Brendon Hartley led home the British F3 International Series challenge in the annual F3 Masters event at Zolder as he took a fifth place finish for Carlin in the annual non-championship event.
In a strong performance from the Carlin team, Jaime Alguersuari and Rodolfo Gonzalez also finished inside the top ten, although Richard Philippe failed to finish after an incident with Henkie Waldschmidt.
As the lights went out for the start of the 2008 Masters of F3, two separate incidents before the first corner ended many drivers' races early. Managing to avoid the unfolding melee, all four Carlin drivers made it to the first corner unscathed, and by the end of the first sector, Hartley was eighth, Gonzalez tenth, Philippe eleventh and Alguersuari 13th.
All four drivers continued to make good progress and as they crossed the line for the first time Hartley was up to sixth, Gonzalez seventh, while Alguersuari had passed team-mate Philippe for eighth. By lap four, the Carlin cars were running line astern, with just two seconds covering all four as they crossed the line, but by lap six Hartley began to pull away, with Daniel Campos-Hull in his sights for fifth place. Behind him, fellow Red Bull driver Alguersuari was involved in his own battle, and was passed by Edoardo Mortara for ninth place.
By lap twelve, Alguersuari found himself in a three way fight with Mortara and Atte Mustonen – the trio running three abreast into the first corner. Alguersuari passed Mortara, but lost out to Mustonen and by the end of the lap was tenth. Ahead of them, Hartley was on a charge, and made a great move past Campos-Hull to take fifth place on lap 13. Gonzalez was the next Carlin car across the line in seventh, with Philippe running in a close eighth place.
However, Euroseries runner Philippe's strong run came to an end on lap 16, when the young F3 rookie came into contact with Waldschmidt, leaving both cars stranded in the gravel. The next few laps saw numerous changes for position, as Gonzalez and Alguersuari battled with a number of drivers for the final positions in the top ten.
Lap 20 saw Gonzalez racing wheel to wheel with Daniel Campos-Hull, and as the duo came into the last corner there was contact, with Campos-Hull going off track. The racing continued as Alguersuari closed up on Gonzalez, with the British F3 racer making it past his Euro Series counterpart on lap 23. Gonzalez fought back however to take the position back a lap later. The racing continued into the final stages and with one lap to go, the Carlin racers were led by Hartley in a lonely fifth place, with Alguersuari eighth having just passed Gonzalez who was ninth. Gonzalez had little time to fight back however, and all three cars maintained their positions to the chequered flag.
“I'm pleased to have finished in the top five, but I'm frustrated that I wasn't able to get past Campos-Hull earlier as that really compromised my race,” Hartley said. “By the time I got past the top four cars were just too far away for me to be able to catch them. Towards the end of the end of the race I was on my own, as I'd pulled out quite a gap on the rest of the field. I think the final few minutes in qualifying really hurt us yesterday as we had the speed to be battling with the top three today, but I think we can still be happy with a very solid fifth place.”
Team principal Trevor Carlin was happy to see three of his drivers inside the top ten, but admitted he was disappointed not to have taken a better finish.
“It's a good result to get three cars in the top ten, and see Brendon finish fifth, but it's frustrating as I think we were still capable of finishing higher up,” he said. “Today's race was very competitive, with lots of overtaking, so I think we can saw all three cars finished where they did on merit.”