Watts wins in Norfolk but George lines up the championship
In a dramatic, action-filled final race at Snetterton, Robbie Watts took the final win of the year but George Line managed to secure the 2016 F3 Cup Championship
Robbie Watts had secured pole for this one, with Paul Dagg alongside him, and the two main Championship contenders George Line andShane Kellywere in 4th and 5th slots respectively. Saturday's race had simply served to tighten the points position even more, so the stakes really were very high for these two.
However as the lights went out Paul Dagg launched his CF Racing car into a lead he was not to lose, putting in a stunning pair of opening laps which took him 4 seconds clear of the field, a lead he had extended to 8 seconds by the end. Behind him Robbie Watts stayed at the head of a screaming six car train that was never spanned by more then 3 seconds for the whole race. George Line slipped past CF team mate James Heffernan on lap 1 and held third behindWatts, closing to under half a second by the end, but perhaps wisely deciding that discretion was called for given the state of the points table.
MeanwhileShane Kellywent the wrong way as Omicron's Jacopo Sebastiani squeezed past on lap 2 and then Daryl Jones also went past in his Team Fox on lap 5, after first taking Wade Eastwood, also Omicron-run, on lap 3. Eastwood continues up the F3 learning curve, and only narrowly missed out on taking the fastest lap, which went to Daryl Jones in 1:43.929. This was the quickest race lap anyone managed over the weekend although Dagg had dipped into the 42's in Qualifying. Mind-full that a 3rd place in the Championship was a real possibility Jones put in a charge in the mid-field and passed Sebastiani for 5th on the last lap.
The Chris Dittmann Racing pairing of Stuart Wiltshire and Tony Bishop continued to have a character-building weekend, circulating in tandem behind the main group until Bishop had a couple of problems late on and dropped behind the squabbling Mark Harrison and Malcolm Scott, who had both refurbished their cars after Saturday's problems and engaged in an entertaining dispute for the whole race, Harrison coming out on top of that by a tenth at the flag.
So with Line taking 3rd and Kelly 7th, the gap after dropped scores fell to just 6 points. Grid positions for race 3 were decided on finishing positions in race 2, so Line had track position advantage for the deciding final race, but the points advantage was still with Kelly, especially since he had more race wins than Line and would get the better of a tie breaker. Hence Line needed at least a 7 point gain in the last race to take the title. No pressure then...
Sunday Race 3
It was definitely getting colder by the time the field assembled for the showdown, but thankfully the rain had held off. To add even more to the tension the first 5 places on the grid were all occupied either by CF Racing (Dagg/1, Line/3, Heffernan/4) or Team Fox Racing (Watts/2, Jones/5), and although CF Racing's hands were on the Team Championship trophy, it could still go to Team Fox.
This time the race story was dramatically different. Both Dagg and Line had tardy starts, soWattsand Heffernan just held the top two spots at the end of the first lap, with Dagg, Line, Jones and Kelly plus the rest of the "Snetterton Seven" forming a 3 second-long blurred snake as they crossed the line for the first time. However with Line lying 4th and Kelly 6th the Title was heading toWolverhampton. But anything could happen, and it did.
The 3 CF Racing cars of Heffernan, Dagg and Line ran 2-3-4 just behindWattsuntil lap 4 when a move from Dagg saw Heffernan drop to sixth and Line was past them both into 2nd, just ahead of Dagg. WithShane Kellystuck in 7th behind Jones, Sebastiani, and now Heffernan, this transformed the Championship position; with Line now in the ascendant. Meanwhile race leaderWattstook advantage of this melee and made off down the road into a two second lead.
Although second to seventh were only separated by 3 seconds for the next four laps things seemed to settle down, with Dagg looking like a "rear gunner" just half a second behind Line. However it became clear that CF Racing has no truck with Team Orders as Dagg launched a couple of determined attempts on Line's second spot. WithShane Kellynow in 6th place having passed Heffernan, and only two tenths behind Sebastiani, George could not afford to drop to 3rd, so most of the onlookers had stopped breathing by this point.
D Day was on lap 9 with contact reported between Line and Dagg, the latter pitting to check for damage, and George continuing in second place. This elevated Kelly to fifth, but with Line in second, fifth was no longer good enough for Shane to take the Title and he really needed to be past Sebastiani, who was having an excellent race a tantalising two tenths ahead. Meanwhile Line was, perhaps understandably, taking a while to recover his poise, and Jones closed him down from 2.5 seconds to only 0.5 seconds with two laps to go. The only person breathing now was Robbie Watts who had made off even further down the road into a solid 5 second lead.
The pit lane was very tense as last two laps ran out. Line held off Jones by half a second, but Kelly could not overcome the tiny margin to Sebastiani to gain the title. So Watts was a worthy race winner, but George Line took the 2016 F3 Cup Championship title by one point fromShane Kelly, with Daryl Jones taking third in both the race and the title. The Team honours went to CF Racing, despite Team Fox closing the gap with as a result ofWatts' and Jones' final race positions.