sponsors, 3 Arrows, present in force, and on what he considers his home circuit, the youngster was keen to show well and even held pole for all of 30 seconds, much to the delight of his sister Kirsten. He didn’t get to keep it though and eventually he ended the day third on the grid, his best position so far. He wasn’t the only one to improve of course. As the session drew to a close Bernoldi found some extra speed from somewhere and slotted in a blinding lap to break the 1 minute 30 second barrier and snatch pole. Collins, meanwhile, came out of it in second place, while the PSR duo of Haberfeld and Bernoldi occupied the third row, Mario proving the faster of the two though not by much.
Elsewhere on the grid, John Ingram’s move from a National Class team to Speedsport failed to produce an improvement in his times, proving that the ex-Caterham racer has a lot to learn about single seaters. The third ADR entry proved to be a disappointment too. With perhaps the oddest sponsorship deal in the Formula in a very long time (The Leningrad Cowboys; a Finnish rock group for those who don’t know) Miku can be fast on his day. Sunday obviously wasn’t one of his days, and he was slower in the second session than the first.
1st No. 5 Enrique Bernoldi, Dallara F398 Renault 1.29.944
2nd No. 27 Ben Collins, Dallara F398 Opel Spiess 1.30.074
3rd No. 4 Kristian Kolby, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1.30.122
4th No. 16 Martin OConnell, Dallara F398 TOMS Toyota 1.30.212
5th No. 2 Mario Haberfeld, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1.30.248
6th No. 1 Luciano Burti, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1.30.375
7th No. 6 Marc Hynes, Dallara F398 Renault 1.30.520
8th No. 14 Jamie Spence, Dallara F398 Renault 1.30.676
9th No. 7 Ricardo Mauricio, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1.30.789
10th No. 21 Warren Hughes, Dallara F398 Renault 1.30.813
11th No. 22 Alexander Yoong, Dallara F398 Renault 1.31.821
12th No. 18 David Cook, Dallara F398 Opel Spiess 1.31.359
13th No. 8 Yudai Igarashi, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1.31.372
14th No. 32 Narain Karthikeyan, Dallara F397 Spiess Opel 1.31.390
15th No. 9 Michael Bentwood, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1.31.485
16th No. 3 Andrej Pavicevic, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1.31.485
17th No. 19 Paula Cook, Dallara F398 Opel Spiess 1.31.733
18th No. 11 Miku Santavirta, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1.31.790
19th No. 20 Tim Spouge, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1.32.085
20th No. 42 Adam Wilcox, TOM’S 037F TOMS Toyota 1.32.187
21st No. 52 Phillip Scifleet, Dallara F396 TOMS Toyota (National Pole) 1.32.295
22nd No. 51 Warren Carway, Dallara F396 TOMS Toyota 1.33.149
23rd No. 10 John Ingram, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1.33.748
If previous years events were anything to judge by, the race was likely to be hard with a high rate of attrition and it had been rather quiet so far so maybe we were due for a little bit of trouble. But I doubt if anyone was expecting what we got.
Sure enough, it started before the lights had even turned green. Ben Collins once again stalled his troublesome Opel-Spiess engine, this time on the warm up lap, and so was forced to take his place at the back. This left O’Connell with a clear space in front of him, and he was able to take advantage of this at the start. When Bernoldi shot away into the lead with another of his blindingly quick starts, Martin followed him through and slotted into 2nd place. Kolby didn’t make the best of his grid slot either and was passed by Haberfeld, Hynes and Burti before he could sort himself out. And at the back, a furious Collins was starting what promised to be one hell of a comeback drive.
However, in the middle of the pack all sorts of chaos developed as the race got underway. First victim was Warren Carway, the Irishman falling off on Lap 1 when Narain Karthikeyan resisted his attempts to get past and forced him off the track. Carway wasn’t exactly pleased about this although he might have taken some satisfaction in what happened to Karthikeyan three laps later. The Indian teenager spun, collecting Michael Bentwood and putting himself and Bentwood out on the spot, the latter with what may turn out to be a broken wrist. The race was only three laps old and was not going to get much older.
The final incident of part one occurred two laps later when David Cook arrived at the first corner very fast and upside down. Forced into the barriers by Adam Wilcox, Cook bounced along them like a pinball before coming to rest against a tyre wall. The young Yorkshireman baled out but the marshals were unable to move his stricken Dallara and elsewhere, another group was having difficulties with Bentwood’s car. The safety car came out for a lap but then the decision was taken to stop the race while the damaged cars were recovered. We were now faced with a two-part race, the result to be decided on aggregate. The drivers would line up in the order they finished Lap 6 of the original race and would run a further seven laps.
