Euro­pean F3; Su­per For­mula; DTM; IMSA; Mo­togp; For­mula Re­nault Eurocup; NAS­CAR Cup; ELMS

Autosport (UK) - - FRONT PAGE - MAR­CUS SIM­MONS

LANDO NOR­RIS GOT OUT OF HIS DAM­AGED car and sat for­lornly in the gravel trap at the Red Bull Ring’s Turn 4, straight away turn­ing him­self into a so­cial-me­dia meme, but that shouldn’t be the way the Aus­trian round of the For­mula 3 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship is re­mem­bered. Last Sun­day fea­tured two su­perb races be­tween two top mega-tal­ents in the forms of Joel Eriks­son and Nor­ris, the Swede win­ning both to bounce back af­ter his mis­er­able mid-sea­son run. And Satur­day’s race pro­vided a win for Cal­lum Ilott, un­der pres­sure all the way from Eriks­son.

Yes, Nor­ris failed to do what ev­ery­one ex­pected him to: clinch the cham­pi­onship with a round to spare. But still he har­vested enough points to put it be­yond reach of Eriks­son and Ilott, and it was only Nor­ris’s dra­matic last-lap exit from the fi­nale that al­lowed Max­i­m­il­ian Gun­ther to re­tain the most mi­nus­cule of chances go­ing into the fi­nal round at Hock­en­heim.

Nor­ris raced bril­liantly apart from one crit­i­cal er­ror, but the real star of the week­end was Eriks­son. It was too lit­tle too late for the Swedish BMW ju­nior as far as the cham­pi­onship is con­cerned, but im­pres­sions mean a lot at this level and, just as Esteban Ocon’s ca­reer got mo­men­tum from the re­fracted lime­light of Max Ver­stap­pen in F3 2014, hope­fully Eriks­son can profit from the at­ten­tion on Nor­ris.

Eriks­son had bal­ance is­sues in free prac­tice, but the Mo­topark team fixed this and he qual­i­fied third – be­hind the re­turn­ing-to-form Prema Pow­erteam duo of Ilott and Gun­ther – for the open­ing race. “I know we’re quite fast in the races,” he al­luded con­fi­dently in ref­er­ence to his re­cent form – even when he and the team have strug­gled in qual­i­fy­ing. In that open­ing race, he jumped Gun­ther into Turn 1 and then sought a way past Ilott on the first lap.

Ilott was driv­ing a spare chas­sis, hav­ing caused heavy dam­age with a slide over the kerbs at the fast Turn 5 left-han­der on his way to pole. “The car felt OK and I con­tin­ued,” he said, “but ob­vi­ously it wasn’t OK when they checked it…” Euro F3 sport­ing reg­u­la­tions don’t give any penalty for chang­ing chas­sis once a week­end is un­der way – and, cru­cially, Ilott’s orig­i­nal en­gine was in­stalled in the ‘new’ car (so there was no 10-place grid drop), which the Prema me­chan­ics stayed up un­til 4am work­ing on. No two tubs are iden­ti­cal, and Ilott ad­mit­ted: “You don’t know if the car’s go­ing to be OK, you don’t know if the bal­ance will change. I did my laps to the grid and felt it was pretty good and I thought, ‘That’s OK’.”

Gun­ther felt his front tyres fall away but took a solid third, while Nor­ris made an au­da­cious late pass – into the sec­ond of the two quick left-han­ders – on Tada­suke Makino for fourth. Nor­ris and the Car­lin team had strug­gled on Fri­day. “The track caught us out,” he said. “We had a bit of over­steer in free prac­tice, and then went com­pletely op­po­site for qual­i­fy­ing and had re­ally bad un­der­steer. That killed us in the slow cor­ners, but we changed a few things for race one and it seemed much bet­ter.”

That was backed up in the sub­se­quent sec­ond qual­i­fy­ing, in which Eriks­son – his driv­ing a beau­ti­ful blend of ag­gres­sion and style all week­end – put in a vir­tu­oso per­for­mance for a dou­ble pole, be­fore Nor­ris’s last-lap blast left him just 0.003s short. At this point, Eriks­son

RED BULL RING (A) SEPTEM­BER 23-24

ROUND 9/1O

was still slightly in the hunt for the ti­tle, but ad­mit­ted: “It’s gone – I don’t care about that now. I want to take as many wins as pos­si­ble and have as much fun as pos­si­ble.”

