Minassian wins F3000 thriller

Nicolas Minassian and Bruno Junqueira are now level on points at the top of the Formula 3000 Championship pack after Minassian's hard-fought win at the A1-Ring

Minassian wins F3000 thriller

Minassian started fourth but instantly gained two positions when the all-Belgian front row decided to start when they felt ready rather than waiting for the lights to go out. Poleman Jeffrey van Hooydonk made a particularly premature getaway and front row partner David Saelens followed him. Both realised their mistakes and braked, then decided it didn't matter after all and accelerated away.

The bemused Mark Webber was technically therefore in the lead of the race, but he had Minassian all over him. They swapped places twice before the French driver made the lead his own. After van Hooydonk and Saelens, who had been battling extremely hard, pitted to take their penalties, Minassian was never headed.

That didn't mean the end of the action however. Justin Wilson was the man to watch. Starting 11th, he got up to eighth at the start then found himself in the points after the departure of Saelens and van Hooydonk.

As Wilson moved up the order, Webber started losing ground, dropping behind Darren Manning, Sebastian Bourdais and his team-mate Christian Albers.

Already several cars had been taken out of contention by collisions. Franck Montagny lost his nose on the rear of Albers' Lola at the start, while Tomas Scheckter's FIA F3000 debut seemed to be over after he was punted off by Andreas Scheld. He returned to the pits for repairs and later re-emerged to use the race as a much-needed test session.

Scheld then hit more trouble, diving into the side of Soheil Ayari at turn three. The closely-following Viktor Maslov tried to avoid the accident but succeeded only in colliding with Scheld's stationery car. Only Ayari was able to continue.

At the front, Bourdais was working hard on Manning, but an attempt to pass down the outside into turn two left him running wide over the grass as the Englishman clung to his line. This was the first of several such incidents that left Bourdais floundering down the field when he should have been challenging for the lead.

Having started 20th, Bruno Junqueira was up to 11th by the time the safety car emerged. Bourdais and Albers had both bounced through the turn nine gravel, with the latter spinning back across the straight and nearly harpooning Andrea Piccini. He then stalled in the middle of the road.

By the restart Wilson was up to third and working on countryman Manning, wasting little time in diving past the Arden driver and chasing after Minassian. He put the Super Nova driver under extreme pressure, running side-by-side with him for virtually a full lap before dropping back.

Meanwhile the day was getting worse for Bourdais, Piccini and the McLaren Jr team. First a forceful move by Jaime Melo left Bourdais bouncing through the turn one gravel and spending a lap being elbowed out of the way by all and sundry as he tried to clean his tyres.

Piccini then had a spin at turn two after a move on Mario Haberfeld failed. He got going again but at the same place a lap later he found Enge trying a move down the inside. The Czech got loose on the dirty line and slid sideways into Piccini, smashing his front wing.

Kid Jensen's Italian driver survived that moment to continue, but would later bring the safety car out again when he collided with the recovering Ayari in turn three.

This resulted in a six-lap sprint to the flag. Minassian had just enough to hold off Wilson, but Manning was finding the resurgent Webber much harder to deal with and had to repel a series of determined last lap lunges.

By this time most of the crowd's attention was focused on the progress of Junqueira. He had closed on sixth-placed Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard having again displayed real star quality as he charged through the field. He was trying to take fifth from Melo but the lapped Ricardo Mauricio (who missed the start of the race with a fuel pump problem but came back on track to gain testing mileage,) delayed Alonso and allowed Junqueira to get a run on him.

That move failed, but when Melo and Alonso nearly tangled out of the first corner Junqueira had another opportunity, this time managing to profit from their battling and snatch a point scoring position at turn two.

However, the Williams Formula One test driver only held the place briefly before he locked up at turn four, allowing Alonso to retake sixth and pull away.

So for the second race in a row, Junqueira scored no points on a day when main rival Minassian scored 10. David Sears may operate both the Super Nova and Petrobras Junior teams but the two drivers will still be fighting furiously over the final three rounds of the series.

The battle continues at Hockenheim in a fortnight, scene of Junqueira's first F3000 victory a year ago. He really needs a similar result this season to get his title challenge back on track.

Results from Austria...

1 Nicolas Minassian Super Nova 1h10m42.3s
2 Justin Wilson Nordic + 1.4s
3 Darren Manning Arden + 5.9s
4 Mark Webber European Arrows + 6.1s
5 Jaime Melo Petrobras Jr + 6.9s
6 Fernando Alonso Astromega + 7.2s
7 Bruno Junqueira Petrobras Jr + 8.5s
8 Mario Haberfeld Fortec + 8.9s
9 Sebastian Bourdais Gauloises Jr + 9.3s
10 Marc Goossens Astromega + 10.1s

Leading championship positions:

1= N Minassian 38pts
1= B Junqueira 38pts
3 M Webber 17pts
4= J Wilson 12pts
4= D Saelens 12pts
6 D Manning 10pts

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