A reasonable person might think that was the end of the trouble, but it wasn’t. The unfortunate Collins, starting from thirteenth, had a little difficulty on the formation lap, crashing heavily at Island. The start was further delayed while his car was recovered and, more than an hour after the initial stop, part two finally got started. O’Connell again made a good start from second on the grid, but again Bernoldi made an even better one, getting away ahead of the pack. The two of them stayed ahead of the pack to the end. Behind them Haberfeld and Hynes were locked in a battle for third that resolved itself on the third lap when they tangled at Shell and went off, This handed third in the race and the championship to Burti, who hadn’t expected to be on the podium but wasn’t complaining.
Afterwards, Bernoldi was quietly satisfied with yet another win and fastest lap, and if most people would have been happy with second, O’Connell had another way of looking at it. “It sounds bad to say you’re not happy with second, and I would be if anyone except Enrique had been first. As it is, we need to keep working to develop the car, to get more from it. Even so, what we’re doing is more than PSR can manage.” O’Connell remains second in the title race, with Burti close behind, while Bernoldi is 26 points ahead. O’Connell was thinking ahead, looking forward to the next round. “We’re at Silverstone and I know Silverstone pretty well so it should help,” he said. Meanwhile, he and the TOM’S team remain the only combination able to give Bernoldi and Promatecme a run for their money.
With Carway out of the running, all Phillip Scifleet needed to do was keep out of trouble yet again. He once more netted the maximum points but he must be itching to get up there with the International Class cars and see if he can give them a fight. He was closer to their pace than in the first five races so maybe he can emulate O’Connell and scare them a little. After all, there can’t be much fun in being the only runner in your class most of the time.
1st Enrique Bernoldi – Time 19:59.895, 13 laps, Speed 108.27 mph
2nd Martin O’Connell, F398 TOM’S Toyota – Gap: 4.057
3rd Luciano Burti, F398 Mugen Honda – Gap: 13.014
4th Jamie Spence, F398 Renault – Gap: 13.922
5th Kristian Kolby, F398 Mugen Honda – Gap: 17.594
6th Warren Hughes, F398 Renault – Gap: 18.437
7th Ricardo Mauricio, F398 Mugen Honda – Gap: 18.806
8th Andrej Pavicevic, F398 Mugen Honda – Gap: 31.342
9th Alexander Yoong, F398 Renault – Gap: 38.951
10th Paula Cook, F398 Opel Spiess – Gap: 50.671
11th Adam Wilcox, F398 Mugen Honda – Gap: 51.341
12th Phillip Scifleet, F396 TOMS Toyota – Time 20:52.399, 13 laps, Speed 103.73 mph (National Class winner)
13th Miku Santavirta, F398 Mugen Honda – Gap: 53.713
14th Yudai Igarashi, F398 Mugen Honda – Gap: 1:00.012
15th John Ingram, F398 Mugen Honda – Gap: 1:08.938
Marc Hynes – Lap 9 – Accident with Haberfeld
Mario Haberfeld – Lap 9 – Accident with Hynes
Ben Collins – Lap 6 – Crashed on 2nd warm up
Tim Spouge – Lap 6 – Spun off
Michael Bentwood – Lap 5 – Accident with Karthikeyan
Narain Karthikeyan – Lap 5 – Spun off
David Cook – Lap 5 – Accident with Wilcox
Warren Carway – Lap 0 – Accident with Karthikeyan
Bernoldi – Lap 4, 1.30.894, speed 109.94 mph
Scifleet – Lap 6, 1.33.491, speed 106.89 mph
Points after 6 rounds:
1st Bernoldi, 98 points
2nd O’Connell, 72 points
3rd Burti, 55 points
4th Haberfeld, 53 points
5th Hughes, 51 points
6th Spence, 34 points
7th Hynes, 26 points
8th Mauricio, 24 points
9th Kolby, 18 points
10th Collins/Yoong, 17 points
12th D Cook, 7 points
13th P Cook, 6 points
14th Igarashi/Pavicevic, 5 points
16th Karthikeyan, 4 points
1st Scifleet, 123 points
2nd Carway, 50 points
3rd White, 12 points