He cer­tainly did that on Sun­day. OK, Nor­ris’s sec­ond place in the morn­ing race knocked win­ner Eriks­son out of math­e­mat­i­cal con­tention, but who cares when you’re driv­ing that well? They ran in tan­dem, Nor­ris never get­ting into a po­si­tion to at­tack af­ter his numerous feints on the open­ing lap, Eriks­son’s only worry be­ing his right-side mir­ror de­tach­ing it­self and fly­ing past Nor­ris.

In the fi­nale, for which Nor­ris had, uniquely among the fron­trun­ners, saved two new tyres from his week­end al­lo­ca­tion (he’d gone ol­drub­ber all-round for race one due to qual­i­fy­ing ‘only’ fourth), their fight in the first two laps was thrilling. On the run down­hill to Turn 4 on the sec­ond lap they were mil­lime­tres from in­ter­lock­ing wheels, but it was epic, clean stuff. Then Eriks­son got away, be­fore Nor­ris came back with just over five laps to go…

Eriks­son had to de­fend Turn 4, got a poor exit, and Nor­ris had mo­men­tum, feint­ing from one side to the other. But he mis­judged things, hit­ting the back of Eriks­son. Nor­ris’s right­front-wing end­plate went fly­ing while Eriks­son re­ported his car was briefly lifted at the rear. As Eriks­son sailed to vic­tory, Nor­ris found it tough to keep up the pace, strug­gling par­tic­u­larly badly on the two left-han­ders. Ralf Aron and Fer­di­nand Hab­s­burg closed in, but Aron was as much pre­oc­cu­pied with keep­ing Hab­s­burg – who raced su­perbly all week­end – at bay as chal­leng­ing Nor­ris. With a lap to go the Es­to­nian got a breather, forced Nor­ris to de­fend at the up­hill Turn 3 hair­pin, then launched an at­tack into Turn 4. But, wheels locked, his Hitech ma­chine slith­ered help­lessly into Nor­ris, send­ing them both into the gravel and out of the race.

“Be­cause he was so close he lost front down­force and that turned me around; I don’t blame him,” said a teary-eyed Nor­ris mag­nan­i­mously. It was enough for Gun­ther – who had driven more spec­tac­u­larly than for a long time, but who’d suf­fered han­dling is­sues in sec­ond qual­i­fy­ing and could do no bet­ter than ninth and sixth on the grid for races two and three – to keep him­self in the frame for Hock­en­heim. Sev­enth in race two, he was fifth in this one.

Gallingly for Hab­s­burg, the slowed pace of Nor­ris pre­vented him pulling out the 5s nec­es­sary to take sec­ond place af­ter he’d been pe­nalised for flout­ing track lim­its on the open­ing lap. That al­lowed Nikita Mazepin to in­herit sec­ond and, when the Fulham-domi­ciled Aus­trian arch­duke slowed 200 me­tres from the line (he hadn’t been told of the penalty, which of­ten is the best course of ac­tion psy­cho­log­i­cally), that al­lowed Makino into the 5s win­dow for the fi­nal podium po­si­tion.

That com­pleted a good week­end for Hitech’s lesser-her­alded driv­ers, Mazepin hav­ing held Ilott at bay in the morn­ing for a fine third. That was just as well for the team, as Jake Hughes’s re­cent fine run ended when he holed the sump on the kerbs in free prac­tice, need­ing a new en­gine be­fore qual­i­fy­ing and tak­ing a 10-place grid penalty. He was pe­nalised out of the points in race two for un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally col­lid­ing with Hab­s­burg on the last lap, then took a driv­ethrough for a clash with Guan Yu Zhou in the fi­nale.

Hughes wasn’t the only frus­trated Bri­tish ta­lent: Nor­ris was sit­ting in the gravel; Ilott had spun through the gravel on lap one af­ter a clash – also with Aron. But it was amaz­ing rac­ing.

Eriks­son leads Nor­ris, as Mazepin, Ilott, Daru­vala and Aron give chase

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