Narain Karthikeyan secured India's second World Cup of Motorsport triumph in the feature race at Brands Hatch, in the process denying Robbie Kerr a dream double for the second year in succession and seeing Great Britain once again fall just one point short of overhauling New Zealand for the runner-up spot in the final title chase.

Newly-crowned A1GP champion Neel Jani came home third - celebrating his earlier success in fine style - and both he and Kerr brought the curtain down on the nation vs nation series' third campaign by performing donuts for the crowd after the chequered flag had fallen. With the Swiss ace achieving his promised aim of breaking his driveshaft in the process, he was given a lift back to the pits by his British rival, conjuring up memories of Jean Alesi and Michael Schumacher at Montreal in 1995, or Ayrton Senna and fellow Brands Hatch hero Nigel Mansell at Silverstone four years earlier still.

As the action had got underway, Karthikeyan held onto his pole advantage when the lights went out, as Kerr slotted neatly into second behind and Adam Carroll repeated his lightning getaway from the earlier sprint outing to charge past Jani for third place before the drivers had reached Paddock Hill Bend.

A racy-looking Kerr then attempted to go all the way around the outside of Karthikeyan at Graham Hill Bend, but as the Indian ran him wide the sprint race-winner found himself under close interrogation from Carroll, who similarly had a look for second place heading down Cooper Straight.

The top three continued to go at it hammer-and-tongs around the remainder of the opening lap, with absolutely nothing to choose between them, whilst Jani, Michael Ammermuller in the German car and Frenchman Franck Montagny completed the top six. As things settled down a little, Karthikeyan held an advantage of some six tenths of a second as the cars flashed across the line for the first time, with the Czech Republic's Filip Salaquarda adding to New Zealand's misery by passing Jonny Reid for 15th place, taking Indonesian Satrio Hermanto with him for good measure and putting the Kiwis' runner-up spot in the nations' standings under serious threat.

Brazil's Xandi Negrao then went off-piste and dropped some way down the order, but there was further drama as he and Khalil Beschir (Lebanon) came together, with the former losing his nose cone in the contre-temps and the latter spinning and subsequently stalling. There was even heavier damage for Adam Khan, whose Pakistani entry engaged in an expensive wheel-banging session with the Australian machine of John Martin. Both were forced into immediate retirement, with the Pakistani car having been sent into the barriers at high-speed and Khan lucky to emerge unscathed.

As if the action at the front wasn't already close enough, that incident brought out the appearance of the safety car to clear Khan's heavily-damaged machine away from the track. When the race got going again at the end of lap eight, Karthikeyan timed the re-start absolutely to perfection, whilst further back Jeroen Bleekemolen aggressively put a move on Adrian Zaugg for seventh place.

Karthikeyan and Carroll chose to make their tyre stops as soon as the first pit window opened on lap eight, with the latter very nearly getting the jump on the erstwhile race leader. That promoted Kerr to the head of the field ahead of Jani, whilst Carroll attempted to go all the way around the outside of the Indian machine on his 'out' lap. Kerr and Jani were in next time around, and the crowd went wild as the Briton rejoined just ahead of Karthikeyan to assume the race lead.

Carroll was still harassing the Indian for all he was worth for second place, whilst Zaugg regained the position he had lost to Bleekemolen earlier on - despite leaving the pit-lane with the jack still attached to the back of his car - but a drive-through penalty would subsequently render that benefit somewhat academic.

There was worse still, though, for Canada's James Hinchcliffe, who suffered both a stop-go penalty and then a drive-through for speeding during his stop-go. Carroll's determination to separate Karthikeyan from second place was destined to end in tears, however, as after a number of wheel-to-wheel tussles his front wing became detached as a result of a slight brush with the Indian machine, causing the Ulsterman to fall back into the clutches of fourth-placed Ammermuller and the duelling Montagny and Jani, the latter having lost out during the opening round of stops.

On lap 18 the wing on the emerald green car then dramatically flew off, sending Carroll gravel-bound not once but twice on his way back to the pits for repairs, with the man from Portadown doing very well indeed by keeping his foot in to extricate himself from the Clark Curve kitty litter as he slewed back across to the pit-lane with a punctured tyre and missing front wing.

Nonetheless, though he may have returned to the fray down in 18th place, a full 54 seconds down on the race leader, that was still ahead of the hapless Hinchcliffe, who picked up yet another drive-through penalty for speeding whilst serving his first drive-through. Similarly out of luck - and , it would seem, pace - was Reid, still languishing outside the top ten and battling with Malaysia's Fairuz Fauzy and Salaquarda.

As the second round of stops approached at speed, CongFu Cheng had latched onto the back of France and Switzerland in the battle over fourth place, whilst up front Kerr - though never more than about a second to the good - seemed to have matters all under control once more, able to provide an answer to everything Karthikeyan had to throw at him.

Carroll, meanwhile, was going to show what might have been by regularly lapping up to eight tenths of a second faster than anyone else on the circuit, whilst with 16 laps left to run Kerr had stretched his advantage out to 1.6 seconds. All three of the leading trio came in en masse at the end of lap 33, with a quicker stop enabling Karthikeyan to regain the top spot. If Kerr wanted to do the double this weekend, he would have to do his overtaking on the track.

Jani was in for Switzerland next time around, whilst Salaquarda required a push-start when he followed suit shortly afterwards. The flurry of stops promoted Cheng into the lead ahead of sprint race runner-up Jonathan Summerton - curiously anonymous in the light of his earlier exploits - though a long pit-stop for the latter would dash his points' chances.

Fastest lap for Cheng was immediately blown out of the water by a supreme effort from Karthikeyan, beginning to stretch his legs out front, whilst Jani had regained track position over Montagny. With just over a 21-second margin, the big question now was just where Cheng would feed back in again following his second stop. When he finally did come in, such was his enthusiasm the Chinese ace almost missed the pit entrance, and the former British F3 ace rejoined the fray fifth - between Switzerland and France - with ten laps remaining.

As things stood - with others' misfortunes having elevated New Zealand to eighth - Great Britain was set to again agonisingly miss out on the runner-up spot in the nations' standings, and Ammermuller losing third place with a left rear puncture plunging him into the Druids gravel trap on lap 40 only served to solidify that status quo.

With eight laps to go, however, Kerr was suddenly all over the back of his quarry, after Karthikeyan made an error and ran slightly wide and off the track in Sheene Curve, whilst further back Filip Albuquerque attempted a supremely brave move around the outside of Reid at Hawthorns, not quite making it stick despite putting two wheels on the grass. The young Portguese ace did pull it off shortly afterwards - again around the outside - but with Kerr 1.8 seconds adrift of Karthikeyan with only two tours remaining, eighth place for Reid was still enough.

Cheng was also doing all he could to deprive new champion Jani of third place in the dying stages. Whilst Jani would hold on - to take third place behind Karthikeyan and Kerr and ahead of Cheng and Montagny in an ultimately lonely fifth - Albuquerque had now turned his attentions to Bleekemolen's sixth place, but despite a late charge the Dutchman held on by the narrowest of margins at the chequered flag.

Further back still, behind Reid in eighth and Italy's Edoardo Piscopo in ninth, Hermanto prevailed in a frantic tussle for tenth place and the final point, fending off the advances of Salaquarda - who would end his race in the Druids gravel trap following a last lap clash with the Indonesian machine - Zaugg, Summerton and the still charging Carroll to secure his nation's first-ever point from all the way down in 20th on the starting grid and ensure the 2007/08 campaign ended with 21 of the 22 teams having made the scoreboard.

To see the feature race results in full, click here

 

Comments

Loading Comments...