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Ricciardo gets one hand on British F3 crown

13 September 2009

Daniel Ricciardo edged to within a handful of points of securing the 2009 Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series this morning in Portugal.

The Carlin Motorsport driver didn't win outright the 17th round of the championship - that honour went to invitation class driver Jules Bianchi - but the Australian driver placed third on the road and was the leading British championship points' scorer. It was his sixth championship-class race victory of the season.

In the National Class, young Brit Daniel McKenzie took the honours for the 10th time this season and, just like Ricciardo, is now just a few points off securing the championship title for Fortec Motorsport.

The most disappointed man in the paddock was pole-sitter Renger van der Zande, who led for 12 of the 16 laps only to slip back with a steadily deflating rear tyre. The Dutch Hitech driver lost the lead at the start to ART Grand Prix man Jules Bianchi, but snatched back top spot on the third lap. Renger pulled a second clear at one stage but then struck trouble.

"I think we were definitely quickest today and I am really disappointed because about seven laps from the end I started to feel the car bottoming," said van der Zande. "By the last lap my rear tyre was completely flat. I managed to make it to the finish but I could have won it easy. Not my day."

Bianchi and his ART team-mate Esteban Gutierrez got the jump on van der Zande on the penultimate lap, pushing him back to third and into Ricciardo's gunsights, the Red Bull racer having driven a steady, trouble-avoiding race in fourth throughout. Daniel did not waste the opportunity.

"I didn't even realise it was the last lap. I got the run on Renger and pipped him on the line. It was pretty fortunate but you have to take what you can, when you can,” said Ricciardo. “I'm disappointed not to have won outright but I shall be going for it in race two. The pressure is off now; I can go out and try to beat the ART guys next time."

Colombian Carlos Huertas was close behind for fifth overall and his maiden British championship podium finish for the Raikkonen Robertson team, with Max Chilton sixth after a slow getaway from second on the grid, and Riki Christodoulou seventh for Fortec.

Invitation men Adrien Tambay and Pedro Enrique were next up, with Hywel Lloyd making a great start in the CF Racing Dallara and moving up to claim tenth overall and sixth in championship class.

Hitech's other championship title challenger, Walter Grubmuller, endured a tough time. The Austrian started only 13th and was badly delayed by a spin in avoidance of a third-lap collision involving the cars of Sam Bird, Valtteri Bottas and Daisuke Nakajima.

McKenzie made an excellent start to overhaul class pole-sitter Gabriel Dias, only to lose the National Class lead on the opening lap: "That was the most up and down race I've had all year. The start was insane but I took advantage of it and made up eight places to the first corner. Unfortunately Dias was then able to drive straight past me - he has found some serious power from somewhere."

Daniel played a waiting game and seized his opportunity to regain the class lead on lap 12, when Dias was delayed by a tussle with an international class car. Gabriel was then bumped backed to third in class two laps from the end by impressive Lebanese newcomer Joe Ghanem, making his debut with the Carlin team.


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