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Vergne strikes, Dias flies to Hockenheim victory

30 May 2010

Carlin's Jean-Eric Vergne and Hitech driver Gabriel Dias were the winners of the first two Hockenheim rounds of the Cooper Tires British F3 International Series, the Frenchman recapturing the championship lead as his Brazilian rival netted his squad's first victory of the season in fine style.

Vergne put the disappointments of last weekend's French rounds behind him in round ten at Hockenheim, dominating the race from pole position to chequered flag, and leading home Carlin team-mate Jazeman Jaafar for a 1-2 result.

"It was a very easy, clear race from the start to the end," the French ace admitted, "I had a really good car and I want to really thank the team because it was amazing."

It took organisers three attempts to get the race underway, Hitech's Dias causing the first restart when he stalled from P2 on the grid, his car then expiring as it made its way on to the second formation and finally being forced to start from pit-lane.

Vergne's start was cautious but he still led into the Nordkurve from team-mates Adriano Buzaid and Jaafar, with Will Buller upholding Hitech honours in fourth ahead of Raikkonen Robertson's Daisuke Nakajima. Fortec's Daniel McKenzie started seventh and quickly promoted himself to sixth at the expense of James Calado.

Alas for McKenzie's team-mate, erstwhile championship leader Oli Webb, the opening laps were far less straightforward. After snatching third from Jaafar into the hairpin the Mancunian ran wide a corner later.

"It just snapped away from me," he admitted, having plummeted down the order. Two laps later, he ran off track again and lost further ground.

The main dramas of the race centred on drive-through penalties handed down by race officials for corner-cutting. Three strikes was the rule, and the first to fall foul was Buzaid, the Brazilian losing a safe second place as a result. That left Vergne some 13 seconds clear of his closest pursuer, Jaafar, who, like Vergne, kept his nose clean to claim his first podium finish in British F3.

Buller might have collected another excellent podium but for a penalty pit call which promoted McKenzie to the final step. The Fortec driver had already profited from a drive-through for Nakajima, and was delighted with his first International class British F3 podium finish after claiming last year's National title.

"Several drivers in front of me were penalised, which helped, but I kept pushing from the start," he noted, "I had a little touch with Nakajima on the opening lap, and James got past me, but I was able to repass."

Calado claimed fourth, ahead of Buzaid, who recovered well from his penalty, while Jay Bridger's Litespeed Dallara, and Dias, who enjoyed a penalty-free run from his pit-lane start were next up. Webb recovered from his early mishaps to place eighth and, ironically it was ball number eight that Vergne picked from the hat post-race, thus handing his chief title rival the pole for the afternoon's sprint.

The National class duo enjoyed a spirited scarp throughout the race, James Cole leading Menasheh Idafar until the 13th lap, when Idafar launched an attack at the hairpin. Menasheh's tenure of the lead lasted only a couple of corners, however, before he ran wide and handed top spot, and an excellent ninth overall, back to his T-Sport team-mate. Pit-stoppers Buller and Carlos Huertas finished tenth and eleventh to claim the final International class points.

Fresh tyres and a cool head for round eleven finally netted Dias his first win in the International series, the Brazilian driver recovering from a slowish getaway which dropped him to third on the opening lap to claim victory by 1.1secs.

Dias had endured all sorts of pre-race dramas - his car's clutch had had to be changed after problems in the morning race, and then his race kit and helmet were trapped in the team truck behind a jammed door until moments before the off - and, given the dilemmas, his relatively slow getaway from second on the grid could be forgiven. It allowed pole-sitter Webb to rocket into a handsome lead for Fortec, while Buzaid also slotted past his countryman to take up third.

But, once off and running, Dias' car was clearly the class of the field. He closed down Buzaid over the course of the opening three laps and then sliced down the inside at the hairpin to lift second place. Webb was, by this stage, 2.1secs to the good, but Dias' wings gave him the edge he needed to close the gap and, by the seventh tour, the two cars were nose to tail.

Dias eventually swooped on the eighth lap of what turned out to be a 13-lap race, again down the inside into the hairpin, to snatch away the lead from a helpless Webb.

"We changed the clutch after what happened in race one," he said, "and this one was a bit more difficult for me. I didn't have a great start, and that was why I lost one position. But the car was just so good that I could catch the guys in front easily. It was so superior I could just drive straight past them. Great work from the team."

"We knew that Dias would be quicker," Webb admitted, "He had newer tyres than us because we have opted to save ours for the third race, but we didn't think he'd be that quick."

Buzaid was less than two seconds behind the winner for a fine podium finish, maintaining his 100 per cent scoring rate in the process, with Bridger a best-yet fourth for the Litespeed team. Jay had started third and, though he could not keep Buzaid at bay, managed to hold off championship leader Vergne for the duration, despite the Frenchman's best efforts to pass.

Behind Vergne, in sixth, was Calado, with Buller resisting race-long pressure from Jaafar to hold on to seventh. Rupert Svendsen-Cook and Raikkonen Robertson's Carlos Huertas followed Jaafar home to complete the top ten.

National Class leader Cole started well up the grid thanks to his ninth-place finish in round ten, many places ahead of his T-Sport team-mate and class rival Idafar, and duly took his seventh class victory, albeit less than a second ahead of Idafar at the flag.


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