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OCTOBER 22, 2001

Drama and Disappointment for Long

THE Formula Ford Festival ended early for Patrick Long after a thrilling victory in the Semi Final of the most prestigious weekend in junior motor sport.

The 20-year-old Californian started on the front row of his Semi Final in the works Van Diemen following a barnstorming drive from fourth on the grid to victory in Saturday's heat, and was locked in a race-long battle for the lead involving several runners.

The race ended up as a showdown between Long and the Murray Racing Van Diemen of Sweden's Robert Dahlgren, who beat the American to the British championship title only after crashing into the youngster the final round at Silverstone last month.

The pair were inseparable throughout the closing stages when Long, running second, made a run up the inside of the Swede going uphill into the Druids hairpin which Formula Ford veteran Dahlgren forcefully parried. The two cars came together with Long's nose wedged under the gearbox of his rival's car, and while both cars tried to negotiate the hairpin Dahlgren was unable to control his Van Diemen and spun into the tire wall.

Long struggled on to the finish to take victory in the race, but Murray Racing lodged a protest against Long for the Druids incident, and subsequently the American was excluded from the results as the stewards of the meeting found in favor of the Swede.

"It's not the way I wanted my season to end, I can tell you that much," said a disappointed Long. "I made the move, Dahlgren blocked and there was little option for either of us. It was the dumbest thing ever.

"It ended with him off the track and now me out of the results. It's totally senseless."

The Grand Final was won by South Africa's Alan van der Merwe in the Haywood Racing Mygale - the team with which Jenson Button won the 1998 British championship and Festival titles. Next year van der Merwe will be taking Takuma Sato's seat in the Carlin Motorsport Formula 3 team for his first attempt at the British Formula 3 championship, after three years in British Formula Ford.

Van der Merwe is the 30th Formula Ford Festival champion and the third holder of the Neil Shanahan Memorial Trophy. The annual award was instigated as the Festival's official prize in 1999 in memory of young Irish racer Neil Shanahan, who died following a major accident at Oulton Park in the 1999 British Formula Ford championship.

This year's Festival marked the 30th anniversary of the event that has produced 13 winners who have since gone on to Formula 1 careers. Among those who failed to win the Festival are Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard, Damon Hill, Kenny Brack and Michael Schumacher.