Bruno Junqueira won this year's FIA International Formula 3000 Championship by just three points, a small margin on all counts, but with only two rounds to go it was closer still.
With races in Hungary and Belgium still to run, Junqueira and title rival Nicolas Minassian were both equal on 38 points apiece - and also equal on points finishes from first right through to sixth places.
The scene was set and after dominating in the early stages, Junqueira had a fight on his hands. Having clawed back from a 20-point deficit, Minassian was not going to let the Brazilian have it all his own way. Junqueira, however, had other ideas and hit back at the Hungaroring by taking an emphatic win in his Petrobras Lola while his French rival managed to keep himself in the hunt with a solid fourth place.
"This weekend I gave my best - it wasn't good enough," said Minassian. "The title is still winnable, however, and I usually go well at [the final round in] Spa."
Minassian needed to go well. Heading to the daunting Spa-Francorchamps circuit buried deep in the Ardennes forest seven points behind Junqueira, nothing less than a win would do for the Super Nova driver. After qualifying eighth, Minassian's title prospects looked a little bleak, especially as Junqueira had managed a late flying lap to snatch third place on the grid, despite a trip into the gravel trap.
In the event, the grid positions mattered not a jot and of even less consequence was the fact that Minassian had charged his way up to third place with four laps to go, while Junqueira had slipped to ninth with engine problems. For there was an unknown factor nobody had accounted for: Fernando Alonso.
The 19-year-old Spaniard dominated qualifying and won the race by an enormous - in F3000 terms - 15-second margin. Astromega team mate Marc Goossens was not far behind and took second place, giving the Belgian squad it's first ever one-two - and handing Junqueira the title.
The Junqueira/Minassian rivalry is set to continue next year, at even closer quarters as the duo have been signed by leading Champ Car outfit Chip Ganassi Racing to compete in CART for 2001. Ganassi, a fan of aggressive racing drivers, will certainly have his hands full...
WHAT THEY SAID...
Bruno Junqueira on winning the championship: "It's a great feeling. Fantastic! I was sure we would be able to challenge for the title this year. It was my last chance though and I couldn't afford to fail."
Nicolas Minassian who cut his leg on a car vacuum cleaner before the race: "It was only in the second part of the race that my leg warmed up and the pain went away."
Nicolas Minassian on losing the title: "I can't help feeling a little disappointed that I didn't qualify better to give myself a chance of racing for the championship. If I was going to catch Alonso I needed the race to be at least 20 laps longer."
Astromega Team manager Sam Boyle on Fernando Alonso: "The kid is just incredible. Absolutely nothing fazes him and he was completely in control. It was a fabulous performance."
Autosport has produced a standalone special magazine to celebrate our 70th birthday. All current print subscribers will receive a copy for free. To order your copy of the 196-page Autosport 70th Anniversary issue, please go to: autosport.com/autosport70th