Down to the wire at Spa

Never in its 15-year history has the FIA International Formula 3000 Championship known a title battle to be as close as the one to be decided at Spa this weekend - with the top two men only seven points apart

Down to the wire at Spa

While the margin separating the two protagonists is not the closest ever, the way in which Nicolas Minassian and Bruno Junqueira have matched each other every step over this season is extraordinary.

Before the penultimate round of the series at the Hungaroring two weeks ago, the pair were equal not only on points, but also on victories, second places, fifth places and, finally, seventh places.

Junqueira won on the twisty Budapest circuit to take him seven points clear, while French rival Minassian could only manage fourth. The Frenchman maintained position from his fourth place on the grid and stayed there for the duration, unable to improve his position in what turned out to be a remarkably processional race.

Things will likely be very different this weekend in Belgium. The daunting nature of the Spa circuit provides a challenge to drivers. The track follows the contours of the landscape with a combination of low, medium and high-speed corners. These range from the tight La Source hairpin at the end of the pit straight to one of the most famous corners in the world, the fearsome Eau Rouge.

Set in the heart of the Ardennes forest, the track, which is based partially on public roads, has a legendary weather system all of its own. Of the current Grand Prix circuits, Spa is officially the wettest of them all...

Unlikely grids and incident-packed races are the abiding themes for races at the 4.3 mile circuit - themes that will please Minassian more than Junqueira. With a seven-point gap to close, Minassian simply has to win, and the unpredictable weather will wipe out the performance deficit he seems to have experienced over the last two races.

What is more, as the man coming from behind, the Super Nova driver has less pressure on him than his Petrobras Jr adversary. Junqueira will also be mindful of the fact that he squandered a 20-point lead in two races earlier in the season - what then are his chances of holding onto a seven-point cushion in just one?

"I studied mechanical engineering at college," he said, "and that involved a lot of mathematics. I am well aware that it is not over yet."

Aside from the championship battle, teams will be striving for points both for position and also to stay within the series - the bottom three teams could face relegation to Italian F3000. Gabriele Rafanelli's WRT team currently props up the bottom of the team table as it has yet to trouble the scorers this season. Next up is Kid Jenson Racing, level on three points with the Belgian KTR outfit. KTR team boss Kurt Mollekens will hope to put on a good show at his home race.

British team Fortec are also not out of the danger area in 13th place of 16. The team will be without regular driver Andreas Scheld, who will miss the race due to illness. Britain's Jamie Davies will replace the German, having already driven twice this year at the Nurburgring and Monte Carlo, where he scored the team's only points of the year with a second place.

At the other end of the grid, Nordic Racing lies fifth, but a win could leap-frog the team two places into third, ahead of both the Arrows and McLaren Junior teams.

"This is the last race of the year and we must set our sights high," said team boss Derek Mower. "A win at Spa would place us third in the teams' championship as long as the McLaren Jr team fail to score any points, so this must be our aim this weekend."

Full championship standings click here.

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