This is it! Head-to-head in a title shootout, both Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian know that the slightest slip will hand the title to his rival as the F3000 series reaches a tense climax in Belgium.

The story is maybe a little more clear cut than the hype would make it seem, however, with the Brazilian now a comfortable seven points clear of the Frenchman, and needing to take just a top-three finish to ensure that the crown is his, but, on the tricky Spa circuit, nothing can be taken for granted.

The pair have matched each other blow-for-blow this season, going to both Germany and Hungary tied on points and countback. Junqueira then proceeded to give himself the vital cushion by winning at the Hungaroring, while Minassian struggled to finish a lowly fourth. Should the results be tied once more after Belgium, however, it is the Frenchman who would win, as an extended countback reveals that he has a better record of non-scoring finishes. Such is the closeness of the battle.

Both drivers are acutely aware of how much the circuit and its notorious weather conditions could affect the outcome of their battle this weekend. Neither qualified particularly well at a soaking wet Hockenheim two races ago, something which led to a scoreless round for both, while the race to La Source on the opening lap could well decide the race - and the championship before Saturday afternoon is even half over.

Above all, however, Spa is a drivers' circuit, and both Junqueira and Minassian are perfectly adept at living up to that reputation. The Frenchman knows that he has to win - second place does not carry enough points for him to overhaul his rival - and will be focused purely on that goal. Junqueira, meanwhile, will not know whether to drive conservatively to make sure he gets to the finish, preferably with some points, or go for broke in the hope of depriving the Frenchman of ten points. It is easy to see where the greater pressure lies.

Of course, the track and the conditions will not be the only spoilers this weekend, as the rest of the hungry pack attempts to go out on a high. There will be no sympathy for the two title protagonists, save perhaps from the Petrobras and Super Nova camps, and no-one is going to give second thought to backing out of a move which could earn a famous victory.

On recent showings, the men most likely to upset Minassian's applecart - for he is the man who has to win - are Britain's Justin Wilson and Spain's Fernando Alonso. Wilson pushed Minassian all the way in Austria, and qualified on the front row in Hungary, albeit on the 'wrong' side of the road. Alonso took up the Nordic driver's mantle as chief threat to poleman Junqueira when the lights went out, and must be a candidate for victory this weekend at a circuit which will reward his flamboyant style.

Further back, Mark Webber hopes to cap his birthday with a second win of the year, while the likes of Darren Manning, Enrique Bernoldi and Sebastien Bourdais will all be looking to break their duck after respectable seasons. Belgian heroes Marc Goossens, Jeffrey van Hooydonk, Bas Leinders, David Saelens and, to a lesser extent, Yves Olivier, will be banking on a little local knowledge to see them through, while Tomas Scheckter returns to another circuit he has seen before, following his season in the Opel Euroseries last year.

The performance of van Hooydonk and Olivier could be vitally important for the Belgian outfit Witmeur KTR, as it struggles to avoid 'relegation' from the series at the end of the year. It currently occupies one of the spots in the drop zone, tied on three points with Britain's Kid Jensen Racing, and will be hoping that at least one of its chargers can add to that total at the last gasp.

Jensen thought that Andrea Piccini's scoring performance in Germany would have been good enough to lift it clear of danger, but such is the open competition in F3000 that the situation changed as immediately as the following race. The DJ's operation trails the next team, Fortec, by just a handful of points, but will have to take on the returning Jamie Davies as well as race regular Mario Haberfeld this weekend.

Bottom of the pile is Gabriele Rafanelli's World Racing Team, the only team yet to open its account in 2000. The genial Italian has intimated that the programme may be scrapped next year, making a scoring finish from either Soheil Ayari or Ananda Mikola irrelevant, but that will not prevent the French veteran from putting in one of his usual combative displays at a circuit he enjoys.

There is much to play for in F3000 this weekend - and where better to see how everything pans out than magnificent Spa-Francorchamps.



Loading Comments...