F3000 REPORT

Christmas for Webber

Super Nova Racing driver Mark Webber won the Magny Cours Formula 3000 race, his third victory of the year. He is now within one point of championship leader Justin Wilson and would have been ahead if Wilson had not overtaken his team mate Tomas Enge on the very last lap of the race after a long battle for second place.

Enge had qualified on pole position for the event in his Coca Cola Nordic Racing entry, leading the field by the enormous margin (in Formula 3000 terms) of six-tenths of a second. The curious changing conditions of the Magny Cours surface were blamed for this curious situation, most drivers reckoning that there had been an important five-minute period during which the track was much faster.

Webber was second quickest but rather pessimistic about overtaking. The start would be vital. Third on the grid was Patrick Friesacher in his Red Bull Junior Team entry who pipped Wilson's Coca Cola car and Mario Haberfeld, having a good session for once in his Super Nova Racing entry. Sixth on the grid was David Saelens in his European Minardi entry ahead of local hero Sebastien Bourdais (DAMS), Darren Manning (Arden Team Russia), Antonio Pizzonia (Petrobras Junior Team) and the impressive Jonathan Cochet in his Prost Junior Team entry.

The start of the race was always going to be crucial because of the difficulty of overtaking safely and so when the lights went out all attention was on Enge and Webber. For an instant it looked like the Czech driver had won the day as he made a good start but as he changed up to second gear he fluffed it.

"Initially I was not too happy with my start," said Webber, "but it wasn't his day with second and that was Christmas for me and so I had a good laugh."

Webber went into the lead as Enge struggled to keep Wilson behind him. Behind them Ricardo Mauricio went off at the first corner and bounced across the gravel causing Zsolt Baumgartner (Prost Junior Team) to go off. The Hungarian ended up stuck in the gravel while Mauricio end the lap in the pits with suspension damage. The only man making any real progress on that first lap was Giorgio Pantano (Team Astromega) who went from 11th to ninth and moved up to eighth by passing Saelens in the course of lap two.

At the front Webber was untroubled. Very soon after the start Enge began suffering from tire trouble.

"The rears went off quite quickly," he said. On the grid before the race Enge had decided to make the car a little bit stiffer in the race but the gamble had not worked. Enge was soon battling to keep his team mate Wilson behind him. Behind the first three Friesacher ran ahead of Manning and Haberfeld but on the sixth lap the Brazilian ran wide at the exit of the hairpin and lost sixth to Bourdais.

But up at the front Webber was untroubled and edged further and further away from the rest of the field.

"It was pretty straightforward," he admitted. "It was nice to see the gap going out each lap. That doesn't happen very often so I enjoyed it."

Tires were the key and towards the end Webber began to struggle a little.

"They were getting quite interesting," he said.

But Enge's were a lot more interesting as the race progressed and he came under more and more pressure from Wilson. It was not simply a battle of honor between the two men. The championship lead was at stake. If Wilson finished third Webber would lead the series, but if Enge could be displaced Wilson would remain on top of the points table. With four laps to go Wilson made his most serious challenge and got alongside Enge but he did not have the momentum to complete the maneuver. And so it went down to the last lap.

"I knew I had to b rake at exactly the right place before the hairpin," said Wilson. "I had to be fast enough to pass him and not too fast because otherwise I would overshoot."

Wilson did the job brilliantly. Enge locked a brake and Wilson went down the inside and edged Enge outwards at the exit.

"I was disappointed," said Enge, "but I was very happy that I kept the place for as long as I managed to do. Justin pushed me really hard."

But neither man had pushed Webber and the Australian became the first man to win three races this year, crossing the line seven seconds ahead of Wilson and Enge. Friesacher, Manning and Bourdais completed the top six.

The result means that Wilson has 37 points, Webber has 36 and Enge has 32.

After two consecutive wins Webber is suddenly the force to be reckoned with. Now he must keep up his momentum.

"We've just got to keep on doing what we are doing," he said.

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