Three different winners in Portugal and some controversial decisions saw the Superleague Formula by Sonangol Championship blown wide open after round nine at the weekend.
The Impressive John Martin, driving for Beijing Guoan had the upper on his counterparts at the start of race one has he was sitting pretty in the pole slot. The in form RSC Anderlecht driver Davide Rigon was to line up alongside, and with his recent surge up the championship table, wasn't going to give Martin an easy run. Championship leader Craig Dolby had put is Tottenham Hotspur car sixth on the grid but took comfort in the fact that his main rival Yelmer Buurman in the black and red car of AC Milan was way down the order in 13th.
At the lights, a good start from John Martin enabled him to hold the lead and keep the chasing pack behind him. Thankfully this enabled the Australian to have a quiet race out front whilst the drama was unfolding behind.
Buurman got off to a flyer and had taken four places by the end of the first lap and he was able to snatch another two before the pit window opened. Craig Dolby also made a good getaway and exited turn one two places better off in fourth. He briefly took third position from Andy Soucek in the Glalatasaray car, only to be repassed the following lap.
As the pit lane window opened, John Martin was still in a comfortable lead and was able to exit the pits ahead of Rigon with his first position intact. Whilst behind the leader, Buurman had made a phenomenal stop rejoining the race three places better off in fourth. More importantly, he was now ahead of Dolby, who thanks to the Dutchman's flawless pitstop, was now relegated to fifth. But the Brit was not going to go down without a fight and began to attack. Unfortunately, this led to a spin at turn four which instead of taking fourth spot from Buurman, had lost him three places. Dolby had to now make the most of what seemed like a probably bad result, compounded by the fact he was passed by Corinthians driver Robert Doornbos, whilst rivals Rigon and Buurman looked set for big points in their quest for the championship title.
With five minutes of the race remaining, the race took an unexpected twist. Whilst Buurman was challenging Soucek for the final podium position, both drivers were issued with a drive through penalty. Only minutes prior to this, they were both given the black and white warning flag for not respecting the track limits at turn five. A warning both drivers overlooked to their cost as the penalties were to be issued after they repeated the offence. The drive through penalty dropped Soucek to ninth and Buurman to tenth. This promoted Alvaro Parente (FC Porto) into third at his home circuit, whilst the impressive Belgium driver Frederic Verisch in the Liverpool car now found himself in fourth after battling through the field. Of course, this was all good news for Dolby too as he was now up to fifth place and ahead of his main rival.
These positions were to remain as Martin took a comfortable win at the chequered flag, closely followed by Rigon. Sixth place went to Doornbos ahead of Max Wissel for FC Basel whilst eigth place was claimed by Brit Duncan Tappy driving for Flamengo. Davide Rigon had now taken the championship lead by a single point over Dolby with an angry Buurman 18 points behind the new championship leader.
Elsewhere, a collision on the first lap between Bordeaux's Celso Miguez and Athletico Madrid's Maria de Villota saw both retire to the pits, but will line up on the front row for race two. Hywell Lloyd was battling for a top ten finish when his engine blew towards the end but third on the grid for race two will be some consolation.
After the first race John Martin spoke of his delight at winning his third race of the season. “The boys have done an absolutely amazing job again. It was an amazing pit stop and the car was just so easy to drive. It's a bit different today because the wind was quite strong in qualifying. It's good that the car was so easy to drive because I've got a bit of a cold and I'm feeling it! I'm sure in the second race we'll be passing some cars and the adrenaline will take over. We've got some really good tyres left over too.”
There were more good starts to come in race two as there were in the previous race and this time it was the Olympiacos driver Neel Jani on his debut who made one of the biggest impacts. Starting from fifth on the grid, a dive down the inside of the first turn saw the debutant exit in the lead. From here he managed to build a comfortable lead ahead of the pit stop window. This was a lead he was able to build further after his stop which saw him take the flag nearly ten seconds ahead of his closest rival.
That rival was to be Frenchman Tristan Gommendy driving for Olympique Lyonnais who got an even more impressive getaway. Starting from eighth, he completed lap one in second place behind Jani. Although he was unable to match the pace of the leader, he still managed to take a well earned second place at the end.
Robert Doornbos took the last podium spot and with it, pole position for the Super Final as the highest points scorer from the two races. Wissel finished fourth ahead of Soucek, Vervisch and Tappy. Lloyd crossed the line in eighth, whilst Rigon had battled from the back to take ninth place ahead of AS Roma driver Julien Jousse.
Craig Dolby finished a disappointing 13th place after losing his front wing thanks to contact in the first corner with Lloyd, but it was worse for Buurman. Having moved from ninth on the grid to third into turn one, he lost places after pole man Miguez spun in front of him leaving no option but to run off track to avoid a collision. Rejoining near the back, the Dutchman put on a superb display of driving by passing others to move up the field. However, eight laps in, he was to lose drive and retire leaving his dreams of Championship glory in ruins. Alvaro Parente was also to retire on lap eight when his left rear tyre came off on the fast final corner.
These results meant that behind Doornbos on pole for the Super Final, was John Martin, Davide Rigon, Frederic Vervisch, Max Wissel and Tristan Gommendy in sixth.
Vervisch in just his second race weekend took the lead into the first corner after a fantastic start behind the wheel of the Liverpool car. Doornbos was slow to get away and contact from Gommendy was to end both of their races soon after the start.
Out front, Vervisch was battling hard on used rubber to keep Martin and Rigon behind him but managed to cross the line less than half a second ahead to take the cheque for â‚¬100,000 and in the process, making him the 13th different driver to take a win this season. It was Martin who looked favourite for second place but was adjudged to have passed Rigon under yellow flags following the first lap incident on lap one. He gave the place back to Rigon on the penultimate lap to avoid incurring any penalty. Martin had to be helped from his car at the end as he was drained and exhausted from suffering a flu bug over the weekend underlining his fight and determination.
This Result meant Rigon now had a 14 point lead in the championship over Craig Dolby. A good weekend for Max Wissel saw the FC Basel Team leapfrog AC Milan in the standings to sit in third place, and the Olympiacos team are now just five points behind Buurman's team in fifth.
Frederic Vervisch told the awaiting media, “I'm speechless. This is the best result of my career and more importantly the money I have won means that I can continue in Superleague Formula for the next rounds. I'm really, really happy because I knew I wouldn't be the fastest in the Super Final and I didn't expect to win because I had no new tyres left. But I made a great start, tried to use the push-to-pass at the right moment and just hold on.”
New Championship leader Davide Rigon said, “In the Super Final Beijing overtook me under yellow flags and I had to use my push-to-pass to get back ahead. Unfortunately that meant I had none left to try and pass Liverpool so it spoilt my race. However, second isn't bad and it's fantastic for me and the team to be leading the championship. We had some bad luck at the start of the season so to now be ahead is fantastic.”
Finally, John Martin spoke about the final race, saying, “I'm definitely feeling a lot better now! Even when I was in the medical centre I was feeling the effects of the cold or fever or whatever it is. Normally I go really well in these conditions because it's the same as at home. It was a bit unfortunate in the Super Final because I thought it was the last lap and backed off. I couldn't believe it! With the yellow flags, I got a call from the pit but honestly believe that I was past Davide (Rigon) far enough back on the straight that it was my corner. I didn't move back across to block him but took the normal line.”
So as it looked like a two horse race after round seven at Brands Hatch, there is now five teams in the title hunt as the Superleage Formula heads to Ordos in China on October 2nd and 3rd for round ten.