Ricciardo wins British F3 title in Portugal
13 September 2009
Daniel Ricciardo clinched the 2009 Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series championship title in fine style today at the new Algarve circuit in Portugal.
The 20-year-old took a maximum-points finish in the first of the day's races, and claimed a fourth-place finish in race two, enough to lift the crown beyond the reach of any of his rivals.
Ricciardo is the second successive Carlin Motorsport/Red Bull racer to claim the British F3 crown - last year's victor, Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari, was promoted to F1 stardom a matter of months after his championship win.
Ricciardo's title is also the first international championship victory of the modern era for engine supplier Volkswagen, and he becomes only the third Australian to win the British F3 title - Tim Schenken was the first, in 1968, and David Brabham the last, 20 years ago.
"This is everything I've wanted since the start of the season," said Ricciardo, "and for it to come around a bit early makes it a bit sweeter. It still hasn't quite sunk in but I'm sure that by the end of tonight I'll realise it and party hard.
“If I can now follow in Jaime Alguersuari's footsteps that would be great - I'm not saying I'll be in F1 next year, but I'd like to be there in the near future. That's my dream."
Ricciardo never doubted he could pull it off: "We had some bad rounds; Rockingham and Hockenheim weren't the best for us - that was where Hitech started coming on strong - but we never lost faith, kept believing and working hard for it," he added.
There was jubilation also for 20-year-old Brit Daniel McKenzie, who secured the National Class title thanks to a class win and a second-place finish in Portugal.
Fortec Motorsport racer McKenzie has shown remarkable consistency throughout the season, beating his chief rival, Brazilian Gabriel Dias, to the class win in 10 of his 18 races. Title secured, McKenzie hopes to step up, with a Mercedes-powered Fortec Dallara, into the International class next weekend at Brands Hatch, venue for the championship's final rounds.
"This is my first championship win," said McKenzie, "and it's been a long time coming. It's a great feeling. I hope very much we can sort a deal to join the International class next weekend, and then use that to launch into a full championship bid in 2010. The National class is a great stepping stone, very competitive and with some great drivers. It's been a good experience."
In all the excitement of both championships being settled, it was all too easy to overlook the feats of Jules Bianchi, whose ART Grand Prix Dallara-Mercedes took outright victory once again, and of Max Chilton, who took championship race honours for the first time in his three-year career.
The initial race leader was Fortec's invitation class runner Sam Bird, who got the drop from fourth on the grid, passing Ricciardo and pole-sitter Chilton. But Sam's grip on top spot was loosened by Bianchi on lap four, the Frenchman blasting past both Ricciardo and Bird at the restart after a two-lap safety car period initiated after a clash between Riki Christodoulou and Roberto Mehri.
Bianchi pulled into a commanding lead as Ricciardo's pace faded - Daniel believed contact with Bianchi's car had damaged his car's nosecone - with Bird, and then van der Zande, giving chase. Renger moved up to second past Bird on lap six but yet again fell victim to a rear puncture in the latter stages, limping home 12th.
That gave Bird a secure grip on second, and he was more than able to fend off Chilton's challenge, Max having recovered from his poor opening lap, which left him sixth, to take Ricciardo and then profit from van der Zande's demise. Max was under heavy pressure from Carlos Huertas for much of the race but never wavered.
Bianchi crossed the line 4.7 seconds clear of Bird, with Chilton next up and the leading championship class driver by a two-second margin.
"It's good to do it at last," said Chilton, "although it's a shame it's not an outright win. My start wasn't shocking but I got forced wide and several got past me. I knew Dan had a problem and then Renger had a puncture, and there I was."
Huertas earned himself the Sunoco Driver of the Weekend award for his chase to fourth, and championship class second.
Esteban Gutierrez claimed fifth overall for ART, ahead of the final championship class podium finisher, T-Sport's Adriano Buzaid.
Ricciardo, Henry Arundel, Hywel Lloyd and Adrian Tambay completed the top ten.
In the National class, Gabriel Dias led all the way to win for the seventh time for T-Sport, with McKenzie cruising home for second and the title, and French newcomer Mathieu Maurage third in class for Team West-Tec.