Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre won one of the most dramatic Macau Grands Prix in recent times, while Japanese F3 champion - and leg one winner - James Courtney was left heartbroken when a puncture saw him crash out of the lead with just four laps to go in the second heat.

Courtney had stormed away from pole position and, after holding off intense pressure from fellow front-row starter Lapierre in the early stages, appeared to be well on his way to a victory in the 50th running of the F3 event. However, on the eleventh of 15 laps, and as he held nearly a two-seconds lead, a stray piece of carbon-fibre from one of the many incidents that characterised the race punctured one his tyres and he hit the barriers on the way out of the Melco Hairpin. The crash ripped off the right-front suspension and his race - and title challenge - was over.

That left the way clear for Lapierre, who had originally qualified fourth for heat one, to grab a brilliant victory over his Signature Plus team-mate Fabio Carbone. The Frenchman, who has enjoyed a strong season in the F3 Euroseries and recently tested with the Arden F3000 team, was overjoyed with the victory, the first major title of his career.

"It was a very difficult race because James was really quick, but I pushed really hard in the early stages to put some pressure on him," he revealed, "I didn't see what happened to James, but I am just so happy for myself."

Carbone had a difficult afternoon after starting the first heat from a hard-earned pole position. The Brazilian had damaged his front-wing in the first race, after a brush with Ryan Briscoe, but still held on to finish fourth, giving himself a chance of success if the cards fell his way in race two. Second time around, the former Marlboro Masters winner stayed out of trouble on an incident-packed first lap and was well placed to inherit the runners-up spot behind team-mate Lapierre.

Such was the carnage on lap one that the safety car made another appearance. Recent Sardinia F3 Masters winner Robert Kubica crashed at San Francisco Bend and, as he bounced back into the path of the oncoming field, several cars crashed in avoidance. Especially badly affected was luckless American Richard Antinucci, who had finished third in the first heat, but immediately lost any chance of pushing for overall success.

Lewis Hamilton, who had marked only his second f3 event by climbing from 17th on the grid to take fifth in leg one, briefly ran third behind the safety car after somehow avoiding most of the carnage, but he too picked up a puncture, this time from a collision with Antinucci, and eventually dropped down the order on the restart at the beginning of lap three.

That misfortune left the way clear for Carbone, who was hid his disappointment at missing out on the overall victory.

"I am happy for the team and my team-mate as they had great results," he said, "Pole position and second place from the Macau Grand Prix is nothing to be unhappy about."

Third place went to Japan's Katsuyuki Hiranaka, who had managed to stay out of trouble for the entire afternoon.

"In Macau, anything can happen, so I just waited to see what happened," the wise Japanese racer said.

Just to add insult to Courtney's psychological injuries, two of his most recent rivals completed the top five, with Japanese series opponent Ronnie Quintarelli taking fourth and the TOM's driver's fellow Australian - and reigning Euroseries champion - Ryan Briscoe claiming fifth after fighting back from a poor end to race one, when a clash with Robert Doornbos sent him spiralling down to 15th.

Hiroki Yoshimoto made it a good afternoon for Japan by taking sixth spot, ahead of local Macanese racer Michael Ho. Leading Briton after Hamilton's demise was the doughty Rob Austin, who plugged away for eighth overall, with Promatecme's Fairuz Fauzy and Spaniard Pedro Barral completing the top ten.

Nelson Piquet Jr put in a fighting drive to take eighth on the road in leg two and bounce back from retirement in the opening race to claim 14th overall. The son of three-time F1 champion Nelson Sr fared better than Nico Rosberg, who crashed out of both legs and completed just nine of the proposed 25 laps.

 

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