Amid the chaotic novelty of British Formula Three teams making “pitstops” in a twenty minute sprint race a rapid drive from Daniel McKenzie risked making the racing the dominant force of the race.
It was a slow start (despite rumours of creeping before the lights) from the Fortec Motorsport driver, from third on the grid as he slipped back fourth behind Friday's practice pace setter Felipe Nasr. McKenzie's start was made to look even worse by the getaway made by pole man Daisuke Nakajima's start, which saw him confound the conventional Rockingham wisdom by romping into the first corner from the dirty side of the track.
Drama behind was supplied by James Calado, trying to make his way up from seventh on the grid, past Gabriel Dias. The pair held up marginally by McKenzie, Calado took the narrow strip of grass on the inside of the front straight, ultimately opting to call of the move as the field swept around the banked turn one.
Nakajima's start had seen him convert his randomly drawn pole slot into a lead of over a second by the first lap over Adriano Buzaid, Nasr and McKenzie ahead of Hitech Racing's Gabriel Dias. Jean-Eric Vergne, having handed himself tenth on the gird as he gave Nakajima pole, had jumped up to seventh.
However, the immediate opening of the pitstop window turned the race fragmented, several races going on at once, as those that had pitted raced each other and those who had yet to make their stop, despite being over 20 seconds apart.
The action in the stops was predictable maddening. Carlin teammates Lucas Foresti and Jazeman Jaafar almost came together as they scrambled towards the pitlane exit, Foresti already having all-but stalled the car as he tried to leave after his stop.
The stops in questions were little more than stop-go penalties. The intention was for the drivers to stop, the pit lollipop lowered then raise, and the car moving off to rejoin the race.
In practice the style of the stops varied massively. Some stayed stationary for longer, some barely stopped at all. Fortec man Max Snegirev didn't stop all.
But if the intention of the stops was to alter the result they worked. When Felipe Nasr brought his Raikkonen-Robertson car in he was the first of the leaders to make his stop. Unfortunately, the Brazilian stalled his Dallara-Mercedes, sending him plummeting down the field, falling out of the top five to finish 15th.
Having re-passed Nasr before his stop McKenzie was now on the tail of the no.1 car of Adriano Buzaid, looking optimistically around the outside of turn two – Deene – in a move that never showed any sign of succeeding. It could have been a prime time for McKenzie to stop, taking advantage of the tactics of short pitting and clear track so beloved of F1 teams, but instead he remained on Buzaid's gearbox as Nakajima moved away into a commanding lead approaching three seconds.
Nakajima made his stop, slotting back out onto the track in relatively clear air, but McKenzie had passed Buzaid and having created his own clear air set fastest lap after fastest lap, eroding the lead Nakajima had built before his stop.
McKenzie was the final car to pit, coming to NASCARoesque slid into his pitstop – undoubtedly one of the smoothest of the race. Trundling down the final third of the pitlane – between the Fortec pits and the pitlane exit Nakajima roared out the complex of turns at Brook and onto the start finish straight. The two went round turn one almost together – McKenzie on the shorter, slower pit apron, while the Japanese hurled himself around the banking.
Ahead – just – as the pair braked for Deene was McKenzie, Nakajima's momentum not enough to carry him round his rival to reclaim the lead.
The charge in clear air had earned McKenzie the lead and he only needed to hold of the Double-R car for the remaining minutes of the race to claim a deserved, if unexpected win – any mention of any startline misdemeanour seeming far longer ago than 20 minutes.
Nakajima held second, with Buzaid in third, having dropped back considerably in the latter stage to finish 8.77 seconds behind McKenzie. The Hitech pairing of Dias and local driver William Buller turned in another good, though admittedly defensive drive for fourth and fifth, leading a train of cars that filled most of the remaining points scorers – James Calado and Carlos Huertas ahead of title rivals Oli Webb and Jean-Eric Vergne.
Yesterday's winner had little chance to make up ground, though any hope he had was certainly not helped in the pits with Dias, who he was just behind before they stopped together, being released into Vergne's path, causing the Frenchman to briefly lift.
Menasheh Idafar added another victory to his National Class roll of honour, beating James Cole through both were delayed in the ever-present pitsops.